The last time I wrote anything on this site, it was the night of the NHL Draft, and the Colorado Avalanche had taken defenseman Cale Makar with the No. 4 overall pick. Since then, quite a lot has happened and been rumored surrounding the Avs — so here is an update on what the offseason has entailed for Colorado to this point, as well as what we can look for the rest of the summer.
The NHL offseason started with a bang, when the Vegas Golden Knights finally filled their roster with players, and that saw goaltender Calvin Pickard leave the Avalanche organization. After losing Pickard, the Avs turned their attention to the draft, where not only were they making picks, but they were talking trades.
Rumored deals of Matt Duchene leaving the Avs were around everywhere, but nothing ever got done — and Duchene is still a member of the Colorado Avalanche in mid-July.
At the 2017 NHL Draft, Colorado made a total of seven selection, including Makar in the first round on Friday night. The next day, the Avs selected six more players to add to their organization:
- 2nd Round, 32nd overall — Conor Timmins, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
- 4th Round, 94th overall — Nick Henry, F, Regina (WHL)
- 4th Round, 114th overall — Petr Kvaca, G, Ceske Budejovic (Czech)
- 5th Round, 125th overall — Igor Shvyrev, F, Magnitogorsk Metallurg (KHL)
- 6th Round, 156th overall — Denis Smirnov, F, Penn State (NCAA)
- 7th Round, 187th overall — Nick Leivermann, D, Eden Prairie (USHS)
Expect most of these picks, including Makar, to be developed properly in their respective leagues and into the ECHL and AHL affiliates before ever being in an NHL game for the Avs. Joe Sakic and company have put together an intriguing group of prospects in this draft, but most of them are projects that will take at least a few years to properly develop.
That being said, the one selection that you could see sooner rather than later is second round pick Conor Timmins. He might not have the ceiling of the highly-touted Cale Makar, but he is considered to be more NHL-ready at this stage, and people around the team are expecting him to be an interesting player to keep an eye on when training camp opens in September.
Sven Andrighetto re-signed
After the draft, the Avs moved towards free agency by re-signing one of their own. On June 28th, it was announced that forward Sven Andrighetto had been signed to a new two-year contract worth $2.8 million ($1.4 million per year). Colorado acquired Andrighetto at the trade deadline in March, and he played the best hockey of his NHL career with the Avs the rest of the season. In 19 games, he scored 5 goals and added 10 assists for 15 points. His previous numbers with Montreal had him with 28 points in 83 games.
Andrighetto figures to get a shot at playing in the Avs’ top-six forward group again in the 2017-18 season. He played will with Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon towards the end of last season.
Colin Wilson acquired from Nashville
When free agency hit on Saturday, July 1st, Colorado made a few key moves to hopefully add some stability among their core of role-players on the roster.
First, it was announced that the Avs acquired forward Colin Wilson from the Nashville Predators in exchange for the Colorado’s fourth-round pick in 2019. This looks to be a very solid move for Joe Sakic at this point in time. Wilson is a former first round pick of Nashville (7th overall in 2008), and has developed into a solid two-way player and more importantly a great teammate and ambassador of the game. Wilson was quickly made into one of the leaders of the Predators and added a lot of playoff experience lately, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final this past season.
I look for Wilson to be a regular in the Avs’ middle-six forward group of the lineup (second to third line). He’s a forward with split offensive and defensive skills — meaning he can be a puck possession guy on a scoring or power play line, but he can also throw the body around and create turnovers on a defensive line and help on the penalty kill.
Wilson always wore #33 with the Predators, but with that being retired by the Avalanche, he will reportedly wear #22 in Colorado — which is perfect, as this guy has the ability and charisma to be a Claude Lemieux or Steve Konowalchuk type of role player for the Avalanche.
Avs sign Jonathan Bernier as back-up
Later in the day, Colorado made a splash in the free agency market, signing goaltender Jonathan Bernier to a one-year deal. Bernier, another former first round pick (11th overall in 2006 by Los Angeles) was most recently with the Anaheim Ducks as the backup to rising star John Gibson. Before that, he played in a somewhat starter-by-committee situation in Toronto.
Bernier was signed to a one-year, $2.75 million contract, which is another great deal done by Joe Sakic. After losing Pickard in the expansion draft, he actually might have upgraded the position by bringing in Bernier. He was the 11th overall pick for a reason — the dude is a highly skilled goaltender.
This is also a great situation for Bernier to put himself in, as the situation with Semyon Varlamov is still quite questionable in terms of his recent injury history. If any type of injury or lack of good play comes up with Varly, Bernier will be given the chance to start for the Avs — and on a one-year deal, he will want to perform well in any situation he’s put in to try and earn a long-term deal next summer.
Agozzino returns among minor-league deals
In minor deals, the Avs also added goaltender Joe Cannata, defenseman David Warsofky and brought back forward Andrew Agozzino in free agency. These moves are strictly depth moves to add experience to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio — although, with Agozzino’s history and chemistry with the Avs organization, he could get some chances to play a fourth line role for the Avs at times in 2017-18. After not being offered a contract last summer, Agozzino signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues and put up great numbers with their AHL affiliate. With the Chicago Wolves last season, he scored 54 points (18G/36A) in 71 games.
Nail Yakupov getting a chance to re-spark career in Colorado
After the weekend, the Colorado made one more splash on July 4th, signing former 1st overall pick Nail Yakupov to a one-year, $875,000 contract. This is a very low-risk signing for Joe Sakic that has the potential to return a high-reward. Again, like mentioned with Bernier above, there is a reason these guys get drafted as high as they do — the potential. Nail Yakupov is a very highly-skilled offensive player and that is why he was selected No. 1 overall in 2012 by the Edmonton Oilers.
The problems for Nail over his young career is that he hasn’t yet found a great fit at the NHL level. Most of the time in the Edmonton lineup, Yakupov was slotted on the third and sometimes fourth lines as they tried to ease him into the game. The lack of scoring really put a hamper on his development, especially mentally. This continued when he was sent to the St. Louis Blues last season, when Blues’ coach at the time, Ken Hitchcock attempted to turn Yakupov into a grinder on their third and fourth lines. That experiment did not last long, as he was left out of the lineup a ton late in the season and into the playoffs, and he ultimately was not offered a contract this summer as a potential restricted free agent — this made him an unrestricted free agent and now the Avalanche are giving him another chance.
It’s expected that the Avs are going to give Yakupov every chance at being a top-six forward for them, and it could help his development get kick-started playing with the speed and skill of MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, Andrighetto and potentially Matt Duchene.
Matt Duchene trade talk
Speaking of Duchene… that is pretty much where we are at in the story of the Avs’ 2017 offseason. He is still a member of the Avalanche, and that status doesn’t seem to have any imminent change coming. Joe Sakic has his price, and he isn’t budging. The reported cost for Duchene is a young, top-four caliber defenseman, and at least one high pick or prospect.
There are reports that Sakic was talking with the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders (among others) during the weekends of the NHL Draft and free agency, but deals did not get done because teams were not willing to part with players that Sakic wants. The Duchene trade watch it will be interesting to keep an eye on the rest of the summer, but good or bad, it’s beginning to look like Duchene could still be in an Avalanche sweater this coming season.
Nikita Zadorov contract talks
Another thing everyone is keeping an eye on is the Nikita Zadorov situation. Rumors have him with a potential agreement in place with a KHL team should the Avs fail to present him with a fair offer — but it doesn’t sound like the Avs are going to let that happen. The word is that a two or three year ‘bridge’ deal seems to be in agreement by the two sides, but the money is the main question left to answer. Zadorov is rumored to be seeking at least $4 million per year, while the Avs would rather pay him closer to $2 million per. So, one could expect a deal to be done soon for around $3 to 3.5 million per year, according to some hockey reporters.
What could be next for Avs this summer?
As for other potential moves the Avs could make — they still could be looking at adding some middle-age veterans to their bottom-six group (not too old and slow though, because Sakic doesn’t want to reload with the John Mitchell types of guys). This team is getting younger and faster, and there are only a few guys out there that would make sense for the Avs.
Also, just for security, the team may look at add a few more defensemen to come in and either be leaders at the AHL level or fill in on the NHL bottom pairs if needed.
Colorado has a ton of cap space, but they are not in a spot to just go out and spend stupid money on free agents. They are still 3-4 years (at least) from potentially competing heavy again, and it would be best to let their younger players play and learn rather than load up on a bunch of veterans who slow down the game.
It will be good to see guys like Blake Comeau and Carl Soderberg get a fresh start this season in the bottom-six of the lineup, because Joe Sakic and his coaching staff definitely have their sights set on having their faster, younger players play up on the scoring lines.
The goaltending duo of Varlamov and Bernier has the potential to be the backbone of this team’s chances in the 2017-18 season, so here’s to hoping that they both stay healthy and play with consistency.
Look out for more coverage of the Avs coming soon, as I will look into what their lineup could look like for the upcoming season.