Avalanche 2023 Trade Targets: Reinhart, Schmaltz & More

With the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline just around the corner on March 3, the Colorado Avalanche are running out of time to bolster their lineup ahead of what is anticipated to be a difficult Stanley Cup defence.

Although the team has endured an injury-riddled season with key contributors at every position missing considerable time, the off-season departure of center Nazem Kadri has arguably hit the organization the hardest. The Avalanche have cycled through a number of replacements for the second-line role with J.T. Compher, Alex Newhook, Evan Rodrigues in particular enjoying varying degrees of success at the position.

Despite lineup inconsistency and the uncertainty surrounding the second-line center spot, the Avalanche find themselves with an opportunity to claim a top position in both the Central Division and Western Conference as a whole.

Currently second in the West by points percentage (PTS%), the Avalanche hold two games in hand on the teams ahead of them by raw points, the Dallas Stars and the Vegas Golden Knights. With a strong end to the regular season, it’s very possible that Nathan MacKinnon and company enter the postseason perched atop both the division and the conference.

Related: NHL Trade Bait List for the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline

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Also, armed with significant cap space as a result of assigning Gabriel Landeskog (and potentially Erik Johnson) to long-term injured reserve (LTIR), the Avalanche can exceed the limit ahead of the deadline by the missing players’ cap hits. Even if Landeskog returns to the lineup before the playoffs, Johnson will likely miss the rest of the regular season which frees up his $6 million cap hit and affords general manager Chris MacFarland the flexibility to add to his roster.

Given that a true top-six center has eluded the Avalanche since last summer, targeting such a player at the deadline should be priority number one. They depleted their already shallow pool of prospects and draft picks in a successful effort to win the Stanley Cup, but they still have intriguing pieces to offer in trade talks.

Bo Horvat (New York Islanders), Ryan O’Reilly (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Ivan Barbashev (Golden Knights) are all centers who have been traded in the past month, so the market for capable top-six (or even top-nine) pivots is quickly shrinking.

Along with players who were featured in a recent trade target article, I will evaluate three additional options (plus several honorable mentions) for the Avalanche to fill the hole at second-line center. Each player is listed with their remaining contract length (including this season), annual cap hit, and accompanying trade protection.

Sam Reinhart, Florida Panthers

2022-23 Statistics: 61 Games Played (GP) – 21 Goals (G) – 24 Assists (A) – 45 Points (PTS) – 19:41 Average Time On Ice (ATOI)

Contract Details: Two years remaining, $6.5 million average annual value (AAV); No trade protection

At this point, it’s safe to say that last summer’s blockbuster deal between the Calgary Flames and the Florida Panthers hasn’t worked out all that well for either party. As of this writing, both clubs find themselves outside of their respective conference playoff pictures by both points and PTS%, with the Panthers in real jeopardy of missing the postseason.

Yet, with an enviable core to build around including Aleksander Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk (acquired in said blockbuster trade), and Aaron Ekblad, there is little appetite for a tear-down in Florida.

The fact that the organization owes the Montreal Canadiens a first-round pick in the upcoming draft also complicates matters. That pick – part of the package for Ben Chiarot – is unprotected, meaning that the Canadiens will receive it no matter what, even if the Panthers win the draft lottery. As a result, proceeding with any moves that could jeopardize their draft stock may be out of the question.

Sam Reinhart Florida Panthers
Sam Reinhart, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even so, the Panthers may also consider it a sunk cost at this point and look to recoup tangible assets for pending or soon-to-be pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) of their own. 27-year-old Sam Reinhart is only on the books through the end of next season and could be one of the assets put on the trade block with the intention of starting a brief retool.

Reinhart’s skating aside, the nine-year veteran possesses sound on-ice awareness that allows him to overcome his limited mobility and carve out chances for himself and his teammates. He’s an active forechecker and could be surrounded with wingers who are stronger skaters and mask his deficiencies, freeing him up to focus on playing to his strengths.

According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data, Reinhart is one of the league’s top facilitators of high-danger passes (those moving across the slot or coming from behind the net). His 2.5 such passes per-60-minutes ranks third among Panthers’ forwards, but puts him in the company of the likes of MacKinnon, Jack Hughes, and Leon Draisaitl, among others.

Related: Colorado Avalanche 2023 NHL Trade Deadline Targets: Defensemen

Reinhart also grades out above average in terms of creating shots off of the rush and generating controlled offensive zone entries (with possession of the puck), both of which are hallmarks of the Avalanche system. Despite not being the most fleet of foot, Reinhart doesn’t get caught out of position, boasting a plus-14 penalty differential (drawn minus taken) over the past two seasons.

Reinhart generates a lot of value on the power play where he can leverage the additional time and space to create scoring chances, rather than at 5-on-5 when his skating is more of a hindrance. Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, he ranks 20th among all forwards with 65 points with the man advantage. However, adding his skill set could be seen as overkill and their limited assets could be better allocated elsewhere, as the Avalanche aren’t exactly lacking in that department.

Slower and less agile players typically don’t age as well especially once they hit their 30s, so the Avalanche may be dissuaded from offering him the long-term deal he’d likely pursue. Reinhart would turn 29 at the start of his new deal, with his best years of production likely behind him at that point.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Avalanche’s core pieces are closer to their prime than say, the Tampa Bay Lightning, giving them a wider window of Stanley Cup contention. MacKinnon (age 27), Mikko Rantanen (26), Cale Makar (24), Alex Newhook (22) and Bowen Byram (21) are all 27 years old or younger so the Avalanche shouldn’t feel too much pressure to sell the farm, even if draft picks may be overvalued.

Still, feeling confident in predicting future injuries and player development is foolish, and every year with that core should be seen as a legitimate shot at a championship. Reinhart aligns with that group, making a potential trade more of a real possibility.

When it comes to the next potential trade target, contract extensions and aging curves present a reasonable argument against acquiring Reinhart, even if his presence would fill a clear need.

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Nick Schmaltz, Arizona Coyotes

2022-23 Statistics: 43 GP – 17 G – 22 A – 39 PTS – 19:47 ATOI

Contract Details: Four years remaining, $5.85 million AAV; No trade protection (Until 2023-24)

For my money, the Arizona Coyotes’ Nick Schmaltz represents the best available player when it comes to fitting in with the Avalanche’s play style, affordability and cost certainty, and age profile. The Avalanche have a number of pending free agents who could earn extensions this summer including Byram, Newhook, Compher, and Rodrigues, so having a key position filled gives the organization some clarity about the roster going forward.

The 27-year-old forward is a zone entry wizard who, like Reinhart, ranks among the league’s best in terms of fashioning high-danger chances for his linemates. Apart from his passing and zone transition, Schmaltz is also the Coyotes’ leader in high-danger shots and doesn’t shy away from picking up the puck in his own zone and completing a clean zone exit by himself. For a team who looks to outnumber their opponents at every opportunity, having yet another skater capable of creating odd-man rushes would be a boon to their offence.

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Although his workload would decrease, Schmaltz’s 17.3 controlled entries per-60 would lead the Avalanche, as would the percentage of his entries that are carried in with possession (75%), a key ability for driving offence in the modern NHL. Further, his raw shot- and chance-share numbers at 5-on-5 aren’t impressive on their face, but his positive relative impact (how the team fares with him compared to without) shows he’s the team’s primary driver of play at both ends of the ice.

If Schmaltz was playing somewhere other than with the basement-dwelling Coyotes where he’d enjoy a stronger supporting cast, his counting stats would look even more impressive. Though, his 1.47 assists per-60-minutes at 5-on-5 since 2020-21 (26th among forwards with 300 minutes played) show that hasn’t slowed him down to a significant degree. His 0.92 points per game (P/G) rank 55th among forwards over the past two seasons (minimum 41 games played), tallying 98 points in 106 games.

If acquiring Schmaltz feels underwhelming, consider that he ranks second among Coyotes forwards in average even-strength, powerplay, and all-situations ice time per game. Rather than being the primary target for opposing defensive schemes, he would play more of a supporting role behind the Avalanche’s superstar forwards and could capitalize against weaker competition.

Schmaltz’s current contract takes him just past his 30th birthday and would potentially give the Avalanche four playoff runs at a very manageable cap hit. Assuming a significant cap jump at some point in the next few seasons, paying less than $6 million for a top-six playmaker in his prime represents an incredible bargain.

Nick Schmaltz Arizona Coyotes
Nick Schmaltz, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Although the Coyotes would prefer to keep a player of his ilk, Schmaltz’s prime doesn’t align with the team’s competitive timeline. Even if Arizona wins the draft lottery and picks Connor Bedard first overall this summer, a playoff berth likely isn’t in their future until closer to the end of Schmaltz’s contract, when he’ll be pushing 30.

For general manager Bill Armstrong, acquiring a trove of picks and prospects is more beneficial to the organization’s long-term future, making Schmaltz much more attractive to a contender currently on the precipice of a Cup. His relatively low AAV (88th among forwards this season) and the considerable term remaining on his contract make him more appealing than a typical rental trade target.

Of course, those factors could incite a bidding war with other contenders in a similar position. Unlike the Carolina Hurricanes – one of Schmaltz’s rumored destinations – the Avalanche lack the asset cache to outbid most, if not all of the other interested parties. He would be the most ideal center available to import into the Avalanche lineup, but he won’t come cheap.

Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

2022-23 Statistics: 60 GP – 14 G – 27 A – 41 PTS – 17:41 ATOI

Contract Details: Two years remaining, $5.35 million AAV; 10-Team No-Trade Clause (NTC)

Seeing that the Flames are straddling the playoff line in the West and that Mikael Backlund is still under contract at a reasonable number through next season, it’s unlikely that he changes teams at this year’s deadline.

Still, the Jonathan Huberdeau-MacKenzie Weegar mega-deal hasn’t produced the expected results and the Flames currently sit four points behind the Seattle Kraken for the final wildcard spot in the West. Seattle also holds a game in hand on the Flames, who are staring down a pair of daunting pre-deadline matchups against the Boston Bruins and the Maple Leafs, the NHL’s first- and fourth-best teams by PTS% respectively.

If the Flames do decide to auction off a few assets as was suggested by NHL insider Elliotte Friedman, the Avalanche could do a lot worse than inquiring about one of the league’s top defensive centers.

Mikael Backlund Calgary Flames
Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Even at age 33, Backlund is still one of the Flames’ most-utilized forwards in all situations. He ranks third in average all-situations ice time, second at even strength, and second while shorthanded. He’s not just coasting in those minutes either, with the Flames accounting for over 63% of expected goals (xGF%), 61% of scoring chances (SCF%) and high-danger chances (HDCF%), while outscoring the opposition 41-24 at 5-on-5.

Backlund also ranks in the top-50 of all forwards in takeaways, although his minus-7 penalty differential does suggest he’s losing a step even in the face of outstanding possession numbers. The Avalanche have no shortage of energetic wingers capable of relentless forechecking, so he may not feel the need to take on the heaviest defensive matchups at all times.

Backlund would be a short-term option given his age, but that shouldn’t take away from his continued two-way excellence. If the Flames pull the chute on the season, the Avalanche could do a lot worse than a player of his caliber.

Top-Nine Center Trade Market Quickly Shrinking

Here are a few additional names for the Avalanche to consider, some of which I recently explored in the aforementioned trade target article:

  • Sam Bennett, Florida Panthers (Three years remaining, $4.425 million AAV; No trade protection)
  • Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks (Two years remaining, $5.825 million AAV; 10-Team NTC)
  • Max Domi, Chicago Blackhawks (One year remaining, $3 million AAV; No trade protection)
  • Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers (Three years remaining, $5.5 million AAV; No trade protection)
  • Nick Bjugstad, Arizona Coyotes (One year remaining, $0.9 million AAV; No trade protection)

It bears repeating that not all of these players may be available due to injury or their team’s proximity to a playoff spot, or not being a clear upgrade on what head coach Jared Bednar already has at his disposal.

With the term and salary owed to some of these options, a move in the offseason may be more likely at this point. Even so, look for Avalanche management to make a splash at the deadline, especially with dynasty status on the line.

Data courtesy of AllThreeZones, Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

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