Free agency is now a little less than a month away from opening up and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Here is a breakdown of Colorado’s free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agents: F Matthew Nieto — The 25-year-old, who was picked up off of waivers from the San Jose Sharks has found a home in Colorado after the team rewarded him a year ago with a $1MM contract as a restricted free agent, posting a career high in goals with 15 and forcing his way to some second-line action. Primarily used as a fourth-line defensive option, Nieto has started to show his potential.
One key to Nieto’s success has been getting regular playing time. After playing in a career-low 59 games between two teams last year, he got into 74 games and averaged almost 15 minutes a game. Now with his game improving and the potential to earn a second or third-line role with the team next year, Nieto looks to get a raise from his deal a year ago.
D Patrik Nemeth — After years of not being able to find a full-time role with the Dallas Stars, Nemeth, like Nieto, seems to have found a home with the Avalanche. The 26-year-old blueliner was claimed off waivers at the beginning of the season and immediately made an impact on the Avalanche’s defense. Often teamed with Tyson Barrie on the first line, Nemeth has developed into a solid shutdown defender, although he doesn’t provide much offense (3 goals, 15 points in 68 games). After signing at $945K last season, Nemeth should get himself a significant raise as well.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: G Jonathan Bernier — The Avalanche goaltending combination of Semyon Varlamov and Bernier was just OK, but the combination was good enough to vault the team to the playoff for the first time in years. Bernier, who finished the season with a 19-13-3 record with a 2.85 GAA and a .913 save percentage in 37 starts, had moments where he dazzled, including a stretch of nine consecutive wins between Dec. 31 and Jan. 22. Due to a Varlamov injury, Bernier was forced to start in all playoff games and struggled against a good Nashville team, allowing 14 goals in four games as well as being pulled once.
The team must decide whether Bernier is the answer to their goaltending problems as the team needs a backup who can fill in long-term for the injury-prone Varlamov. The team could opt to look at a Carter Hutton, but that might cost the team too much, while the team’s top goaltending prospects are still a year or two away, although the team could turn to streaky UFA Andrew Hammond, who performed well in the playoffs against Nashville in three appearances.
F Blake Comeau — The 32-year-old veteran continues to produce in a bottom-line role for the Avalanche and after another solid season which puts him at 13 goals and 34 points, Comeau is another key veteran who provides a young Colorado team with that leadership the team needs. He has had quite an effect on players like Nieto and J.T. Compher and after finishing up a three-year, $7.2MM deal at $2.4MM AAV, he may want a similar deal to finish out his career.
Projected Cap Space: With more than $22MM in cap space to work with, depending where the upper limit lands. That should give the team the possibility of going after a free agent or two, but with the team still developing its team through youth, Colorado hasn’t been a major talking point, yet anyway, for unrestricted free agents. However, the idea of the team going after James van Riemsdyk and placing him next to Nathan MacKinnon wouldn’t be a bad look either.
Regardless, the team also must use some of that cap space toward possible extension as the team may want to lock up promising star Mikko Rantanen as soon as possible, which he can do on July 1.