In just two short weeks, one Avalanche player will exchange their Burgundy and Blue sweater for one of Seattle’s sleek new Deep Sea and Ice Blue getups.
And I see it coming down to two guys.
They’re easily the two most polarizing players on the Avs roster these days, and I’m sure about half the Avalanche fanbase wouldn’t mind seeing either of those guys go. Their names are Tyson Jost and Ryan Graves.
And whatever your feelings are on either of them, the truth is, Jost and Graves are above average Avalanche. And it’s very likely one (or even both? Who knows – it’s like pulling the virtual lever on some online slots right now) will be made available to the Kraken come July 21. And whichever way you look at it, the Avs are going to lose a good one.
With the wealth of forwards GM Joe Sakic has in his cast, it only makes sense that Colorado opt for the 7-forwards-3-defensemen-1-goalie protection scheme over the 8-player-1-goalie option. The latter option gives leeway to protect more D-men, but ultimately offers immunity to fewer total players.
Therein lies the problem.
With Sakic choosing the 7-3-1 track, he can only protect three of his defensemen. It’s pretty darn easy to guess which of those three D-men Sakic selects.
It’s Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Sam Girard. No doubt about it.
But that exposes a pretty promising young defenseman on his backend. He is the Avs’ best penalty killer. He also led the team in blocked shots all throughout the season and through the playoffs, as well. He tied for the fifth-most takeaways. He’s quickly come into himself, physically, and he’s a bright, young D-man, though polarizing among Avs faithful. He is, of course, Ryan Graves.
And should Sakic go the 8-1 route, he could protect the aforementioned Graves, but in turn would leave A LOT of his forwards exposed to the Kraken’s greedy tentacles. Assuming he protects his top trio, that leaves only one spot open for the likes of Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Val Nichushkin, etc. There are too many options to be exposed that way.
And, again, therein lies the problem.
GM Joe will be forced to go 7-3-1 to protect more of those forwards. Burakovsky and Kadri likely make the list. I think Donskoi does as well. In doing this, guys like J.T. Compher, Nichushkin and Jost are left for Seattle’s picking.
Has Jost earned protection? I think so. Hear me out.
Fans have deliberated and dissuaded Jost’s worth over the last couple of years. Chalk me up as one of the pundits who was ready to watch him walk at the end of the 2019-20 season. I wouldn’t have minded it at all, quite frankly. He bet on himself, though, and came back for a ridiculously-low one-year, $874,000 deal. He then made me—and a lot of you—stick a sock in it this past season.
The 23-year-old Tyson Jost is a far cry from the exciting, spry scorer he was in the junior ranks, where he once-upon-a-time was the BCHL MVP after scoring 104 points in 42 games. Instead, he’s morphed into a decidedly less exciting—though ever-important—defensive specialist. Jost may never be the goal scorer or offensive juggernaut from the days of old. And that’s OK. Instead, he’s settled into an identity that’s made him one of the most important members in the Avs dressing room.
Like Graves, Tyson Jost is an analytics darling. Allow me to rattle a few key stats off to you: Tyson Jost led in takeaways per 60 minutes. He came in third among Avalanche forwards in hits. He drew the most penalties of any player not on the top line. But where he’ll really wow you is in the “intangibles” category. That is, what he does away from the puck. If you ask coach Jared Bednar, he’d tell you Jost is likely top-three in details, a key metric by which Bednar grades his crew. Jost is also one of the Avs most consistent forwards in that respect.
I really do think Jost deserves a spot on the Avs’ protected roster when Sakic submits it on July 17. I think he’s earned that spot. That leaves the likes of Graves, Compher, Nichushkin, and guys like Logan O’Connor to cross their fingers and hope Seattle GM Ron Francis doesn’t dial their number.
Take a look at my theoretical (and likely wrong) list of unprotected Avalanche and I’d venture a guess that Graves is the guy Ron Francis would covet in this situation.
And that’s why I think it comes down to either Tyson Jost or Ryan Graves as the two likely options to depart to the Pacific Northwest. It all comes down to which Sakic values more: his D-men or forwards. If he really wants to protect Graves, he goes with the 8-1 approach and protects him.
But that leaves him exposing a high number of his very good forwards ripe for Seattle’s picking. And this is why he’ll have to go 7-3-1; he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Of course, there’s always the option for Sakic to offer a package to Seattle to take X instead of Y. We saw that a few times in the Vegas expansion draft from a few years back. I could see his hand being forced into doing something like that.
But at the same time, Sakic needs Seattle to take someone off his payroll. Money is tight these days and he’s got a lot on his plate to re-sign, including big-money paychecks to his captain, his Norris-finalist and future hall-of-famer cornerstone defenseman, and his Vezina-finalist goaltender. Throw in RFAs like Jost and Conor Timmins and Sakic is stuck, financially.
Will Ryan Graves’ $3.16M cap hit be the one coming off his books? If I were a betting man, I’d put money on it.