Colorado Avalanche free agency make look different after the draft weekend. Never mind the prospects Colorado picked up — forward Mikko Rantanen is the only one who might make the team next season, and it’s sure to be in a limited capacity because of his age. Let’s just focus on the signings.
Colorado acquired the rights center Carl Soderberg from the Boston Bruins and signed him to a five-year contract. He’s expected to partially replace Ryan O’Reilly, perhaps on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.
In the O’Reilly trade the Avalanche acquired center Mikhail Grigorenko from the Buffalo Sabres. Grigorenko is a restricted free agent. He could be in the MacKinnon-Landeskog line in place of Soderberg or play wing to Matt Duchene. Colorado needs to sign him first, though.
The other big piece of the O’Reilly trade was young defenseman Nikita Zadarov. He’s tied up in a contract for two more years. Zadarov is a big player — 6-foot-5, 236 pounds — and a lefty. He could be head coach Patrick Roy‘s idea of a partner for cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson, or he could serve as offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie‘s muscle.
In short, the Colorado Avalanche’s needs do not seem perfectly clear. The team looks pretty well set at center, as always. Wings are a little thin, but a lot of centers can do double duty. Defense seems better, but common opinion is that the team is still going to go after a defenseman during Colorado Avalanche free agency.
If that’s so, will the team go after the popular choice, unrestricted free agent Andrej Sekera of the LA Kings? Or might there be a sleeper pick, such as restricted free agent Eric Gelinas of the New Jersey Devils?
Mar 10, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Kings defenseman Andrej Sekera (7) attempts a slap shot in the first period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Andrej Sekera is not that big for a defenseman — 6-foot, 201 pounds. Perhaps for that reason, he’s not a really physical defenseman.
Sekera is one mobile defenseman, though. He can work that puck up the ice. His passing is spot-on. He earned 23 points last season, 20 of them on assists.
Andrej Sekera is a great puck-moving defenseman, which the Avalanche need. However, head coach Patrick Roy has stated he wants the team to get bigger. No one the Avalanche acquired over the weekend is smaller than 6-foot-2, and that was a draftee. At 29 years old, though, Sekera is in his best years as a defenseman.
Andrej Sekera carried an annual cap hit of $2.75 on his last contract.
Best I can tell, Eric Gelinas’ name isn’t being tied to Colorado Avalanche free agency even in rumors. However, neither was Carl Soderberg’s, so it’s not like the front offices are incapable of keeping a secret.
Restricted free agents rarely seem to change hands. However, the New Jersey Devils under-utilized Gelinas last season, giving him only around 16 minutes of ice time per game.
Gelinas is very big at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. At 24, he’s still a bit green for a defenseman. He’s played in 122 NHL games, earning a total of 13 goals and 35 assists. He’s not overly physical, but he does have that size. Gelinas is also a lefty.
Gelinas is just entering his stride in the NHL. He may still need a year to reach his potential better. He already shows strong skating skills — one of his favorite things to do is lead the rush up the ice. His slap shot is wicked, and as a converted forward, his offensive game is already looking good. He could easily be a strong two-way defenseman.
Gelinas has been carrying an annual cap hit of $900,000.
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Andrej Sekera is the low-hanging fruit in that he’s an actual unrestricted free agent. The team would only have to make him the right offer.
As a fit for the Colorado Avalanche, though, I don’t see it as being perfect. I don’t see Sekera as Erik Johnson’s defensive partner. Johnson is big, strong and mobile. Sekera is just mobile. He could serve as Tyson Barrie’s partner, but then that just becomes the midget pairing.
Eric Gelinas may not be at all available to the Avalanche. Maybe New Jersey is going to sign him to a bridge contract to give him one more try.
I hope not, though, because he’s a much better fit for the Colorado blueline. He’s got the size in addition to the skating ability. He might be a little green as Erik Johnson’s D-partner, but Johnson is a leader. And Gelinas is further along in his development than Zadarov, who’s played half as many NHL games.
Andrej Sekera trying to partner Johnson could be another Brad Stuart situation — a failed pairing. Eric Gelinas parntered with Johnson could well be a juggernaut of a defensive pairing, leaving big Nikita Zadarov to provide the space for Tyson Barrie to work his magic.
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