To say the Colorado Avalanche are bummed out today is putting it mildly. Nathan MacKinnon said in his media avail following the elimination loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, “I’m going into my ninth year next year and haven’t won sh*t. This is not to suggest that MacKinnon wants out. No, he actually said he’d be willing to take another team-friendly deal to keep the best team together. But, his frustrations to suggest there’s a lot to look at on this team, even though they are the current Presidents Trophy Champions.
This very stacked roster could look quite different in 2021-22. There’s a lot of quality talent the team will bring back but there might not be room for everyone and general manager Joe Sakic will have some decisions to make, some that could change the core of the team.
ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshyniski listed some of the big free-agent decisions coming this offseason. He noted that Gabriel Landeskog needs a new deal, Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer will have earned a raise and that the goaltender might test free agency, winger Brandon Saad is a pending UFA, but it’s not clear where he sits with the franchise either. Not to mention, restricted free agent defenseman Cale Makar could be in line for a massive, massive pay day.
Wyshynski adds that the organization could lose a player like Kadri, Ryan Graves, J.T. Compher or Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Expansion Draft and there’s chatter that the team might move on from head coach Jared Bednar, despite the fact he’s got one year remaining on his current contract.
The Two Biggest Decisions for the Avs
Peter Baugh of The Athletic writes that the team needs to determine how much they’re willing to pay Landeskog on his next deal, all while fighting away other teams that may express interest in him this summer. He writes:
Colorado has to be prepared for a wing-hungry team with a good chunk of cap space — one like the Oilers or Kings — to throw big money at Landeskog. Matching that might mean moving contracts, and Sakic will have to determine the sacrifices he’s willing to make to keep his fan-favorite captain.
Landeskog has said publicly that he wants to stay in Colorado. “I’m excited to be a part of this group,” he said. “I love all the guys in there.” That doesn’t mean the Avs have all the cap room in the world to extend a player who was making $5.57 million per season and will expect a raise.
Baugh also writes that the Avalanche will have to make room for Cale Makar’s next contract. He explains:
Makar is a generational talent, someone who could win multiple Norris Trophies over the next decade, and he’s going to want to be paid like one. Paying more than $10 million a year for one player isn’t always ideal, but Makar is the type of defenseman who is worth it.
Time to Free Up Cap Space
Regardless of which way the Avs lean with some of these players, they’ll need to make cap space to do most of their housekeeping. In the past, they’ve had lots of space. These new deals will eliminate that in a hurry. Should the team move on from a top-four defenseman like Erik Johnson who has a $6 million cap hit but only played four games this season because of an upper-body injury? These are the types of questions Sakic will have to ask himself and then answer.
And, that’s not an easy question to answer. Johnson, 33, has a no-movement clause in his contract. If he doesn’t want to be traded, the Avalanche would need to buy him out. That sends a pretty significant (and likely negative) message and it still costs the team $2 million cap hit in each of the next four seasons.
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