A week into July and several NHL teams are already vastly different from the way they ended the 2015-16 season. The past couple of weeks have brought moves that have shocked the hockey world and free agent frenzy was just as crazy as ever, with money being thrown at players with contracts that could cause the next lockout. So, with all of the chaos surrounding them, how have the Colorado Avalanche fared? Here are some ups and downs for the Avalanche in free agency.
Reto Berra Traded: Up
Reto Berra’s time in Denver has been up and down. He has some pretty outstanding moments and some brutal ones. Last season was unfortunate for him because he really seemed to have found his place as a backup before a freak injury happened during warm ups in the hallway. Then Calvin Pickard played too well to justify sending him back to San Antonio and Berra became the odd man out.
Berra’s contract seemed like it might be a potential stumbling block for teams to take him, but the Avalanche found a partner in the Florida Panthers and received Rocco Grimaldi in return. Trading Berra freed up cap space and gained a piece to help fix up the AHL squad, we’ll get to that. This was a solid return for Berra and has to be looked at as an up.
Shawn Matthias Walks: Down
The Avalanche acquired Shawn Matthias from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline this past season in exchange for a fourth round pick and Colin Smith. Matthias fit into the lineup very well and was one of the better players on the team once he arrived. His constant engine and grit really lit a fire for the Avalanche but was sadly not enough to push the team into the playoffs. Joe Sakic wanted to keep Matthias around, but it appears that Matthias really had his heart set on returning to play in Canada and that is something that Colorado, while a beautiful and majestic place to live, simply cannot offer. Losing him is a big down.
Avalanche Trade Nick Holden: Up
Nick Holden is basically the Avalanche of the past three years personified. Strong 2013-14 season when the Avalanche made the playoffs but fell off since, and saw his offensive numbers go down and bad decisions go up. To Holden’s credit, he can bring a strong physical presence to his game, but he also brings probably the most unnecessary icings of any player I’ve watched in a long time.
The Avalanche acquired a fourth round pick from the New York Rangers for Holden, a solid return for a guy that clearly wasn’t in the team’s plans. It’s a better situation for Holden, as well, who will not be forced into a role he doesn’t fit. He’ll be sheltered on the bottom pair in New York or a healthy scratch. All ups for everybody involved.
RFA’s Not Nailed Down: Down
With the exception of Nathan MacKinnon signing a seven year contract extension, and Calvin Pickard’s new two year contract, the Avalanche still haven’t managed to nail down all of their restricted free agents. Mikhail Grigorenko and Tyson Barrie are both headed for arbitration which hasn’t ended too well in the past.
We are all familiar with the Ryan O’Reilly saga, but even before this the Avalanche have had a tendency to send players away who even had the slightest contract dispute. That was back when Pierre Lacroix was at the helm and he was given a pass to do pretty much whatever he wanted, but arbitration is generally a step pretty much everybody wants to avoid. I can understand why Grigorenko would want arbitration, it’s really hard to determine a value for him; but Barrie and the Avalanche are heading down an all too familiar path. If the Avalanche can get Barrie signed before they go to arbitration, it would be a huge win.
Smart Free Agent Signings: Up
The Avalanche made a few very smart signings on July 1st. Without going “big game hunting” and being a part of the craziness that is the free agent frenzy, the Avalanche inked Joe Colborne, Patrick Wiercioch, and Fedor Tyutin to short contracts for reasonable money. Signing a player on July 1st usually means that you are overpaying in either money or term and the Avalanche managed to do neither. Even better, all three of the players signed have strong underlying possession stats, hopefully putting to rest that the Avalanche have no interest in advanced stats.
Minor League Filled: Up
The Avalanche had a slew of players from their AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, leave this season. It was very apparent that the Avalanche would need to address their minor league team as part of their free agent strategy, and address it they have. The Avalanche signed nine players for their AHL team: Reid Petryk, Trent Vogelhuber, Ryan Stanton, Jeremy Smith, Turner Elson, Jim O’Brien, Mike Sislo, and Joe Whitney. Each player brings a mix of AHL and NHL experience, plus excellent AHL playoff experience. It’s a solid combination of players that should fit nicely with the few young incoming players that will need some veteran skill to rely on.
The Avalanche also managed to secure a new head coach for the Rampage, Eric Veilleux. Veilleux comes from the QMJHL and has had a great deal of success with multiple teams. Should be exciting to see him working in the AHL.
All in all, the Avalanche did everything that they needed to do during free agency. They replaced players who left, they took care of their farm system, they got a coach for their farm system, they added depth to their blue line, they didn’t sign anybody to any crazy contracts, and they managed to find value players with solid possession statistics. About the only question that still remains for the Avalanche is what players will round out the top six forwards.
All in all, well done by the Avalanche.