Black Friday is that special day of the year where mobs of people pour into their favorite stores to cash in on once in a year-type of deals. Whether it’s a TV or a set of headphones, wish lists are checked off from the east coast to the west as people fill their shopping carts with all sorts of holiday gifts. It’s always a bit of a frenzy, but in some ways, it’s a ton of fun.
While the NHL’s version of Black Friday, the trade deadline, isn’t until March 21 this season, there are still plenty of opportunities for teams to go shopping. The early bird gets the worm, and often times the team that acts the soonest is the one that claims the prize. So even though there’s no pressure on teams to make a move quite yet, any prudent general manager (GM) is already assessing the landscape of the NHL to see if a deal can be struck sooner rather than later.
For the Detroit Red Wings, their greatest need this season is on the blue line. They currently sit 26th in the league with a goals-against average of 3.29, which represents a backwards step from last season when they averaged 3.05 goals-against. After replacing veteran goaltender Jonathan Bernier with 25-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic, the team’s goaltending has been as good, if not better than last season’s duo of Bernier and Thomas Greiss. This team’s defensive failings early on this season have cast a spotlight on the holes that still exist within the Red Wings’ defensive group – especially on the left side, where Nick Leddy is both the youngest (30 years old) and the most effective member of the group.
Luckily for the Red Wings, there is an attractive option rumored to be available via trade. However, if they want to land this player, they’ll not only have to give up something nice, but they’ll have to complete the deal with a team that was once their most hated rival: the Colorado Avalanche.
Avalanche Willing to Move Sam Girard
Earlier this month, the Denver Post ran an article highlighting rookie Bowen Byram’s play this season and how it may have made fellow left-handed defenseman Samuel Girard expendable. Mike Chambers, the author of the piece, even goes as far as to suggest that Girard was part of the package that the Avalanche tried to send to the Buffalo Sabres for Jack Eichel, who was eventually dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights (From “Chambers: Bo Byram made Sam Girard expendable for the Avs. It’s probably why they sought Jack Eichel, The Denver Post, 11/6/21) Since then, we’ve heard mixed things about whether or not that theory holds some water.
What is undeniable is that Girard is absolutely a player worth looking into if he is, in fact, on the trading black. Standing at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he makes up for his lack of size by providing top-notch two-way play from the blue line. Acquired from the Nashville Predators as part of the three-team Matt Duchene trade, he currently has 122 points through 282 regular season games with the Avalanche, as well as 17 points through 37 playoff games. Drafted 47th overall in the 2016 draft, the 23-year-old was particularly effective during the 2020-21 season as he recorded five goals and 32 points through 48 games – a total which would have led the Red Wings last season.
A mainstay on the Avalanche’s second defensive pairing, Girard averages 20:21 in ice-time since joining Colorado, and his 51.7 Corsi-For% in that time suggests that the puck is generally heading in the right direction whenever he’s on the ice. He is also a potent contributor on the power play as he has 44 power play points since joining the Avalanche. When 36% of a player’s total points come on the power play, it’s safe to say that that player knows how to take advantage with an extra man on the ice.
So now you’re probably wondering why in the world the Avalanche would be willing to give up on this player. He’s still young, and he still has five(!) years left on his deal after this season at a cap-hit of $5 million. Surely this is a player that you can ride into the future with, right? Well, two players make this situation not so cut and dry: Byram and Nathan MacKinnon.
Byram, the fourth pick of the 2019 draft, is in the midst of his rookie campaign, sitting with a solid eight points through 11 games this season. His possession stats are absolutely dominant (56.8 CF%) and he’s already playing just under 20 minutes a night as a 20-year-old. With Cale Makar already in place on the right side, it is very easy to envision a top pair in Colorado consisting of Makar and Byram for the next decade or so. It may be a bit much to expect Byram to be a top-pairing guy this season, but he is more than holding his own on the second pairing, leading to the theory that he has essentially replaced Girard.
It is also important to note that Byram is on the second year of his entry-level contract which carries a cap-hit of just $894,167. For a team that is using Long-Term Injured-Reserve (LTIR) to stay under the salary cap right now, he presents major value to the Avalanche from a financial perspective. That is especially true once you realize that both Byram and captain and top center MacKinnon will both be due a raise at the end of the 2022-23 season.
MacKinnon is currently on what is considered by many to be the best value contract in the NHL. Signed in 2016, he has had a cap-hit of just $6.3 million since then, and will have that same cap-hit for one more season after this. For reference, that is just $200,000 more than Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin’s cap-hit, but Larkin hasn’t been a Hart Trophy finalist anytime recently. It is not outlandish to suggest that MacKinnon could see his cap-hit double on his next deal. Factor in Byram’s raise – even if it’s only a meager one, which it probably won’t be – as well as a stagnant salary cap (the salary cap is projected to raise by only $1 million over the next few years, so we could be looking at a $83.5 million salary cap for the 2023-24 season) and it becomes crystal clear that the Avalanche need to clear up their books a bit before they can get these deals sorted away.
Red Wings Need Help on the Blue Line
As previously mentioned, the Red Wings most effective option on the left side of their defense right now is Leddy, who was brought in from the New York Islanders during the offseason. However, as a pending free agent, there’s plenty of room for speculation as to whether or not he will finish the season with Detroit as he could be an attractive rental option at the trade deadline, especially if the Red Wings are willing to retain half of his $5.5 million cap-hit. The rest of the group on the left side consists of Danny DeKeyser, Marc Staal and Jordan Oesterle (a group whose average age is 31.3.)
While the right side of the blue line has offered a ton of promise in the early going this season with the likes of Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek and Gustav Lindstrom (a group whose average age is 22.3), the left side has almost exclusively been the culprits for defensive breakdowns and overall ineffectiveness on the ice. While the Red Wings have a good crop of prospects coming up on the left side, including their top pick in the 2021 draft, Simon Edvinsson, there isn’t the same sense of stability that the right side currently has.
At 23 years old, Girard fits the age demographic of the Red Wings’ right side, as well as the overall age group the team is built around. He could be an effective piece of their blue line immediately and into the future as prospects like Edvinsson and Donovan Sebrango start challenging for roster spots. When Detroit finally makes the playoffs again, Girard has experience that few others on the team have and could be something of a young veteran for the blue line. Lastly, adding Girard also lessens the blow if the Red Wings do move on from Leddy, or it fortifies a solid top four defense group if they decide to re-sign him. The term remaining on Girard’s deal isn’t even that big of a deal when considering the Red Wings only have five players locked up beyond the 2022-23 season.
But like any good Black Friday sale, something this good doesn’t come without a cost. In this case, the Red Wings will need to be ready to part with some of their forward depth in order to make this deal work.
The Avalanche Need A Middle Six Forward
Since losing winger Brandon Saad in free agency this past summer, the Avalanche’s forward group hasn’t been as formidable this season as it was last season. While they’re mostly set down the middle with MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri manning the top two lines, that little bit of extra help on the wings could be exactly what Colorado needs to feel confident heading into the playoffs come spring time. However, if they’re giving up Girard to get that help, they’re going to want a winger that is also young or in their prime, and has the potential to become a fixture with the Avalanche now and into the future.
Enter Robby Fabbri.
Acquired from the St. Louis Blues back in the first month of the 2019-20 season, the Red Wings provided Fabbri with a place to showcase his talents in a way that he wasn’t while playing with the Blues. Through 103 games with Detroit, Fabbri averages 17:04 in ice time, he has 28 goals and 59 points, and has spent time playing on the wing and down the middle. This season, he has spent most of his time on the left wing of the second line, posting four goals and 10 points through 21 games.
A pending unrestricted free agent, Fabbri is set to turn 26 years old in January. While he currently carries a $2.95 million cap-hit, that number projects to go up on his next deal, potentially in the $3.5 to 4 million range. Given that manageable price tag as well as the fact that he is in his prime, the Red Wings may look to extend him rather than send him away. Of course, if the right offer is on the table, Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman has already shown that he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, regardless of who is departing Detroit.
As a middle six winger with 60 career goals through 267 career regular season games, Fabbri should appeal to the Avalanche as player that can provide secondary scoring now and into the future. His versatility as a forward would give them lineup options as well – something that undoubtedly would come in handy as injuries and other things of that nature pile up over the course of the season and playoffs. While Fabbri and Saad aren’t exactly comparable in terms of how they play, they fill similar roles, and if Fabbri can line-up next to a playmaker, he would provide the kind of depth scoring that the Red Wings have gotten out of him since they brought him over two years ago.
Yzerman & Sakic Play “Let’s Make A Deal”
As former captains of their respective teams/franchises, Yzerman and Avalanche GM Joe Sakic are two of the most secure executives in the NHL. To his credit, Sakic has done a marvelous job of building his team up via solid drafting and savvy pick-ups through free agency and trades. He has embraced analytics and the insight that they provide in terms of players to target around the league, and his shrewd moves as a GM indicate that he won’t be taken advantage of – excluding the debacle that was the Darcy Kuemper trade. He knows that Girard is still a valuable asset to his team, and he won’t part with it for chump change.
As for Yzerman, year three of the “Yzerplan” is already yielding some exciting results as Seider and winger Lucas Raymond have taken the Red Wings by storm. That they currently have a .500 record is a reflection of the transformation that this team has undergone under Yzerman, and that’s all while winger Jakub Vrana sits on LTIR. Vrana will return at some point this season, though, and when he does, a move will have to be made.
Fabbri has been a boost to the Red Wings’ offense since Detroit acquired him. By all accounts, he’s been a great teammate, and he still fits in the age group that the Red Wings are working with. But you have to give to get, and the Red Wings need to get some help on the left side of their defense. If there is a chance that a player like Girard is available, the Red Wings need to see if a deal can be made. Sure, there may have to be some draft picks or other future assets added to either side to make it make sense for both parties, but the pieces are all there for a deal to be struck. The Avalanche get their middle six forward, the Red Wings get a serious boost to the left side of their defense.
The best deals are the ones where both teams win. This appears to be a situation where both the Red Wings and the Avalanche can do exactly that.