NHL teams are prone to make mistakes at any time of the year, but the summer offseason presents a unique set of traps that general managers can’t seem to help but topple into (hello, Ken Holland!). Exorbitant free agent signing, ill-conceived draft decisions, and illogical trades all have the potential to send a franchise spinning in the wrong direction, and all three seem to make appearances year after year.
The 2021 offseason presents the unique challenge of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, adding another landmine to the treacherous terrain teams have to navigate. For the Colorado Avalanche, that journey is especially precarious, as GM Joe Sakic must balance improving his roster without stunting the organization’s flexibility past the point of no return. Captain Gabriel Landeskog, star defenseman Cale Makar, and goalie Philipp Grubauer are all candidates for costly, long-term extensions. The Kraken are lurking, waiting to take a quality player off the Avs’ roster.
Every move Sakic makes will have a ripple effect on other areas of his plans. Thus, he needs to be careful. He has a great team on his hands, one that has proved it can be a Stanley Cup contender over the last two seasons. But there’s plenty that could occur to screw it all up, quicker than most would expect. After all, that’s the joy of hockey: nothing is guaranteed, and it’s a lot easier to be wrong than right.
Here are some of the moves I think the Avalanche should avoid making in order to maintain the positive momentum that’s taken so long to create:
Don’t Trade for Seth Jones
Not too long ago, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones was considered one of the best at his position in the NHL. In fact, it wouldn’t be too difficult to find those that still believe that right now. A lot of buzz has swirled around the young blueliner this offseason, with him being traded seemingly very likely within the next couple of months.
The Avalanche has been linked as a landing spot for him, as he spent plenty of time in Denver growing up and his father, Popeye Jones, played for the Denver Nuggets. With Colorado possibly losing a defenseman in the expansion draft, adding a player like Jones on the last year of his contract should make sense.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense. The Columbus defenseman’s underlying stats have fallen off a cliff since 2017. He’s no longer the player he was, but the asking price many expect teams like the Avalanche to pay don’t account for that drop-off in the slightest.
The Athletic has hypothesized about a couple of different trade packages the Avalanche could assemble (from ‘Trade packages for Seth Jones: What the Blackhawks, Avs, Kings and Flyers could offer the Blue Jackets?’, The Athletic, 7/1/2021), all of them horrendous. Pieces often mentioned include center Tyson Jost, Conor Timmons, Justin Barron, Samuel Girard, this year’s first-round pick, and sometimes even Bowen Byram. To clarify, these packages aren’t one of these pieces, they’re three or four of them.
All that, and for what? One year of a mediocre defenseman that will want a big extension next year? There’s an argument the Avalanche should empty their prospect cupboard and make a big trade to help the team win now, but a trade for Jones is not the time to do that. If you need depth defensemen, free agency always offers a bounty of them. Until he proves otherwise, that’s what Jones is: a depth defenseman. He certainly could improve and return to his previous form, but Colorado should not be eager to trade the future because of that chance.
Don’t Trade with Seattle for Expansion Draft Protection
One of the intriguing parts of the Kraken expansion is that teams can negotiate deals with Seattle, giving them pieces so that they don’t select certain players that are left unprotected at the draft. This was a common theme of the Vegas Golden Knights draft, and in almost all cases, it ended poorly for the teams which initiated the deals. Anaheim gave up star defenseman Shea Theodore to protect the disappointing Josh Manson, Minnesota gave Vegas Alex Tuch, and Florida lost both Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, staples on the Golden Knights’ roster to this day.
Colorado will lose a valuable player to Seattle, whether that be Ryan Graves, Joonas Donskoi, JT Compher, or another depth player. Enticing Seattle to stay away from certain players at the cost of prospects or picks simply isn’t worth it and is a good way to lose double the value with little to gain.
There is one exception to this: if Erik Johnson refuses to waive the No Movement Clause on his contract, that will mean the Avs will be forced to protect him. That will leave Devon Toews, or Sam Girard unprotected, a fate the Avalanche can’t afford to endure. In this worst-case scenario, Sakic should consider offering the Kraken various enticing pieces to keep their eyes off of Toews or Girard. But, because Johnson is likely to waive his NMC, that crisis will likely never come to pass. But for now, the possibility is enough to keep this Avalanche writer up at night.
Don’t Lose Gabriel Landeskog
Colorado’s captain isn’t the face of the team, that honor going to Nathan MacKinnon or Makar, depending on the day. He’s due for a pricey extension, one that some teams might be willing to take off the Avs’ hands if they want to build their roster in a different direction. Elliotte Friedman speculates the Los Angeles Kings and Saint Louis Blues would be eager to take a crack at Landeskog should he reach the free-agent market at the end of the month. Colorado should not let this happen.
The fact is, the stoic Swede is the heart of the Avalanche and has proven himself to be the perfect captain for the team during their rise from the league’s basement over the last half-decade. Yes, he will cost millions against a cap ceiling that’s likely not increasing over the next few seasons, costing Colorado space they could use to improve other areas of the roster. But not only is he one of the best wingers in the NHL, but he consistently makes his team better around him and holds their identity together.
In 2016-17, there was plenty of speculation Landeskog would be traded as the self-destructing Avalanche tried to acquire assets to ensure a brighter future. But even in those dark months, the captain wanted to remain loyal to his team. He wanted to be a part of the solution, and that’s what he became. The trio of him, MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen is arguably the best line in the NHL and inspires fear almost every time they hit the ice. Remove a third of that line, and you lose a lot more than you think.
As money swirls around over the next month, Landeskog should be one of Sakic’s top priorities. Anything less would be an injustice to what the captain has provided the team over his tenure.
Being an NHL GM is not a simple task, far from it. Not only do you have a million details to juggle constantly to build a quality NHL squad, but you have people like me yelling at you on social media and other parts of the internet trying to claim we know how to best run the team.
But Sakic has worked so hard to construct the team he has, one with talent, leadership, and an identity. It just would be a shame to see that formula start to dissipate now, with such a bright future. But if he avoids the moves listed above, everything will likely remain ok. One step at a time, the Avalanche must carefully prepare for whatever lies ahead.