With Sunday’s draft rapidly approaching, things are getting exciting for Avs fans. Speculation abounds on what Joe Sakic and company will do with the organization’s first-ever number-one selection since moving to Denver; will they draft the best player available (be that Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, or Alexander Barkov) or will they trade down in exchange for something worthy of the first overall pick? With all the excitement and speculation, it’s easy to forget that there is more to interest hockey fans this summer than just the NHL Draft. With the cap going down, there is a wealth of unrestricted free agents, and the Avs will be looking to score one or more good-to-great players for a bargain. With a relatively high amount of available cap space combined with 22 players already signed, the Avalanche are in a better position than most teams to make some moves that could fast-track the team back to the playoffs. With this in mind, here are several players who could potentially become available this offseason and would make solid additions to the Avalanche roster:
Andrew Ference: This is my vote as the best choice available based both on value and likelihood of the player reaching free agency. Ference currently plays for a Boston Bruins team that is coming off of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and wants to get back there very quickly. Boston has about $5.8 million of cap space, and eighteen players already signed. However, both Tuukka Rask and Nathan Horton are up for new contracts. Rask had an absolutely phenomenal playoff performance and would almost certainly have received the Conn Smythe Trophy had the Bruins won the Cup. Horton had a great playoff as well, playing on the Boston top line that included David Krejci and Milan Lucic and which scored more points than any other line in the playoffs. The Bruins brass will do everything within their power to resign one or both of these players, and this means that Ference will very likely become a free agent. At 34 years old, he certainly isn’t young, but he definitely has time left to bring quality experience to the team that signs him. He has reputable playoff experience including three Finals appearances and one Cup win, and has been an alternate captain before. 50% of his starts came in the offensive zone, so he is neither protected nor hung out to dry, and he could be the kind of wily-ol’-vet D-man the Avs need.
Ron Hainsey: Another excellent option whom the Avs should extend an offer to. Winnipeg has $28.3 million in cap space, but only twelve players signed, with Bryan Little, Alexander Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and Eric Tangradi all potential UFAs or RFAs. Hainsey is a former first-rounder, 32 years old, 6’3” and 210 lbs. He brings both size and experience, and would fit well into the Avs’ system. He is no stranger to hard minutes, with only 44% offensive-zone starts.
Ryane Clowe: The Avalanche’s defensive issue is well known, but they also have some things to work out at left wing. They have an abundance of young talent at center (which would be further complicated should they draft Nathan MacKinnon) as well as at right wing. 30-year-old Ryane Clowe of the New York Rangers could possibly add experience and known talent to the Avs’ young front lines. Whether or not he can be had is up in the air; the Rangers have limited cap space, and assuming they buy out Brad Richards they will need seven players to complete their roster. With Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and Carl Hagelin all up for new contracts, the Rangers may or may not resign Clowe after a down year. Stepan and Hagelin will each command solid cash from the Rangers, so with the right offer, the Avs may be able to pick Clowe up in time for him to rebound.
Bryan Bickell: Bickell is coming off of a career playoff performance with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The ‘Hawks will likely try to sign him, but he will be worth a good deal after this last postseason, and while they already have 21 players signed they only have $2 million in cap space to try and hold on to him. He has stated that he would like to stay in Chicago, but the right amount would likely persuade him to leave, and he would bring size, talent and experience to a team that could use each of those at left wing. He is also 27, so he could stick around awhile. The only question is whether he can be had without overspending.
Jarome Iginla: Why not? Alright, so this one may be more fun than realistic (and maybe that’s a good thing), but it’s not entirely out of the question. Iginla and Sakic are good friends, and it is unlikely that he will resign with the Penguins, who don’t have much cap space and didn’t get much out of him for their surprisingly disappointing playoff run. Sure, there’s the question of his age (35, and the 16 years in the NHL weren’t easy on him), but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing on such a young team. And while he under-performed at left wing for the Pens, they gave him very little time to make a switch that would be hard for anyone. With an offseason to practice, he could potentially play a good left wing for the Avs and provide superb leadership. Would he be willing to sign with the Avalanche? Probably not, as he’s looking to land on a Cup-winning team before he retires, not help one rebuild, but it’s not every day a legend becomes available, so it wouldn’t hurt to make an offer.
There are obviously many more options besides these, so you can be sure that this summer will be filled with intrigue, offers, and counter-offers galore. The only thing that is certain is that it’ll be one hell of an offseason. Stay tuned, Avs fans.