Ryan O’Reilly is as good as gone.
It’s unlikely that Colorado’s young center puts on the burgundy sweater come October. The acquisition of Carl Soderberg has sealed O’Reilly’s fate. General manager Joe Sakic deserves credit for his aggressiveness; Soderberg is good insurance for the loss of O’Reilly. Going beyond that, he does something that O’Reilly doesn’t do — provides Colorado a more balanced spine.
Soderberg isn’t a better hockey player than O’Reilly. In fact, he’s a downgrade. The difference is that he’s a third-line center, which is something that O’Reilly really isn’t. Soderberg basically gives Colorado a clear 1-4 on the depth chart, which, in theory, should stabilize things. Colorado’s bottom six was terrible last year. Now, head coach Patrick Roy can anchor his bottom-two lines with Soderberg and John Mitchell, rather than giving Mitchell more responsibility and relying on the offensive black hole of Marc-Andre Cliche.
Basically, any move that potentially places Cliche in the press box should be viewed as good business from the Colorado front office.
But what about the top six?
Sure, there is going to be a hole in the top six, and if the opinion of Boston fans is correct, using Soderberg there is not a good idea. Logic suggests that Nathan MacKinnon will take over as the No. 2 center. The rest of the top six is likely to be Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog, Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and a (hopefully) healthy Jamie McGinn.
McGinn is a wild card. In a perfect world, he’d be better suited on the third line with Soderberg, but someone has to play in the top six. McGinn has shown he can score when he’s not hitting the post, and he has established chemistry with players like Duchene and Landeskog.
O’Reilly’s pending departure leaves a big hole up front, but if Colorado has one strength apart from their goaltending, it’s the young forwards.
Could Colorado get a forward for O’Reilly?
Sure. But do they want to? O’Reilly could net Colorado a good forward, but that defense needs to be fixed. When, not if, O’Reilly is traded, it’s going to be for defense. If Colorado is going to add another piece on offense, it’s going to be in free agency, or a different trade.
There is no predicting what Colorado will do sometimes, but if adding Soderberg is the only move on offense this offseason, then the world is not ending. Colorado has a lot of firepower, and Soderberg brings balance to that firepower. There also isn’t a real top-six forward available in free agency. The closest thing left is Joel Ward, Matt Beleskey or Antoine Vermette. Ward and Beleskey would be fine additions, but maybe too expensive, and Vermette is not going to happen at all.
Colorado would be better served at this point with worrying about their blue line.
So this means Cliche is Done?
Cliche had a really bad season for Colorado. Though, to be fair, a lot of players on Colorado had bad years. However, Cliche was particularly poor. His possession numbers were way down, and he basically killed any offensive production when he was out on the ice. He also struggled as a defensive specialist, a role that he was somewhat decent in the year before. Soderberg gives Roy the option to move Mitchell down to the fourth line, and Cliche potentially out of the lineup. This is the real benefit of Soderberg. His acquisition immediately improves the bottom six in more than one way.
Those other bottom-six forwards still have the potential to be a bit of a revolving door. Cody McLeod is probably safe for a while, as Roy seems to enjoy his play. Dennis Everberg is also a pretty safe bet to be on the team in October. This is when things start getting muddy. Jesse Winchester is a good player, but his concussion cost him a full season. Joey Hishon showed flashes of potential, but he is another oft-injured player with question marks. Last year’s first round pick, Conner Bleackley, is a possibility but again, there are questions about his NHL readiness. Cliche could even play on the wing with Mitchell if the need arises.
Reaching into the free-agent pool here makes a little more sense than it would for the top six, but if Colorado stands pat on this until the season starts, it’s ok. Soderberg and Mitchell down the middle in the bottom six is already a better situation. Just hope everyone stays healthy.
So what now?
Wait and see. There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered for Colorado. Question one is clearly where is O’Reilly going and what will the Avalanche get for him. But whatever happens, Colorado should get at least one good piece back. Once that question is answered, things will start to become clear.
Soderberg is insurance for that situation. He’s in Colorado now for the next five years, and he’s going to help. He’s not O’Reilly. But he’s something Colorado needs. This is a step in the right direction for Sakic. Now it’s time to take a few more.