Colorado With an Avalanche of Moves Trying to Improve Their Team

In the 116 days from the 2015 NHL trade deadline to the first round of the 2015 NHL draft, the Colorado Avalanche cut ties with four players.  All were ranked in the top 16 of the team’s point production last season.

Two of these players were involved in trades with eastern conference teams and two veterans were not offered contract extensions by the team. Three of the players were veterans which no team in the NHL can have enough of and the other was a young star in the making. Moves are going to occur on all NHL teams all season long but all four of these moves by the Avalanche featured well known players that arguably were producing exactly as they should.

Ryan O’Reilly

Of the four names that were moved by the Avalanche none was more speculated on and talked about than Ryan O’Reilly. For years there was talk about his contract disputes, the offer sheet from the Calgary Flames, and his excellent play on the ice. Well, this season it all came to a close. On the same day that the Buffalo Sabres drafted expected franchise player Jack Eichel, they also completed a blockbuster trade with the Avalanche.

Ryan O'Reilly stats
Ryan O’Reilly. (Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE)

The Sabres would receive O’Reilly along with injury-plagued Jamie McGinn in exchange for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, JT Compher, and the 31st overall pick in the draft.

O’Reilly produced the most points of the four players mentioned here by a wide margin. He was the only one of the four players to play in all 82 games last season and ranked fourth on team with 55 points. It is not often you see a team trade away a 50 plus point producer with an entire season remaining on his contract but the contract issues in the past forced the Avalanche’s hand.

Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic met with O’Reilly’s agent one last time before the draft and came to the conclusion that the money that O’Reilly was asking for was not available.  From a statistical standpoint, losing O’Reilly hurts the Avalanche the most. However, it is possible on a deeper level this will greatly benefit the team. Now the team has their core set and there are no more questions surrounding O’Reilly’s future with the club.

The Sabres have the benefit of knowing right now what they have in O’Reilly and McGinn.  The Avalanche however, got younger players that are not as developed at the NHL level. The Avalanche addressed what is probably the teams biggest downside with this trade by bringing in Zadorov, and while he is a big body he is also inexperienced. It is a safe bet he will not take O’Reilly’s place as the fourth highest point producer on the team but he may be the teams corner-stone defender for the next decade or more.

Free Agent Departures

Two other players that will not return to the Avalanche next season are forward Daniel Briere and defenceman Jan Hejda. Both players ended this season as UFAs and in both cases the Avalanche decided it was time to move on.

Hejda originally signed with the Avalanche as a free agent back in 2011. In his four seasons with the organization Hejda performed exactly as advertised: as a big body that stayed home and produced the occasional goal, 13 over the last four seasons. Combined with his one goal, Hejda produced 12 assists and his 13 points last season, which was good enough for 15th overall on the team.

(Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)
(Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

Hejda has yet to sign with another NHL team. With other big name defenceman still unsigned it is unclear if Hejda will sign with another team for the coming season or not. Hejda is an older veteran player that may be past his prime but could help a team as a second- or third-pairing player.

Just behind Hejda, at 16th overall on the team, sits Daniel Briere in point production for the Avalanche. Briere’s only season as a member of the Avalanche had its high and low points just like any player, but Briere spent a good portion of the season as a healthy scratch. Despite being on the Avalanche roster Briere only played in 57 games this past season.

Briere was an older, veteran player who had a lot of playoff experience. While he missed 25 games throughout the season, had the Avalanche made the playoffs Briere would likely have been a staple in the lineup for a push to the Cup.

Briere finished his so-so season with only 12 points. Eight goals combined with four assists were not the numbers he was used to producing in the past but it is difficult to score when wearing a suit in the press box. Briere’s highlight of the season came early when the Avalanche needed a win:

Max Talbot

The Avalanche were relatively quiet at the trade deadline but they did manage a minor trade. Late in the day, it was announced the Avalanche had completed a trade with the Boston Bruins that brought former first round draft pick Jordan Caron and a sixth round pick to Denver.  In return, the Avalanche sent Paul Carey and veteran forward Max Talbot to Boston.

Despite the trade and only playing in 63 games for the Avalanche last season, Talbot ranked 11th in point production. Talbot was originally added as a depth player and while his point production was solid it is about what you would expect from a third line veteran. Five goals and 10 assists gave Talbot a total of 15 points on the season combined with a plus/minus rating of +2.

Looking Forward

The Avalanche roster that takes the ice when the 2015-2016 season begins in a couple of months is going to look noticeably different. The team added some key pieces to replace all of the players that have been mentioned above either via trade or free agent signings. Will these new additions make up the 105 points produced by the four players no longer with the Avalanche organization?

At the end of the day the NHL is a business and everything that led to these players leaving the team was a business decision. Most people suspect that, at least on paper, the Avalanche are a better team today then they were when last season ended. As with all trades and free agent signings all we can do is see how this season plays out to decide if the Avalanche made the right decisions or not.