The NHL is one week removed from the start of the 2022 Free Agency period, but several big names including Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg remain unsigned. Although the Colorado Avalanche likely wrote off a Kadri return due to the massive salary he could command on the open market, re-upping with the reigning Stanley Cup champions is no longer a remote possibility. Several other free-agent centers have already inked commitments, quickly drying up what was expected to be a lush market for the 31-year-old pivot after a spectacular 2021-22 campaign.
The most prominent obstacle to Kadri making a Rocky Mountain return is the Avalanche’s lack of cap space. They currently have around $4.5 million left to play with, but must also deal with potentially lucrative extensions for Nathan MacKinnon, Bowen Byram, and Alex Newhook in the 2023 offseason.
Although I believe the team would be better-served trading for a younger center with a more established track record of elite production, re-signing Kadri on a shorter deal at a manageable number (think $7 million or below) is palatable. However, there are three realistic candidates to be moved who both clear the requisite amount of cap space, and whose departure doesn’t leave the Avalanche shorthanded at their respective positions. With that, let’s dig in.
Samuel Girard, Defenseman
2021-22 Statistics: 67 GP – 5 G – 23 A – 28 PTS – 21:39 ATOI
Let me preface this section with admiration for Samuel Girard‘s on-ice impact and how he exemplifies the modern NHL blueliner who is capable of pushing play forward and functioning as a quasi-rover from the backend. His size and confidence with the puck help him generate clean zone entries and exits by the boatload, emphasizing the Avalanche’s gameplan of puck possession and a hyper-charged transition strategy.
The presence of Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and a rapidly blossoming Byram overshadow Girard’s excellence and contributes to his unspectacular stats. It also doesn’t help that he was pinpointed as a scapegoat for the team’s collapse at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 Playoffs, leading to trade calls predicated on the fact that his playstyle is not conducive to postseason success.
At 24 years old and on a cost-effective $5 million deal until 2027, there are few better bargains than the diminutive rearguard. Unfortunately, a crowded Avalanche blueline which just cemented Josh Manson’s inclusion on a four-year contract gives new general manager Chris MacFarland the leverage to dangle Girard in hopes of bolstering the team elsewhere. If the team decides against trading the suave puck-mover, there is arguably no other defence corps that can rival that of the Avalanche.
Erik Johnson, Defenseman
2021-22 Statistics: 77 GP – 8 G – 17 A – 25 PTS – 17:17 ATOI
Of the names on this list, veteran blueliner Erik Johnson is the least likely to be moved in any attempts to retain Kadri’s services. The 34-year-old defender has one year remaining on his deal at $6 million, but his 19-team no-trade clause (NTC) and long-standing Avalanche tenure make a split less probable. Further, the Avalanche are unlikely to find takers for his significant cap hit even after his strong performance in the playoffs. Other teams may not wish to do the Avalanche any favours without the inclusion of enticing trade sweeteners in the form of prospects or draft picks.
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Since losing Kadri isn’t exactly a death knell for the Avalanche’s competitive hopes, the cost to move Johnson becomes less appetizing when considering that the promising Alex Newhook could take the next step in his development and eventually replace him. Still, he only played an average of 17 minutes a night during the team’s Stanley Cup run, the second-lowest usage of any Avalanche defender to make a postseason appearance. If the organization could withstand anyone’s absence given their depth on defence it’s Johnson’s, but his off-ice intangibles provide value that can’t be objectively measured.
J.T. Compher, Forward
2021-22 Statistics: 70 GP – 18 G – 15 A – 33 PTS – 16:19 ATOI
If any Avalanche player embodies the mantra of selling high, it’s J.T. Compher. The 27-year-old utility forward enjoyed a productive playoff campaign punctuated by several vital goals on the way to a championship. Although he moved in and out of Colorado’s top-six at times during the postseason run, his $3.5 million cap hit (expires after this season) is a bit rich for a player who is otherwise a fixture within the bottom-six forward rotation.
As NHL executives can be blinded by playoff success, it could be prudent to capitalize on the maximal exposure given to the Avalanche’s supporting cast this past spring. Compher’s positional versatility and ability to kill penalties also make him an attractive trade target for organizations looking to supplement their own cores with capable depth pieces boasting big-game experience. With Newhook breathing down his neck for an increased opportunity in 2022-23, he could be the odd man out in Colorado.
Avalanche Have Ways to Re-Sign Kadri
The reality of a salary cap league in which the ceiling has not been significantly raised in several seasons due to COVID-related financial losses is that keeping successful teams together becomes a more challenging endeavour. Players can rightfully demand greater compensation either from their current teams or test the open waters. Kadri enjoyed an offensive renaissance in 2021-22 but may have priced himself out of a return to Colorado in the process. Whether they should bring him back is a different question, but the Avalanche do have the means to launch a Stanley Cup defence with a mostly similar core in 2022-23. Should they bring back Kadri, or promote from within?