As the summer heats up, and the playoffs begins to wind down all eyes turn to the 2015-16 season. But before all 30 teams are back on the ice in October it’s time for the offseason. The Colorado Avalanche, who have spent most of the better part of the past two months watching hockey rather than playing it. For Joe Sakic and the rest of the Colorado front office the next few months are going to be spent looking for ways to fix that next year. Drafting, trading, signings are all going to part of the summer months for the front office. Here are a look at some of the big storylines for the Avalanche this summer.
The O’Reilly Factor
Let’s get this one right out of the way, shall we? The Ryan O’Reilly saga could finally reach its climax by draft day. Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have both alluded to the fact that they would love to keep O’Reilly and would try their hardest to get him to sign a longer contract before the summer ends. It will be interesting to see if the relationship between player and front office has been sufficiently repaired since the disastrous summer in 2012. Things were still rather tense last offseason, but the two sides managed to reach an agreement at the eleventh hour before entering arbitration. Now O’Reilly is going to enter the last year of that two year contract, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016. Colorado Are not going to be caught in another Paul Stastny situation, and it’s likely that if a new contract can’t be worked out that O’Reilly is as good as gone.
This situation leaves two questions, how much is O’Reilly worth, and how much are teams willing to give Colorado for a player that could very well be a rental? One would think that O’Reilly’s value would be figured out by now, but it still seems that he and the Avalanche front office are divided on the subject. It’s fair to say he’s worth at least $6 million a year, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that if he does test free agency next year that some team out there might give him as much as $7 million. Colorado wouldn’t give him that much, considering new contracts for Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson are not far away. Colorado might not get as much for him in a trade though. A player like O’Reilly would be expected to net a big return, but his contract raises questions for any team interested in acquiring the forward.
Colorado will seemingly do all they can to extend O’Reilly by the time the draft rolls around, but if that doesn’t happen expect him to be moved when all 30 GMs gather in South Beach.
Avalanche Coaching Carousel
It has already been announced that defensive coach Andre Tourigny, and video coach Mario Duhamel have left the organization. Now Patrick Roy is going to be looking for a few new coaches to share the bench with. There have been some rumblings that Adam Foote has been linked with the defensive duties that Tourigny vacated, but there is little substance to those rumors. Foote would be a good fit for the team, as he has in the past worked part time with the team’s defense. It seems like this would be a natural progression for the famous blue-liner. Whoever is finally picked for this position is going to have their work cut out for them as Colorado are in desperate need of a defensive tuneup. It’s also likely that any defensive coach will have to work with a number of young players who are going to need to get acclimated to life in the NHL, such as Chris Bigras and Duncan Siemens.
Adam Foote not desiring to be bench coach just yet. Avs in active pursuit of one to run defense
— Adrian Dater (@adater) May 20, 2015
Colorado also brought in a new assistant GM from Columbus, Chris MacFarland. He’s going to have a role in picking these new coaches. It will be interesting to see what his role in the front office will be. He’ll most likely have a role in the hiring a new pair of assistants. One thing for sure, is that it’s good that Colorado have brought someone from outside the organization, it can’t hurt to have a pair of fresh eyes on the building of the team.
Nothing to see here, move along. As opposed to a few years ago the Avalanche don’t have a lot of cap room. It seems unlikely that the team will make much of a splash in the free agent market. But if a player like O’Reilly is shipped out for a player with a lower cap hit, and if it’s true that Danny Briere has played his last game then suddenly things have changed a little. While the defensive free agent market isn’t great, Colorado could do with a player like Christian Ehrhoff. This is pure speculation though, and it seems more likely that any free agent signings that Colorado make would be more for the team’s bottom 6, which was a complete disaster last season.
Fixing the bottom 6 might be the best use of Colorado’s free agency plans. Replacing Danny Briere with someone younger, cheaper and more suited for the role would be great for the team. And finding anyone who would be an improvement over Marc-Andre Cliche would be a godsend to Avalanche fans.
On the Defensive
The last storyline to look out for this summer is to see what Sakic and Roy do to repair the team’s struggling defense. Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie can’t play 60 minutes a night. Last year Nick Holden took a step backwards and Nate Guenin was in over his head too often. Brad Stuart is still going to be around, but he was ok when he wasn’t asked to do too much. Next year is Colorado going to go out and get a new defender to play with Johnson, or are they going to hope bright prospects like Chris Bigras are ready to make an impact? It seems risky to entrust that kind of responsibility to a player that can’t even go out to get a beer after the game, but it might be preferable long term rather than spending important cap space on an older free agent. This of course comes back to the fact that Ryan O’Reilly being traded could open some more windows. Buffalo’s name consistently comes up as a potential trade parter, but with Tyler Myers already sent out, it might be hard to pry away another of Buffalo’s better defenders.
The fact is there isn’t going to be an easy way for the Avalanche to simply fix their defense. They need some better players on the blue line, the thing is they need to find a way to do it without breaking up their core, and without breaking the bank.
It was a difficult season for the Avalanche, one year removed from winning the Central Division, they got off to a horrid start this past year. Now it’s full steam ahead towards the 2015-16 season, and it all starts with a busy offseason. It will be the 20th anniversary season for the Avalanche this coming year, and the front office would like it to be a good one.
Born and raised in Denver, I’m a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. I have a degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University.