With just four forwards (Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, Milan Hejduk, Chuck Kobasew) under contract for next season, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman will have a busy couple months this offseason. At first glance, it may appear that the Avalanche – the team with the lowest payroll in the National Hockey League – are poised to make a big splash this offseason. And yes, fans have been whispering about Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and Alexander Semin for months.
But let’s be honest: The Avalanche has been adamant over the past few years about “building from within.” Acquiring a superstar, such as Parise, would directly contradict that notion. And let’s be honest, the guy is probably going to remain a Devil anyway.
So let us recognize that there is a very shallow market this offseason and turn “within” to examine some of the decisions the Avalanche will have to make about their forward corps.
Among the players Greg Sherman must sign are restricted free agents, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Both will be retained, likely for a very similar dollar amount. Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reported last week that the Avalanche has also begun negotiations with David Jones, who is an unrestricted free agent
Then there are the wingers: Peter Mueller, Steve Downie, and Jamie McGinn. All are RFAs. All produced well in short bursts for the Avalanche last season.
It is almost a no-brainer that all three will be returning to the Avs. A quick glance at the free agent market shows few viable options on the wings. Aside from Semin and Parise, there is no one available who would count as a significant upgrade from who the Avs currently employ. No, Mueller, Downie, and McGinn will return.
There are also peripheral players whose fates are a bit hazier. Kevin Porter and Cody McLeod might be considered expendable, while Jay McClement, though he wore the “A” was extremely productive on the penalty kill at times, may not be a sure-thing to return if the Avalanche believe prospects Brad Malone, Mark Olver, David Van Der Gulik, and Mike Connolly may be ready for regular prime-time action.
My guess? McClement will return, but McLeod and Porter may be seeking other employment. The free agent market is weak, but there is an abundance of third and fourth line guys on the market. (As an aside: I’m a big fan of McLeod. I love the energy he brings. But he too often disappears during games and his skills are easily replicated.)
Despite a ton of work to do, it doesn’t appear that there will be many difficult decisions with regard to the Avalanche forwards.