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Avalanche Mailbag: Young Third Pair, Thoughts On Colton



Avalanche Ross Colton

It’s been about two weeks since the Colorado Avalanche were eliminated from the playoffs by the Dallas Stars. I’ve taken some time to decompress and take a step back from everything just a little bit, but we’re about to enter the silly season.

June is just one day away, and that’s when teams really start to get busy. Yes, the playoffs are still going on, but the last two weeks of June rolling over into July are typically the busiest few weeks in the league. NHL teams start to make trades and build their rosters for next season.

Last summer, the Avalanche were very busy rebuilding their roster. That might not be the case this summer, at least when it comes to big splashes. They just won’t have a lot of wiggle room to do much, but you never really know. Chris MacFarland might get creative in the coming weeks to make some changes.

With some question marks surrounding the team, I felt it was a good time to get a mailbag going. I got a lot of good questions, and saved some for future installments. Maybe this will be a weekly Friday thing on here. If you have any questions for future mailbags, you can leave a comment down below.

Without further ado, let’s get going.

From Dan: I was kind of underwhelmed by Ross Colton this season. You?

I would say I was whelmed, if that makes sense.

He set a new career high in points, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, but he did disappear for long stretches. I guess that’s why he’s a bottom six guy and not a top six guy. When I did my film room on Colton last summer, I did expect a bit more. My guess was that the Avalanche would use him as a Swiss-Army Knife in the lineup, but their lack of depth at center didn’t allow them to do that.

I would have liked to see Colton on the wing in the top six a bit more to give it a different look, but I’m not sure we can expect that anymore. He transitioned fine to the center position, although there were some rough patches early in the year. A large part of me still thinks he might be better on the wing. The Avalanche tried Colton on the penalty kill early, but they ended that experiment about a week into the season. They must have felt they had other options that were better.

I do understand they are best buddies, but I don’t think Colton and Wood have to be together at all times. Trying out some new combinations next year wouldn’t be a bad idea.

If you’re MacFarland, the one thing you really have going for you is that you’re entering the summer with a good situation at center. Nathan MacKinnon, Casey Mittelstadt, and Ross Colton isn’t a bad trio down the middle at all.

From Bared Jednar: Any chance Avs trust a Behrens-Malinski 3rd D pair for next year?

In short…no. I’d be surprised if that happened. I do think Sam Malinski will have a spot next year, but I can’t see them going with Sean Behrens right next to him. I like a lot about Behrens’ game, especially his stick work, but I can’t see them playing two defenseman together who have next to no NHL experience. Expect Behrens to start in the AHL and get a taste here and there.

The Avalanche will likely go find a cheap third pair defenseman this summer to pair with Malinski. I guess it could be Jack Johnson, but I think he’s better off in a depth role at this point in his career. I’ll dig into the top defensemen they could search for in the coming days and weeks.

From AB: What are some realistic trade options for Val? Will they have to add a draft pick or two to sweeten the deal?

To be completely honest, I don’t think there are any. I can’t see another NHL team wanting to trade for that Nichushkin contract. There’s too much risk involved and too much term left on it. If the Avalanche did find someone to take it on, they’d almost certainly have to attach a high draft pick or top prospect to the deal to get it done.

From Erik: Evan, what’s your best estimation for Mittlestadt’s next contract (term and aav?) Also, what bargain bin 4th liners do you think the Avs might take a flyer on?

Both things we’ll dig into soon. In fact, I’ll have a list of bargain bin UFA’s the Avalanche could target this summer within the next 24 hours.

As far as Mittelstadt’s contract goes, my expectation is somewhere in the $5.5-6 million range for four or five years. Colorado could go with a shorter deal to keep the AAV deal down, but I’m not sure that would save them all that much money.

Most of Colorado’s summer is going to be based around what they can sign Mittelstadt for and what money is left. Mittelstadt does have arbitration rights in his back pocket, if he chooses to go that route. Arbitration cases rarely take place, but it’s a way to guarantee something gets done before training camp.

From Sean: Does it make too much sense to resign Erik Johnson to take Jack Johnson’s space in the line up? Would EJ sign for 1.5 or so?

As much as I love EJ as person, that is probably too much for him. His game has really fallen off the last two seasons to the point where I don’t think he’s a top six defenseman anymore.

From Sean: Does Duhaime come back? Where does that leave the bottom 6 with O’Connor coming back?

Right now, the bottom six consists of these guys: Miles Wood, Ross Colton, Logan O’Connor, and (likely) Nikolai Kovalenko. With Lehkonen needing shoulder surgery, he might not be ready for camp, so one of these guys might get a look in the top six. Even if he is, they’ll probably take it slow with him.

Duhaime, if the price is right, could be a guy they bring back. He was solid on the penalty kill and played well after the deadline. I do think there was a massive dip in his play come playoff time, and the lack of physicality from him was a little surprising.

4C will be something they’ll need to address. It could be Chris Wagner, but there are likely to be better options available in free agency. Yakov Trenin might just price himself out of that spot.

From Nate: What potential unqualified RFAs would you like the Avs to target?

Another subject we’ll dig into next month, because it’s hard to guess who will and won’t get qualified this summer. The crop last summer wasn’t great.

I said this on the Guerilla Hockey podcast yesterday, but the guy I’m keeping my eye on is Kaapo Kakko. He put up just 19 points this season, has been a healthy scratch at times in the postseason, and made $2.4 million this season in terms of real money. His qualifying offer will be $2.4 million. Do the Rangers want to do that? My guess is he’ll get qualified, but if he doesn’t, he’s the perfect guy to target as a reclamation project. He’s pals with Mikko Rantanen, and the talent didn’t just disappear. Is he likely to be a star player like he was projected to be his draft year? Unlikely, but I do think he can be a solid role player.

From Matt: Can the Avs keep Val on LTIR past November? I.e. petition the league to keep him in the assistance program! Would help him further and resolve some cap issues

LTIR is not an option because there is no injury. I’m not sure about petitioning the league to keep Val in the program longer, but I would assume Val has to clear some benchmarks to even get reinstated. Remember, six months is the minimum suspension here. There’s a chance it goes longer if he’s not cleared to return.

From Jackie: Why did CMac say they’d be signing Cal Ritchie soon if it wasn’t imminent and what are they waiting for?

Not quite sure, to be honest. I would think this would be a pretty cut and dry contract to get done, and a lot of guys taken around where Ritchie was have been given contracts.

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