April 21 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny (26) awaits for a face-off drop across from St. Louis Blues center Vladimir Sobotka (17) in the second period at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Blues 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche Cap Conundrum

With the selection of Nathan MacKinnon at the 2013 NHL Draft, the Colorado Avalanche find themselves with a nice problem. One most teams would love to have to deal with.

MacKinnon, a natural center, has already been slotted as the third center by head coach Patrick Roy.  It gives him a chance to see quality chunks of ice time while not being burdened with carrying the offense at just 18 years old. The fear is that he could be forced into a defensive role to “ease him in”; that remains to be seen.

The problem with MacKinnon’s selection is that it creates a jam in the top-six for Colorado. Woe is the Avalanche, right?

With Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, PA Parenteau, Paul Stastny, Ryan O’Reilly, MacKinnon, and the recently re-acquired Alex Tanguay on board, there is only so much room and so many pucks to go around.

Now, the need to make a move isn’t something that needs to desperately happen right now. Hell, it doesn’t need to happen at all, really. If they were so inclined, they could hold off until closer to the deadline to make a move, giving MacKinnon time to grow into his role on the team.

Apr 27, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O

But the Avalanche could use one of those forwards to help fix the glaring issues on defense. And that’s where their problem narrows itself down a little bit. They aren’t trading Landeskog or Duchene. Nor are the likely to move Parenteau or Tanguay. That only leaves O’Reilly and Stastny.

O’Reilly, 22 years old, was the center of a spat between he and Colorado management over a new contract this past season.  It was unexpectedly resolved when the Calgary Flames put in an offer sheet on him and the Avalanche matched at two years and $10 million. It also means a few other things: O’Reilly will again be a restricted free agent after the 2013/14 season. That’s the big one. Secondly, it means that if that Avalanche want to make a qualifying offer, $5 million is the starting point. And lastly, because of the deal, they can’t deal him until February, a year from the time he signed his deal.

If the team was set on moving O’Reilly and moving him now, that obviously can’t happen but if they were content to see how the season plays out, give MacKinnon a little time to get used to the NHL game, and explore options at the trade deadline, they could do that.

Then there’s the consideration that the contract negotiations from earlier this year soured the relationship between the two. Could that come into play in terms of the Avs’ decision to move him? Would they even want to try to re-sign him knowing what they’ll have to commit and how it went last time?

As for Stastny, his future is just as murky.

The 27-year-old started out as a staple of the Avalanche; his dad Peter was a Hall of Fame player for the then-Quebec Nordiques, the franchise that would move to the Mile High City and become the Avalanche of told. He broke onto the scene as an underrated rookie but quickly took the league by storm, a consistent 70+ point-getter.

His premier playmaking skills netted him a new deal in 2008 to the tune of five years and $33 million.  But as the Avalanche got worse, and the injuries mounted, he became less of an impact on the ice and his point totals (and PPG) have declined four years running.

Given those facts, it’s hard to swallow his $6.6 million cap hit and, even though he’s an unrestricted free agent after this coming season, it’s something to consider if he’ll take a discount given his play of the last few years. And even then – just how big a discount can you really assume?

Complicating matters a little further are the other expiring contracts this year.

Joining Stastny and O’Reilly in the line of expiring contracts are restricted free agents Landeskog, Duchene (likely due a raise), Semyon Varlamov, Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie,  Jamie McGinn, and Mark Oliver while Steve Downie is unrestricted.

There’s a pretty good chance they can squeeze almost everyone in but, unless Stastny takes a sizeable hit in salary or O’Reilly doesn’t ask for another raise, one of them will likely have to go.

But who? And where to?

Well, rumors circulated that Stastny was in play for Dion Phaneuf of Toronto at the draft this past weekend, but nothing ever materialized. He is likely to be the one dealt given the restrictions on dealing O’Reilly and the fact that the latter is also just 22 years old.

Dealing Paul Stastny appears to be the way to go for the Avalanche. Get his salary off the books, don’t worry about having to re-sign him, and hope you can fit everyone else of importance under the cap ceiling with the room you’ve created by trading him.

As for just where he might end up, tune in Friday for a look at the six teams who could be a real fit for both Stastny and Colorado.

Follow me on Twitter: @RWTFC

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Tags: Colorado Avalanche NHL Paul Stastny Ryan O'Reilly

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