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Reserved Colorado Avalanche Avoiding Allure of High-Priced Free Agents

James CriderCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Ryan Smyth #94 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up before playing the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2009 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

If video footage exists of the Colorado Avalanche management's war room through the first two days of the NHL's free agency period, I'm sure it looks something like this .

With almost $25 million in salary cap space , the Avalanche were dormant through the free agent rush that was July 1, and did equally as little as teams fought over scraps on July 2.

Straight from the horse's mouth, the message to fans is loud and clear: we are building from within .

Some interpret this as a cop-out so the seemingly disinterested owner can put his money in more lucrative investments ; others feel the decision is a breath of fresh air, at ease knowing the current management will not make the same blunders past management was guilty of committing.

Even by doing nothing, the 2011 Colorado Avalanche should be superior to its predecessor, as losing slow, overpaid players such as Darcy Tucker, Ruslan Salei, Chris Durno, and Brett Clark to free agency can be seen as addition by subtraction.

The trade for depth player Daniel Winnik will also add some speed to what was a very slow fourth line in 2010, largely because of Durno and Tucker.

But will riding the wave be enough to be successful next season after division rivals Minnesota, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver have all made significant additions to their rosters?

The common fear among fans is that the 2011 Avalanche will fade like the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets, both up-and-coming teams in 2009 who did almost nothing the following offseason, and subsequently fell flat on their faces in 2010.

It's a valid fear; there are obvious flaws with the current team that have yet to be addressed, in addition to the fact that the 2010 version barely squeaked into the playoffs after a deplorable 3-7-3 record from March 17 to the end of the season.

So, what could the Avalanche have done differently so far this off-season to avoid these prophecies of doom?

Sergei Gonchar, arguably the best defenseman available, is too old at age 36 to be considered anything but a short-term option for the young Avalanche, which isn't worth it if the price of admission is $16.5 million spread out over three years.

The same goes for "offensive" defenseman Paul Martin who, despite never reaching the 40-point plateau and only playing in 22 games this past season , was able to haggle his way to a five-year, $25 million contract.

Zbynek Michalek would have been nice , but he's a strictly defensive blue-liner—a guy who should be locked up for the next half decade at $4 million per season?

Left wing is another position the Avalanche are thin at. Big fish Ilya Kovalchuk remains available, but amidst rumors of a blockbuster offer from the New York Islanders , it's no shock many teams chose not to pursue the superstar forward.

Of the remaining players who would fill a need for next season, most are either old , coming off of a bad season , coming off of an injury-filled season , or just flat-out awful .

Teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins or New Jersey Devils can afford to slightly overpay players like Paul Martin or Henrik Tallinder because they feel they're close to the Stanley Cup.

These teams realize their window of opportunity is closing (Devils) or they have so much star talent that it would be illogical to wait around for prospects to fill supporting roles when they have the cap space to do otherwise (Penguins).

For Colorado, it's slow and steady wins the race. Feeling they are rebuilding, there's no purpose in signing a player to a salary they feel is too high, especially when the team's biggest need is largely covered by its prospect pool .

That's not to say the Avalanche won't look outside of the organization in the coming weeks, but so they won't break the bank doing it.

So simmer down, Avalanche faithful. The world is not ending because the Avalanche didn't sign Toni Lydman .

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