Colorado Avalanche Offseason: What to Do With Ryan Graves?

With the current state of the NHL, there is no doubt that the effects of the stoppage will continue long past this season. One thing that won’t be affected is the service time of all the players expected to hit the free-agent market this season.

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The Colorado Avalanche has several free agents hitting the market this summer including restricted free agent defenseman, Ryan Graves. With the cap ceiling expected to remain at $81.5 million for the 2020-21 season, the Avalanche will have to decide which free agents will be returning, and which ones will command too much and the organization will need to walk away from.

Ryan Graves’ Acquisition and Early Career

Joe Sakic acquired the left-shot defenseman back at the trade deadline in 2018 from the New York Rangers in exchange for defenseman Chris Bigras. Graves was playing exclusively in the American Hockey League (AHL) for the Rangers prior to the trade and split time between the NHL and AHL during the 2018-19 season after becoming a member of the Avalanche.

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The former fourth-round pick signed an extension with the organization in July of 2019. The deal was a one-year, two-way deal worth $735,000 that leaves Graves needing another extension at the end of this current season.

Ryan Graves 2019-20 Season Review

The now 25-year-old blueliner finally played himself into a full-time NHL role with the Avs to begin the 2019-20 season. He has become an important player on the Colorado back end, playing on the top pair along with rookie standout Cale Makar. Despite the low level of combined NHL experience between the pair, they’ve proved they belong on the NHL stage.

Ryan Graves Colorado Avalanche
Ryan Graves, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Coach Jared Bednar did not hesitate to use Graves in any situation throughout the year, especially on the penalty kill. He was willing to block shots, leading to his being ranked sixth in the league in that category. He was leaned on heavily when the team was hit with injuries to the defensive corps.

Graves finished the year with 67 games played before the stoppage occurred, contributing 9 goals and 17 assists while logging 18:57 time on ice per games played. The stat that stands out the most for him is his league-leading plus-40 rating, which shows how much of a positive influence he has when he is on the ice.

Why the Avalanche Should Re-Sign Graves

With veteran defensemen Ian cole and Erik Johnson past their prime and entering the back half of their careers, the organization needs to ensure replacements for the veteran defencemen are at hand. At 25 years of age, Graves is the third-oldest blueliner on the team after Johnson and Cole and can fill that role for the team.

He has been able to develop great chemistry with Makar and can be a strong, complementary defenseman to Makar as he matures. The Avalanche also have only four defensemen under contract to begin the 2020-21 season, likely moving on from some of their unrestricted and restricted free agents, including another left-shot defenseman in Nikita Zadorov.

Ryan Graves Colorado Avalanche
Ryan Graves, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Due to the projected flat cap, it would also be great to keep Graves around moving forward to provide a viable and rather cheap option to fill a top-four role on the blue line. Planning ahead and managing salaries is more important than it has ever been in the NHL.

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With captain Gabriel Landeskog and Makar requiring new deals before the start of the 2021-22 season, Joe Sakic will need to look for financial value in order to keep the team’s core intact and remain competitive.

Future in the Organization

With younger talents like Connor Timmins and Bowen Byram ready to make the jump to the NHL in the near future, a three-year deal for Graves will allow the youngsters to acclimate themselves to the league and shelter them from playing tough minutes as they develop while maintaining a cost-effective approach.

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Graves’ extension should be a multi-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) between $1.5 million and $3 million depending on the term. This ensures cap space is left for the team to re-sign Landeskog and Makar when the time comes.

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This would allow the team the chance to move on from Graves before he moves into his early thirties and transition Timmins and Byram along with Makar into top-pair and top-four roles.

Table 1. Current Comparable Defensemen Contracts

Player Signed AsYears SignedSigning AgeContract LengthExpiryCap Hit
Mattias EkholmRFA2016-2022256 yearsUFA$3,750,000
Joel EdmundsonRFA2019-2020261 yearUFA$3,100,000
Markus NutivaaraRFA2018-2022244 yearsUFA$2,700,000
Marcus PetterssonRFA2020-2025245 yearsUFA$4,025,175
These contracts represent a variety of options of defenseman signing contracts as RFA’s that the Avalanche could use as a similar player and contract comparisons.

Contract Prediction

Graves does carry arbitration rights as a restricted free agent, which does restrict the amount of control Sakic has in contract negotiations. However, after only carrying a cap hit of $735,000 this season, an increase and extension may not be a number that leaves the team in a tough situation. The term on the deal will play a key role in what dollar amount Graves receives, but a four-year, $12 million contract with an AAV of $3 million sounds like a deal that makes sense for both the security of Graves and the future of the organization.