For hockey fans, the dog days of summer are truly upon us. One Jamie Benn extension and KHL expansion announcement aside, news has slowed to a trickle. But while the offseason trudges on and numerous free agents remain unsigned, enough time has passed to allow for early assessments. Let's do that, shall we?
Moving through the league team-by-team, we continue with our very own Central Division and Patrick Roy's Colorado Avalanche.
Jets fans will be able to appreciate the offseason Colorado has had thus far. The Avalanche have engaged in meaningful but ultimately depth moves, and while they've locked up one key RFA long-term, another remains unsigned.
It's tempting to give a passing grade based on the Nathan MacKinnon contract alone. In case you missed it, Colorado signed the 20-year-old to a seven-year deal worth $6.3 million per. While not a point producing machine, the 2013 1st overall selection is of tremendous value to the Avalanche. He pushes play at a 1st line rate, and more than holds his own when without Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog:
Frankly, the only downside to MacKinnon's contract may be how it's for seven years rather than the full eight. Nonetheless, the Avs have at least three more seasons of Duchene, MacKinnon and Landeskog together; now they just need the team around them.
So far as the forward corps is concerned, Colorado's free agent splash comes in the form of versatile depth guy Joe Colborne. Signed to a two-year deal worth $2.5 mil per, the 26-year-old posted 19 goals and 44 points over 73 games last season. He did so while rocking a 19.0% shooting percentage, which is to say it'd be unwise to predict an equally successful 2016-17. Regardless, the 6'5" forward brings a skillset capable of moving up and down the lineup, and he comes at a perfectly acceptable price for this role.
Next year's Avs will be without three significant forwards from 2015-16: Alex Tanguay, Mikkel Boedker and Winnipeg Jets signing Shawn Matthias. If general manager Joe Sakic so chooses, he might look to remaining free agents such as Radim Vrbata, Kris Versteeg, Jiri Hudler, Brandon Pirri or Brad Boyes. As is, even if we take Colborne as a sort of Matthias replacement, there may still be 2-3 open spots for internal options to fight over. Luckily for Colorado, they have a few players worthy of the competition.
Mikko Rantanen may not have been quite ready for prime time last season, but with 60 points in 52 games, he's almost assuredly beyond the AHL. His stint with the San Antonio Rampage was successful enough to earn Co-Rookie of the Year honours, alongside Providence's Frank Vatrano. Pencil Rantanen into the Avs lineup with confidence.
Beyond him, two names come to mind: J.T. Compher and Rocco Grimaldi. Like linemates Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte, Compher joined the University of Michigan exodus and turned pro. And as with those two, it remains to be seen if Compher will require any AHL seasoning before making the jump:
@citchmook Last week JJ said zero. I said 50-50. We'll talk A LOT about this today— BSNAvalanche (@BSNAvalanche) July 14, 2016
Rocco Grimaldi comes by the Avalanche organization thanks to an offseason trade with Florida. Obtained in exchange for goaltender Reto Berra, the diminutive forward has already proven a capable AHL scorer. With the Panthers lineup not exactly lacking for young, talented forwards, Grimaldi faced a numbers crunch and found himself on the outside looking in. Waiver-exempt status may work against him, but consider the California native a dark horse to crack the roster.
On a side note, Colorado did well with their 2016 NHL Entry Draft selection of Tyson Jost 10th overall. The 18-year-old dominated the BCHL, to the tune of 104 points in 48 games, before having an equally impressive IIHF U18s tournament. There's very little not to like about Jost, a player Corey Pronman describes as "often being one of the hardest working players on the ice on top of being one of the most skilled". While making an NHL impact is at least one, if not two or three years away, Jost should excel at the University of North Dakota next season.
Last season, the Avs' seven most used defencemen were, in descending order: Francois Beauchemin, Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, Erik Johnson, Zach Redmond, Chris Bigras and Nate Guenin. Not exactly a murderer's row, most would agree. But while Colorado didn't go for a big splash on defence either, the understated moves they did make could go a fair ways to shoring up the d-corps.
Guenin and Redmond have since signed with Anaheim and Montreal, respectively, while Holden was traded to the New York Rangers for a 2017 4th round pick. Furthermore, Mile High Hockey favourite Brad Stuart was bought out despite Colorado seeing no cap relief as a result. Together, these happenings constitute a significant shakeup, one punctuated by the free agent signings of Patrick Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin.
Signed for one-year and $800,000, fancy stat darling Patrick Wiercioch will be looking for a fresh start after Ottawa failed to tender a qualifying offer. Wiercioch's puck-moving skills could be a boon for MacKinnon & Co., and at 800k, the contract is a no-risk roll of the dice.
Interestingly enough, Colorado's other blueline addition in Fedor Tyutin may also come with a chip on his shoulder. After not always seeing eye to eye with Columbus head coach (and David Booth boogeyman) John Tortorella, Tyutin was bought out by the Blue Jackets, though in fairness the move was likely driven by cap and expansion draft considerations. His best days are behind him, but the 32-year-old can still provide a steady shutdown presence for a team sorely in need of shot suppression. Signed to a one-year deal worth $2 million, Tyutin represents a more significant but ultimately limited (and if need be, disposable) commitment.
@Avs_Tweets So, 2nd on depth chart— Eric Smith (@porcelainthrone) July 1, 2016
Colorado also has some internal options to fill the void. There are high hopes for Chris Bigras, while Nikita Zadorov and Duncan Siemens will look to establish themselves as full-time NHLers. 2016 trade deadline acquisition Eric Gelinas played only limited minutes before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. Will he take a step forward, or simply replace Guenin as 7th d-man? It should be noted that Siemens and Gelinas are waiver-eligible, while Bigras and Zadorov can be reassigned without worry.
We've beat around the Tyson Barrie bush for long enough. The 24-year-old defenceman has an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 29th. It would take quite the arbitration award for Colorado to have cap space concerns, but Barrie does have some significant numbers in his corner. His 49 points led all Colorado defencemen by a country mile, while surpassing the offensive output of players such as Victor Hedman, Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk and Torey Krug. And lest one believe he was simply a power play specialist, note that Barrie actually led all Avs defencemen in even strength ATOI.
Whether by trade or coming to contract terms, there's still plenty of time for July 29th's arbitration hearing to be avoided. The likely "worst" case scenario here is that Colorado's capable offensive d-man is locked up for somewhat more than Colorado would like. Perhaps GM Sakic should send noted Winnipeg Jets enforcer Nikolaj Ehlers to have a chat with Barrie:
With Reto Berra traded, the Calvin Pickard era may properly begin in net. Signed to a two-year, one-way contract worth $1 million per, the 24-year-old has posted better save percentages than Avs starter Semyon Varlamov each of the last two seasons. While he'll almost certainly be the backup for 2016-17, now is Pickard's chance to show those excellent numbers weren't the product of a limited sample size.
The Avs may still be coached by Patrick Roy, but it's been a productive summer nonetheless. Colborne, Tyutin and Wiercioch all provide solid depth at affordable prices, while simultaneously leaving room for internal competition to seize a spot or three. They signed their goalie-of-the-future for less than the price of one Michael Hutchinson, and the way Barrie's situation has unfolded isn't inherently negative. Perhaps most importantly, Colorado now has seven more years of Nathan MacKinnon at a completely reasonable cap hit. None of this is likely to fix their atrocious possession stats, but it's a start.
But what say you? Is a B grade too generous, insufficient or just right? What do you make of Colorado's d-corps shakeup? And what should the Avs do with Tyson Barrie? Share your thoughts, questions and concerns in the Comments section below. Click here for Chicago's offseason grade, like Arctic Ice Hockey on Facebook, and as always, thanks for reading!