A new feature here on the site. I’m calling it “The Soapbox”, a place where you, the Avs fan, the Colorado Hockey Now subscriber (hopefully anyway) can speak your mind on the Avs, in a story/column form and take feedback from your fellow (hopefully) subscribers. Careful, that might mean some slings and arrows too. Is your skin thick enough?
A lot of you out there are good writers and maybe this can be a place where you can show off a little. No, this is not a way for me to get cheap and easy and free clicks off your work. I won’t be inundating you with these. I will edit them, for instance, and maybe even offer some old man writer’s feedback on your style.
Anyone who wants to write for the Soapbox can just email me your piece, to email@example.com. Submission doesn’t guarantee publication.
Our first submission is from longtime reader Chris DeMott, who gives his take on what Joe Sakic did the last few days and the cap challenges ahead for the Avs.
By Chris DeMott
Monday was a day where Colorado Avalanche fans had much anticipation. Joe Sakic and his Colorado Avalanche were on a roll and word was that he had the green light to use the Kroenke family checkbook to dip into the league’s deepest salary cap reserves to deliver any of the likes of Alexi Panarin, Anders Lee, Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyqvist or others and add that last needed piece to become a perennial Stanley Cup contender. Maybe he would even do something delightfully crazy like tender an offer sheet to a franchise-changing forward like Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho or Brayden Point. Of course, these things were to be expected as this was the GM that just rebuilt his defense and a good portion of his forward prospect pipeline with a single trade of a disgruntled star center with less than 2 years left on his deal. This was the guy that just landed the best defenseman in this year’s draft and followed that up by landing what appears to be a first-round steal in Alex Newhook. This was the guy that was a stuck door latch away from a conference final and yet had more money to spend than any other team. This was the guy who locked down Nathan MacKinnon for peanuts, who drafted Mikko Rantanen with the 11th overall pick and took a flyer on a guy named Cale Makar with the 4th overall pick two years ago. So how was it that by Monday evening, many Avs fans were questioning Joe’s competence to run their local bantam team? How was it that none of the above mentioned big fish were landed? How was it that after the dust settled on this year’s free agency frenzy, the Avs had given up next year’s second-round pick, Tyson Barrie, Carl Soderberg and Alex Kerfoot – when all they had to show for it was a handful of guys who played mainly bottom-6 roles for their previous teams? Sure, Nazem Kadri is an improvement as a second line center but a franchise center he is not. Sure, he’s a solid 50 point guy who plays with an edge and is a good teammate, but so was Carl Soderberg, at least last year. Why not just keep him?
Joe also acquired Jonas Donskoi, who is in his prime and is signed to a reasonable deal for a mid 30 point guy, but traded away Alex Kerfoot who put up over 40 in his first two years and would likely have signed a similar deal. Andre Burakovsky who scored a whopping 25 points last year and cost the Avs more than Sakic got for Soderberg, that is unless you really dig Kevin Connauton. And, 34-year-old, 4th liner, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on a 2-year deal that likely will seemingly make it even harder for young prospects like AJ Greer and Vladislav Kamenev to crack the lineup. But the kicker was the last trade of the day. The one where Joe sent Tyson Barrie, star center Nathan MacKinnon’s rumored best friend on the team and 59 point scorer along with Kerfoot, a 42 point player and member of the heralded “young core” along with a 6th round pick to Toronto for Kadri (44 points last season), a minor league defenseman in Calle Rosen (2 NHL points) and what will probably be a late 3rd round pick. That hurt. So what gives Joe? You had nearly $40 million to spend and this is what you did?
Well yes, this is what he did and it was at least competent if not brilliant. Because $38.5 million isn’t as much as one would think when looking beyond next year. Yes, Joe wanted the Bread Man just as much as the rest of us but he also knew the reality was that someone was going to have to go in return.
First, let’s take a look at this years RFA’s as they stood at the end of the season starting with Rantanen. He scored 87 points last season which ties him with none other than Panarin who just signed for $11.6 million, that’s one point less than Tavares ($11 million), and two less than Ovechkin ($9.5 million, signed several years ago)… you get the point, he may be an RFA but $10 million is not out of the question. Next up they have Nikita Zadorov who will most likely go to Arbitration and will likely get $3.5 million. Then Kerfoot, $3.5 to $4 million, Compher $3 million, Kamenev $850,000, Graves $750,000. That’s $21.6 million total this year. Plenty of room to sign the Bread Man. Give him $12 million and we’re good right? That’s $33.6M and leaves nearly $5 million to spare. But what about 2020/2021?
The following year the Avalanche would have needed to replace Carl Soderberg which would free up $4.75 million in cap space and this plus space created by Matt Nieto $2M, Mark Barberio $1.5M and $1.5M in retained salary for Brooks Orpik, would leave about $16.5 million to work with depending on salary cap expansion. This year you are looking at resigning UFA Tyson Barrie plus RFA’s Tyson Jost $3.5M -$4M, Sam Girard $4.5-$5M, a prospect replacement for Matt Nieto $1M, and Pavel Francouz (or an alternate backup goalie) at $1.5 million. The total difference of $9.25M (over and above what they were already making) leaves $5.75M to spare. This should be enough to cover the additional $4M to $5M that Barrie will command as a UFA. With Cap Expansion going into 2021/ 2022 the Avs would have about $2 to $3 million in cap space. Well… that minus the salary of the players that replaced Soderberg and Nieto. So actually… they would have… maybe zero. We were all planning on trading Barrie by now anyway right?
Moving into 2021 – Hopefully the Avs have won a cup by now but either way, it’s time to pay Cale Makar. He’s elite and $6 to $7 million is probably not out of the question. It’s also time to resign the Captain. Considering the Mark Stone deal and inflation, I’m going to estimate $9 million with a home town discount so let’s subtract $3.4 million in cap space. The Avs will also need to take care of their starting goaltender. I’m going to estimate that Grubauer gets a $3 million raise, essentially Varly money. So at this point, the Avs need to cover $11 to 12 million in negative space. No problem. They gain $3.5M to $4M when Seattle takes Zadorov in the expansion draft, plus $3.5M when a prospect replaces Ian Cole, plus $2M when a prospect replaces Matt Calvert and a likely $3M when the cap expands with Seattle coming in… $12 million. We’re good with more than half a million to spare.
We could go on with this, but here’s the punch line. In 2022/2023 Nathan MacKinnon will need to be paid, there will be no hometown discount. He’s already taken that in spades. Think $13 million. Think 15 percent of the cap. That’s $6 million in cap space they don’t have. Sure, you free up $6 million when you let Erik Johnson walk. But we haven’t paid Bowen Byram yet either, nor Connor Timmins, nor Alex Newhook, nor any other need that may come up. You haven’t signed a single additional free agent in the last 3 years and yet your hands are tied. This is how it happens. This how easy it is to become Toronto, Tampa or Vegas. This is how Chicago’s window closed.
So then how do things look since Monday? Well for one, $12 million of cap space that would have gone to Panarin is now free when it’s time to re-sign Nate. In the near term, Joe used $10.2 million in space to sign a second line center an additional top 6 right wing and a penalty kill specialist who could also win some faceoffs. These signings alleviated much needed short term issues until prospects such as Alex Newhook, Martin Kaut and Shane Bowers are ready to step in. Then much of that space can be allocated to them. Players like Greer and Kamenev may not like the wait but they are likely needed two years from now when Colin Wilson and Matt Nieto move on. The Tyson Barrie trade does sting, but the reality is that he is going to command up to $10 million on the open market and that space goes a long way in covering the Makar, Girard and Byram deals in the next few years. It also opens up expansion draft flexibility. If Nikita Zadorov were to become a Chara-esque late bloomer (he’s only 23), they would have the opportunity to find a way to protect him in the expansion draft. Did the Avalanche give up too much to get Kadri? In hockey terms, maybe yes, but sometimes teams have to pay a premium to achieve precise goals. As much as Alex Kerfoot has to offer, he is kind of a tweener. He doesn’t fit in a bottom six role and I believe the team questioned his ceiling as a wing. Let’s also keep in mind that teams may not have been beating down Joe’s door to get Tyson. Rumors abound that the Flyers have been shopping a similar player on a better deal in Shane Gostisbehere. With the young core moving into their prime the time is now to compete for a Cup. I think the Blues showed that it doesn’t necessarily take an all-star team but it does take a level of depth and grit that maybe the Avalanche were missing and Alex Kerfoot wasn’t going to fill it, at least not down the middle. Sometimes a GM just needs to pull the trigger on a deal and, just like in his playing days, Joe Sakic did.