It is safe to say at this point that the Avalanche will not be back-to-back Central Division champions. They currently sit sixth with 48 points and 36 games remaining in their season. Nashville, the current division leader, have 64 points and 38 games left to go.
The Western Conference wild card race however, is much tighter. As it stands, the Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, and Avalanche are all within three points of each other and all playing for that last and final playoff spot. The Winnipeg Jets, who are in the first wild card spot, have 58 points.
It’s hard to imagine the Kings will miss the playoffs and the chance to defend their championship title. Pundits have been slow to criticize them as they have always been proven wrong in the past and the Kings’ patented second-half of the season surge seems to propel them into the Stanley Cup favorites conversations rather quickly.
If you are in the group who feels the glass is half empty about the team’s postseason chances, you might already be thinking about the trade deadline and who the Avalanche can jettison off for draft picks and prospects to fill their cupboards. The team has shown flashes of brilliance and are currently in the midst of a 6-2-2 run in their last 10 games but are 1-1-2 heading into their road trip finale with the St. Louis Blues.
Their stack is too short to go all in on the rest of the season only to exit the playoffs in the first round again. It’s time Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic think about calling it in while they still can and look to next year.
Below are three players who could be in their final weeks in Denver.
Danny Briere was traded to the Avalanche last summer for P.A. Parenteau and the Avalanche’s fifth round pick in 2015. The move was highly thought of as a steal for the Montreal Canadiens but Briere has proven himself rather useful on the Avalanche’s bottom-six and has three game-winning goals.
His stat line is unimpressive with only 11 points in 36 games but Parenteau has hardly been lighting the lamp for the Habs either.
Briere’s two-year, $8 million contract he signed with the Canadiens is set to expire after this season making him an ideal rental player. His playoff prowess is well known and last year he had seven points in 16 playoff games. Two seasons before, while with the Philadelphia Flyers, he scored 13 points in 11 games.
Not only does he come alive during the playoffs but Briere is popular in the locker room everywhere he has played. His veteran leadership can help young teams overcome any mental hurdles they might face in the playoffs.
The 6’4 240 pound Czech defender is in his fourth and final year of a $15 million contract he signed back in 2011 making him another ideal rental. He has been a useful stay-at-home defenseman for the Avalanche and popular with its European fan base. He isn’t a complete offensive blackhole but that is not where his specialty lies. In 46 games he has assisted on seven goals.
Hejda’s style of play is not suited for teams looking to find help with their transition play. Instead, he is known more for his physicality and hard body checks. He plays in his own zone very well and can clock in 20 minutes a game if necessary. Any team looking to take out an insurance policy for their blue-line will not disappointed with Hejda.
The Avalanche would like to keep Hejda but this may be Hejda’s last NHL contract negotiation and he could be looking for a significant raise. The Avalanche might also be looking towards having a faster and younger left defense to help move the puck better.
Ryan O’Reilly’s case is a bit more complicated. It’s not that he’s an aging or declining player who has already hit his peak. In fact, quite the opposite.
If the bridges have been burned and O’Reilly is set to test out free agency in two summers, the team will be looking to trade him to not lose a valuable asset for nothing. Trading him this season would net a better return because he still has one more full season before his contract expires.
Any team who is looking to acquire O’Reilly understands money plays a big factor and thus might not be willing to pay a high price for only one and a half seasons. However, a young team with a lot of cap space and a need for a top-six player who is versatile and defensively responsible will surely put in a bid for O’Reilly.
For the Avalanche, trading him would have an immediate detrimental effect on the team’s level of defense and ability to win games unless they can get a comparable player in return.
What do you think the Avalanche can get for these three players?