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NHL Free Agency: Who Will The Avalanche Try To Bring Back?



Avalanche nhl Rodrigues compher stanley cup

Last week, we took a look at some free agent options the Colorado Avalanche may take a look at come July 1. But the Avalanche have quite a few free agents of their own that they may look to bring back.

Eight, to be exact.

With only $13,350,000 in cap space this summer, and just 12 roster players signed, things will be tight. Tough decisions will have to be made.

Let’s dig into those free agents and see what the probability is they’ll be back.

J.T. Compher

Current Cap Hit: $3,500,000

Compher chose the right time to have the best season of his NHL career. Everything lined up for him perfectly. Nazem Kadri was not retained, Alex Newhook didn’t take that next step, and injuries forced the Avalanche to rely on Compher a ton. All that led to his most common linemate being Mikko Rantanen, who dropped a casual 55 goals. Compher deserves credit, as he picked up 52 points and helped the Avalanche win the division. The playoffs, however, were a different story.

Against the Kraken, he couldn’t carry the second line by himself, and failed to register a point at even strength. He didn’t even really create much either, registering just seven shots on goal. Compher is a good third line player, but he’s not who you want running your second line. That became clear in the playoffs.

Returning Probability: Low

In a weak free agent class, everything is lining up for Compher to get paid in a big way this summer. He’s coming off his best year in the NHL, is just 28 years old, and has a Stanley Cup pedigree. There are likely teams frothing at the mouth to get him in their locker room. Colorado can’t be that team. They don’t have the cap space to commit the money and term to him, and that’s okay. He was a good player for the Avalanche and helped them win a Cup, but sometimes, you have to move on if it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it makes sense here.

Evan Rodrigues

Current Cap Hit: $2,000,000

After the season, Rodrigues looked like a guy who really wanted to stay in Colorado. He had an inconsistent regular season, but was one of the few non-star players who stepped up in the postseason. The versatile forward had chemistry with MacKinnon on and off the ice, something that will help anyone’s case if they want to return. He turns 30 this summer, and the Avalanche are his third NHL team, so I’m sure he’d like to settle down a bit.

Returning Probability: Medium

This one just comes down to the contract. There’s a fit for Rodrigues in Colorado, but it has to be for the right price. Last summer, there were rumors he turned down a four-year contract from another team. Later, he fired his agent, because a similar contract offer never came, leaving him to sign for cheap with the Avalanche. Ideally, if you can keep him in that $2-3M range at an absolute max of three years, you look to bring him back. He may be able to get more than that on the open market, and the Avalanche probably can’t match that. He fits the system, he likes it here, and he shouldn’t break the bank.

Lars Eller

Current Cap Hit: $3,500,000

Eller came to Colorado and played the heavy game they expected him to play. The concern all along was with the offense, and he didn’t do anything to alleviate those concerns. He produced at around the same rate for the Avalanche as he did with the Capitals, but in the postseason, was kept off the scoresheet altogether. He brings a lot of what the Avalanche need, but it has to be in a certain role.

Returning Probability: Low

It’s always difficult to tell with deadline acquisitions. I like Eller as a player, but not at anywhere near the money he was making previously. To me, he’s closer to a fourth line player than a third line player at this point in his career. At 34, does that offense bounce back? Seems unlikely, but it’s happened before. There’s still value in a heavy depth player, though. For the Avalanche to bring him back, it would have to be for at least half of what he’s currently making and without any real term. Something tells me another NHL team will offer a little better than that.

Andrew Cogliano

Current Cap Hit: $1,000,000

Cogliano played a lot more than the Avalanche probably hoped he would when they re-signed him last summer. Injuries forced him into a full-time third line role, something he’s not best suited for at this point in his career. He did pretty well, though. He had his best offensive season in years, and is a massive part of the leadership group in the locker room. Expecting that offense again seems unlikely, as it disappeared down the stretch. His season ended in the worst way possible, as he was already nursing an upper-body injury before Jordan Eberle‘s hit ended his season.

Returning Probability: Medium

If Cogliano wants to play, I think the Avalanche want him back. In a perfect world, he’d take a little less money, but $100k here isn’t that big of a deal. He’s a good penalty killer and is loved in the locker room. The injury kind of complicates things a bit, so this might just a matter of Cogliano deciding if he wants to continue his career or not. He will be 36 by the time next season starts.

Darren Helm

Current Cap Hit: $1,250,000

Helm contemplated retirement last summer after an incredible postseason run. He decided to come back for another year, but unfortunately, everything went wrong. The 36 year old had off-season surgery and wasn’t ready for camp, and while trying to rehab for a return, he suffered a lower-body injury that required another surgery. He came back, only to get injured again. The same thing happened again late in the year. He finally got back in the lineup for Game Two of the playoffs, only to be taken out on a cross-check to the neck by Will Borgen. In total, he played just 12 games.

Returning Probability: Extremely Low

I’d be very surprised if Helm doesn’t retire. He came back for one year, and that year never even happened. If he does retire, Avalanche fans will always remember him for the big goal that got them to the Conference Finals in 2022.

Matt Nieto

Current Cap Hit: $850,000

The Avalanche brought Nieto back before the deadline to give them another option in the bottom six that they trust. It started out well, but quickly went south. Nieto had just one goal in the final 26 games of the regular season, and went pointless in the playoffs. He even struggled a bit on the penalty kill. They brought him in to help out the depth, but in the end, he didn’t prove to be that much of an upgrade.

Returning Probability: Low-Medium

The saving grace for Nieto is that he makes next-to-nothing. I think it would be best for the Avalanche to move on and try to find another option, but I could be convinced if Nieto is making the same money he made last year. Based on what we saw down the stretch, I’m just not sure he’s all the effective a player anymore.

Erik and Jack Johnson

I’m bunching them together on purpose. The reality is, they cannot and should not bring both of them back. Both played well in the Cup run, but are now old by NHL standards. Erik will be 36 by the time next season starts, and Jack would turn 37 in the middle of the year.

Returning Probability For One: Low-Medium

Nothing would surprise me here, as there are just so many variables at play. Do either of them even want to continue playing? Do the Avalanche want to find younger options to replace them? I thought Jack was retiring after last season, but he decided to give it another go. By the end of the year, he looked like the one who had a little more left in the tank, despite being a little older. Erik has been a tremendous ambassador for the franchise, but it might be time to move on. Bringing back both would be a real head scratcher.

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