The NHL trade deadline loomed large for many Avalanche fans who feared that they had seen the last of players like Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny and John Michael Liles.
After the deadline passed, many fans opened their eyes to see that the only deal the Avalanche had made was to swap minor-league prospects with the Edmonton Oilers.
The question then became: Why would the Avalanche stand pat when they are challenging for the bottom of the Western Conference standings?
Surely, this is a team that needs a complete overhaul and desperate contenders would have been frothing at the mouth to get their hands on some of the Avalanche’s talent.
So why no action in the Avalanche front office today?
Maybe because with all things considered, there is actually some hope for next season.
Looking at the unmitigated disaster that this season has become, it is hard to see what the future might hold. Still, this is a team that has been riddled with key injuries and it is not always easy to remember the players that you lose touch with due to injury.
Going into this offseason the Avalanche will have roughly $30 million of cap space to work with. The top three priorities for that money should be Milan Hejduk, Tomas Fleischmann and David Jones.
The Avalanche may or may not have received calls on Milan Hejduk at the deadline, but the general consensus was that he wasn't going anywhere because he wanted to stay. Therefore, it seems likely that he will be taken care of and brought back without breaking the bank.
Tomas Fleischmann was developing some serious chemistry with Matt Duchene prior to his frightening health condition that cost him the balance of this season. He will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but since he has been out of sight and out of mind for most people, it seems unlikely that he will fetch a huge price on the open market—making it much more likely that he will decide to stay in Denver and see if the chemistry keeps developing.
The price on David Jones may be going up as we go down the stretch. Now that Jones has finally been able to spend a majority of the season on the ice and not on the IR, he is showing signs that he is the natural goal scorer he was drafted to be. Jones will be a restricted free agent and the Avalanche should be able to convince the winger to stay in Denver and continue his growth.
If you cross your fingers in hopes that Peter Mueller gets healthy enough to rejoin the team, and take into account the fact that Paul Stastny was spared the guillotine, this group of forwards—despite missing Chris Stewart—suddenly sounds pretty good.
Did I mention that Matt Duchene is a lock for next year as well?
Clearly the defense still needs help, but the decision to keep John Michael Liles means that Erik Johnson and Kyle Quincey will not be the only experienced blueliners returning to the Avalanche.
If you are willing to put your money on Cameron Gaunce becoming a solid starter next year, then you have your pick of re-signing Matt Hunwick, Ryan O’Byrne, Kyle Cumiskey or Ryan Wilson as a fifth member of the defense.
So let’s do some quick math and assume that we re-sign the following players to the following salaries:
- David Jones: $2 million
- Tomas Fleischmann: $3 million
- Milan Hejduk: $3 million
- Kyle Cumiskey: $650,000
(All salaries are predictions based on information provided by www.capgeek.com and adjusted for market inflation)
That makes $9 million to maintain some key pieces to the puzzle. The best part is that it leaves $21 million to fill out the rest of the roster.
The biggest problem for this team, without question, is goaltending. Blindly throwing money at free agents is never a good practice, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Is there any gas left in the tank for someone like JS Giguere? Does Antti Niemi hit the market after only one year with San Jose?
How will the Avalanche do next year?
Early indications are that Brian Elliott might not be the man they had hoped, but there is still time to make that determination. Regardless, the Peter Budaj experiment needs to end in Colorado, and if Elliott is not the guy, then this position must be addressed.
$21 million dollars should help either lock in a solid No. 1 goalie, or at least help add some quality in front of the crease.
In a dreamers world the Avs could make a play at restricted free agents like Shea Weber or Drew Doughty and their current teams wouldn’t have the ability to match the offer. However, the more likely scenario is that the Avalanche could find value with either Joni Pitkanen or Kevin Bieksa as the sixth member of the defense.
Obviously, these are a lot of “what ifs,” but the fact that the Avalanche did nothing at the deadline leaves room to wonder…
What if we re-sign these players?
What if we find a starting goalie on the open market?
What if everyone stays healthy?
It’s enough to make an Avalanche fan at least dream about next year, as the nightmare that has become this season rolls on.