Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic is a fan of the upcoming free agent class. Speaking at the team’s final media availability of the season, Sakic said of the impending market that “It’s a pretty good class this year…We see positions of need, of what we’re looking to do. There’s a few guys that we’re gonna want to talk to if they become available. We’ll be more aggressive this year.” The Avalanche went out and added defenseman Ian Cole and forward Matt Calvert last summer, who are solid complementary players, but aren’t the major game-changers that can alter a franchise. After a surprising postseason run, Colorado now knows that their championship window is open and those game-changers appear to be exactly what Sakic has his sights set on this off-season to support his team’s pursuit of the Stanley Cup. And he’s also not willing just add anyone if he misses out on his top targets, adding “if it doesn’t work out with the players that we want to talk to we’re not just gonna go spend on anybody. We want the right players and the right fit.”
Fortunately for Sakic and the Avs, the team’s salary cap structure allows the GM to back up his comments as well. With Semyon Varlamov, Patrik Nemeth, and Derick Brassard – three players who contributed little to nothing this postseason – coming off the books, Colorado will shed more than $11MM. The team could opt to re-sign the likes of Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque, and Pavel Francouz, but none of that trio would likely take up much cap space. Right now, the team has an estimate of nearly $32MM in cap space entering the off-season. Some of that will need to be reserved for re-upping restricted free agents Alexander Kerfoot, J.T. Compher, Nikita Zadorov, and most of all Mikko Rantanen. However, it should still leave the Avs with at least double-digit cap space to explore the market with.
So which top free agents could the Avalanche pursue? You can cross off the tandem of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky for a number of reasons and it’s hard to imagine Matt Duchene returning to Denver. However, the team’s need for secondary scoring could lead Sakic to make pitches for many of the other elite forwards. Jeff Skinner, Joe Pavelski, and Anders Lee may not hit the market, but expect the Avs to be in the mix if they do. More ascertainable targets could be Ryan Dzingel, Jordan Eberle, Kevin Hayes, Gustav Nyquist, Marcus Johansson, and Mats Zuccarello, any of whom would provide an immediate boost to the team’s scoring depth. Adding two of those forwards would give the team a totally different look up front next season. Colorado may also have their eye on an established backup for Philipp Grubauer and could chase the likes of Mike Smith or Cam Talbot, among others.
Given the talent already on the Colorado roster, an aggressive off-season plan should be an interesting topic to follow along with this summer. Sakic and company have seen what their team can do as an 8-seed in the playoffs and surely are imagining what might happen if they are instead a top seed. A division title and more is certainly in the realm of possibility next season if the Avalanche succeed in adding a couple of the aforementioned players.