The Colorado Avalanche face some tough choices with their non-roster players whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the season. Seven players who aren’t starters but are on team contracts will confront their future with the organization shortly.
They all filled roles with the Colorado Eagles, the club’s AHL affiliate, and over half played at least one game with the Avalanche this season. Whether signed as a prospect or a veteran, they all brought value. Now the question rises – do they have a future with the organization?
Four players are set to become restricted free agents (RFAs), meaning the Avalanche have the option of extending those players qualifying offers. Two others could test the free-agent market as they will be unrestricted free agents (UFAs). And one player is a different kind of UFA (more on that later).
Scoring, ages, and salary information are for the 2019-20 season.
Four forwards could be on the move, or they could all stay. Each brought their own unique contributions to the team.
Restricted Free Agents
Three forwards will be RFAs this offseason, and they all face a career crossroads. It will be tough making the Avalanche lineup next season unless a large number of forwards leave the team. All three are talented but they could be limited to AHL careers in this organization. The big club aims to be perennial Stanley Cup contenders, so expect it to either keep most of its free agent forwards or upgrade its roster over the offseason.
Logan O’Connor will finish out his entry-level contract at season’s end. The undrafted college wing signed with the club after attending the Avalanche’s summer development camp. He spent most of his first season (2018-19) with the Eagles, appearing in 64 regular-season games and 4 playoff contests while also playing 5 scoreless matchups for the Avalanche.
Current contract: $925,000
Avalanche performance: 2 points from 2 goals in 16 games (including his first career NHL goal)
Eagles performance: 25 points in 40 games (12 goals, 13 assists)
Pros: O’Connor plays a responsible forward game. He positions himself well and generates scoring opportunities. He makes for a quality depth call-up when injuries strike the big club.
Cons: He’s not developed into a player who can compete for a starting spot on the Avalanche roster. When he played during the injury-riddled season, he averaged around eight and a half minutes per game, which is better than some but not good enough to show the coaches greater potential.
Projection: O’Connor plays well on a temporary basis, but nothing indicates he can steal a forward spot on a very talented Avalanche roster next season. He could be a solid call-up, but he may want to try his luck with another club where he could get more ice time.
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He represents the kind of promising player who could make a nice addition in a trade package. He also illustrates the Avalanche’s dramatically improved effort to develop quality depth. Who knew?
Few players present a challenge like A.J. Greer. The 23-year-old left wing was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft. He shows flashes of incredible talent combined with an odd tendency to occasionally self-destruct. He’s the kind of guy people want to root for but he’s had a rough road finding his balance in professional hockey.
Current contract: $735,000
Avalanche performance: While he was called up a couple of times in November, he has yet to play a game this season for the big club.
Eagles performance: 32 points in 47 games (16 goals, 16 assists)
Pros: Greer can be tenacious on the puck, creating good scoring opportunities and wreaking havoc on opponents. He’s sixth on the Eagles for scoring and fifth in goals. He can play with a lot of heart, when he wants to.
Cons: Skills aren’t Greer’s weakness. His decision-making is. Whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, the inconsistency creates issues.
Projection: Greer’s proved to be his own worst enemy, whether it’s getting into a scrum instead of creating scoring chances or psyching himself out when he gains the spotlight. If he can get his head straightened out, he still has a shot at an NHL career. But time is running short to put to bed his reputation for disruption. Maybe he needs someone to knock some sense into him, or a big teddy bear to hug. Whatever works. He’s got a lot of potential.
Sheldon Dries entered the AHL as an undrafted free agent, originally with the Dallas Stars’ AHL affiliate. He signed with the Avalanche the following season, signing a one-year, entry-level contract. He played four games with the team during the 2018-19 season. The 25-year-old center faces some tough choices.
Current contract: $735,000
Avalanche performance: Zero points in five games
Eagles performance: 35 points in 50 games (21 goals, 14 assists)
Pros: Dries ranks third in scoring for the Eagles and he’s a couple of years younger than the team’s two leading scorers. He’s good at pushing through traffic.
Cons: He works well with the Eagles but he’s unimpressive in the NHL. Dries only played five games for the club this season despite the Avalanche’s persistent injury problems. In those five games, he averaged less than seven minutes of ice time per game.
Projection: He’s not destined for a starting spot on the Avalanche. Again, not unlike the other players on this list, the talented forwards corps already on the Avalanche – along with promising prospects Martin Kaut and Shane Bowers in the pipeline – make it difficult for older players to crack the NHL lineup. Dries needs to choose – stay with the Eagles or look elsewhere. Hopefully, he’s not hung out to dry (couldn’t resist).
Unrestricted Free Agents
Only one forward becomes a free agent this offseason, and he’s an AHL veteran.
A 30-year-old center, Jayson Megna differs from the RFAs on the list. He’s a veteran AHL forward who serves as a quality NHL callup and that’s his career trajectory. He’s played in 113 NHL games where he tallied a combined 20 points.
Current contract: $700,000
Avalanche performance: Zero points in eight games.
Eagles performance: 34 points in 43 games (18 goals, 16 assists)
Pros: Megna is a seasoned player who knows how to score. He even tallied a game-winning shootout goal this season for the Eagles. He’s responsible with the puck and plays a sound positional game.
Cons: While he’s a quality AHL forward, he struggled to keep up with the pace of the NHL. The Avalanche rely on speed, so sometimes he got caught out of position.
Projection: If Megna wants to stay with the Eagles, he could be a quality veteran player and a viable call-up. If he still wants to pursue his NHL dream, he should look elsewhere. The Avalanche cupboard is stocked. It feels so good to write it deserves repeating – the Avalanche cupboard is stocked. Is this how the Boston Bruins always feel?
There’s only one non-roster defenseman looking for a new contract as he faces free agency – unrestricted free agent Mark Alt.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Alt sits in a unique position. The blueliner is the captain of the Eagles and fills the role well. He’s played only nine games for the Avalanche over his two-season stint in the organization. He’s valuable to the AHL club, but has very limited time with the NHL team.
Current contract: $725,000
Avalanche performance: No games with the Avalanche this season.
Eagles performance: 13 points in 55 games (5 goals, 8 assists)
Pros: The 28-year-old, 6-foot-4 defenseman uses his size to his advantage and doesn’t mind physical play, managing to keep it relatively clean. He plays a shutdown role, smart on positioning. He’s stalwart and keeps his head.
Cons: In his few appearances with the Avalanche, while playing a decent control role, he lacked the speed and skill to support the big club’s forwards. He also got outmaneuvered by skilled opponents.
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Projection: Alt brings a solid presence as captain of the Eagles, but he’s not likely to beat out anyone on the Avalanche’s blue line, especially with Bowen Byram in the wings and Conor Timmins chomping at the bit. Time to stock up on sunglasses – the future is bright.
The Avalanche face an unexpectedly pleasant surprise in the goaltending arena – two non-roster netminders with a decent amount of skill, who each made contributions to the organization.
Restricted Free Agents
The 24-year-old netminder started his NHL career with the Arizona Coyotes, playing for their AHL affiliate. The organization allowed his entry-level contract to expire last summer. Hunter Miska ended up signing an AHL contract with the Eagles, which led to him signing an NHL contract in February of 2020 when the Avalanche suffered a rash of goaltender injuries.
Current contract: $700,000
Avalanche performance: He served as a backup goaltender for a couple of weeks during the February injury onslaught and never hit the ice at game time.
Eagles performance: In 26 games for the Eagles, he earned a 2.48 goals-against average (GAA), a .924 save percentage (SV%) and a 16-6-3 record.
Pros: Miska plays well at the AHL level, boasting the fifth-best SV% in the AHL and 11th best GAA. He’s experienced and could be ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Cons: He only had one NHL appearance and that was with the Coyotes in the previous season. While he’s played well in the AHL, his NHL potential is still questionable.
Projection: The netminder is a worthy AHL starter. He may even have potential as an NHL backup and could be a solid third goaltender for the Avalanche. However, he’s not knocking Philipp Grubauer or Pavel Francouz out of their positions.
If Miska is content with that role, he’s worth keeping. Quality goaltending was NOT one of the things most saw on the Avalanche horizon as the season started. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong.
Unrestricted Free Agent – Group 6
There aren’t many players who qualify for this special UFA slot. Group 6 rules (as applied to goaltenders) allows those who are 25 years old, have played less than 28 NHL games, and have three years of professional experience to become UFA’s at the end of their contract.
Originally signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 25-year-old goaltender ended up playing two seasons in the San Jose Sharks organization (mostly with their AHL team) before being traded to the Avalanche last September. His numbers this season may not fairly represent his ability as an injury disrupted his season.
Current contract: $675,000
Avalanche performance: Two games with a 3.26 GAA, a .888 SV%, and a 1-0-0 record.
Eagles performance: Two games with a 6.02 GAA, a .765 SV%, and an 0-2-0 record.
Pros: Up until the AHL playoffs last season, Bibeau owned a respectable record in net. His AHL record over the course of 184 games shows a 2.74 GAA and a .908 SV%. He did a good job securing an overtime win for the Avalanche against the Vancouver Canucks.
Cons: Bibeau has been out with injury since the end of November. Whether the injury played into his poor numbers this season is hard to tell.
Projection: While he could have a solid AHL career, the injury hampers his future with the Avalanche. The Eagles could use another goaltender yet Bibeau could be looking for another home, especially if Finnish phenom Justus Annunen decides to play in North America.
What to Expect
These seven players face a career crossroads. Many of them could stay with the Eagles if they want. However, if they desire to play in the NHL, they face a tough road cracking the Avalanche starting roster. In a rare moment in Colorado history, the Avalanche have enough quality players that competition for a starting slot is fierce. It’s a good dilemma and one the club finally has the luxury of navigating.
A lot depends on their other free-agent signings. The Avalanche sport a talented group, especially if they keep most of their starting lineup. If they allow some of those players to leave, there may be room, particularly on the forward corps’ fourth line.
The biggest factor, though, doesn’t concern players’ skillsets. The salary cap looms as a big unknown due to the hiatus. Lockdowns limited the NHL chances to recoup their losses. How much money will they generate with a postponed playoff format (whatever that will look like)?
While the Avalanche own the third most cap room in the league, they also have 12 starters on expiring contracts, plus these seven non-roster players. The money will be tight.
NHL’s postseason revenues could dictate what happens with all of the non-roster players. There’s a lot to watch during the hiatus, especially when it comes to players on expiring contract and how the Avalanche navigate the salary cap uncertainty. It won’t stay quiet for long.
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.