Colorado Avalanche Outsider’s Opinion: Today’s Slapshot’s Sean Tierney


The Colorado Avalanche’s roster has changed a lot over the summer. A few players left, some new ones came in, and at Mile High Sticking, every one of our writers has analyzed every move. That is all important, but it should be interesting to see what totally objective hockey writers think about the Avalanche roster overhaul.

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That is why we will bring a few outsiders’ voices to our site. We started last week, with Puck Daddy columnist Ryan Lambert. Next up is Sean Tierney of Today’s Slapshot. Tierney covers the Atlantic Division for Today’s Slapshot, but has also written about the Leafs, Habs, Sens, Raptors, and Blue Jays for Fansided, The Hockey Writers, and Bleacher Report.

We asked him a series of questions regarding the Avalanche’s off-season. So let’s take a look at what he thinks.

1. The Colorado Avalanche dealt Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and a second-round pick (whose closest relative is A.J. Greer). Did they get a good enough return for a player like O’Reilly?

Sean Tierney: Short answer, no. Long answer, yes.

In 2015-16, the Avalanche are clearly worse off because of this deal. O’Reilly 64 and 55 points in each of the past two season, which is legitimate first line production in the modern NHL. The Avalanche ranked 23rd in goals per game last season so the loss of a key offensive cog in the middle of the ice will sting. Mikhail Grigorenko has yet to show a developed offensive game at the professional level, Zadorov is a defenseman, and Compher and Greer are years away from making the team. This deal hurts the team in the short term.

Long term, however, Colorado likely dodged a bullet. O’Reilly and the club had endured a “complicated” relationship based, in part, on O’Reilly’s contractual demands. The centreman’s new contract in Buffalo is an overpayment and is virtually buyout-proof, meaning the Sabres are stuck with O’Reilly for seven more seasons, regardless of how he plays. In a cap-conscious NHL, this huge financial restriction could have crippled the Avalanche – instead, O’Reilly’s big money deal is Buffalo’s problem. In exchange for dealing away a salary cap headache, the Avalanche acquired some futures all while maintaining the money needed to sign upcoming free agents Erik Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon (RFA), Tyson Barrie (RFA), and Grigorenko (RFA) to new deals next summer.

2. With that answer in mind, who do you think will look like the winner of the trade a) after next season and b) five years down the road?

ST: After next season, when the Avalanche have the cash to retain the aforementioned free agents, the team won’t look like they lost the deal. Though, if a revamped Sabres roster reaches the playoffs with O’Reilly playing a key role, financial flexibility may feel like small consolation. Next year, losing O’Reilly’s talent down the middle of the ice will still be a painful loss.

In five years, O’Reilly will approach his 30th birthday and receive a $5 million signing bonus before starting the season. If any of the prospects received in this trade have panned out (a big if) this deal could be seen as a win for the Avalanche in five years. Zadorov has been called a “Hedman-type” and Grigorenko is noted for his “top-line scorer” potential. If either of these projections prove true, this deal will be a clear win for Colorado.

3. Mikhail Grigorenko is said to have been rushed into the league, hurting his development. He has also been contemplating a move back to Russia. What do you think he can bring to the Colorado Avalanche right now and in the future?

ST: Grigorenko has sputtered in the NHL so far, mustering only 14 points in his first 68 NHL games. Still, he is viewed as an offensive sparkplug who matches well with high-calibre wingers and can drive the offensive attack when surrounded with talent. In Colorado, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Jarome Iginla, and Alex Tanguay are all able as potential wingers. If scouting reports on Grigorenko are true, he should double his career points total by the middle of November.

4. The Colorado Avalanche signed free agents Francois Beauchemin and Carl Soderberg to play on the top D-pairing and center the second line, respectively. Beauchemin is now 35, and Soderberg has never centered a second line before. Were they the right choices?

ST: As a frequent writer on the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Beauchemin deal is reminiscent of the three-year deal the Leafs have to Stephane Robidas last year. Beauchemin, now 35-years-old, has logged 673 games in his career. His advanced stats show that he is a top-four quality defender who has experience being miscast in top-pair minutes.

Beauchemin may prove handy as the team’s third or fourth blue liner. If he’s asked to continue absorbing top-pair minutes, his poor work suppressing shots against will add up quickly.

Soderberg’s advanced stats show that he’s a quality third-line centre with some second-line talents, including primary assists and suppressing shots against:

While Soderberg won’t be counted among the top second-line centres in the NHL, he’s serviceable in the role and certainly will be part of the solution in Colorado.

5. Many fans and Avs writers are convinced that the team gained some much-needed depth this off-season. Do you agree?

ST: The Avalanche did add some depth. Soderberg, Grigorenko, and Blake Comeau give the Avs the making of a second line of forwards. Beauchemin adds experience and Zadorov adds upside to the blue line. Not one of the additions stands out as a superstar acquisition sure to alter the fortunes of the club but, ensemble, the Avs will have a few more solid roster options around the lineup next season.

6. Overall, did the Colorado Avalanche become a better team over the summer?

ST: No. As detailed above, O’Reilly is the best player that moved in/out this offseason; and he moved out. The forward and defensive depth that the team has added will serve to soften the blow but, in the short term, Avs fans should be prepared for some pain as the team rebuilds with an eye to the not-too-distant future.

7. If you were the Colorado Avalanche’s GM, what would you have done differently this off-season?

ST: Moving O’Reilly out seemed to signal a belief that the team isn’t going to win now. Yet, Duchene, Landeskog, MacKinnon, Johnson, Barrie, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov form a competitive core group. Previous research has suggested that NHL forwards peak at age 28, defensemen at age 29. Most hockey analytics thinkers agree that possession impact and team usage skew those numbers and that players actually peak a couple of years earlier in their career arcs. MacKinnon (19) and Landeskog (22) are still young and have likely yet to reach their full potential. The rest of the team’s core is between 24 and 27 years old. In a sense, that means players like Duchene, Barrie, Johnson, and Varlamov are in the peak of their careers and ready to win now.

Despite the youthful core in the midst of reaching their peak, the Avs roster adds up to sixth-oldest in the NHL.

For general manager Joe Sakic, the team is caught in an awkward position. The priority should be moving on (through trade or otherwise) from skaters like Iginla (38 years old), John Mitchell (30), Tanguay (35), Cody McLeod (31), Brad Stuart (35), and Nate Guenin (32). Any moves to acquire additional prospects or draft picks – or simply free up roster spots for younger players – would help to speed the rebuild-on-the-fly in Colorado. On the other hand, embracing a full rebuild risks wasting the prime years of their young stars.

If it was me? Pursuing underappreciated/cheap free agent options to push out some older roster players could revitalize the team enough to reach the post-season. Unsigned defensemen like Cody Franson or Christian Ehrhoff (editor’s note: Ehrhoff was still unsigned at time of interview) would be a huge roster boost. Adding an underappreciated free agent like Martin Erat to round out the forward corps could help.

8. Last but not least, where will the Colorado Avalanche finish in the Central Division in 2016? (If not top 3, please include if wild card or not)

ST: This team’s offense should trend upwards to middle of the NHL pack. Goaltending, when Varlamov is healthy, is not the issue. But the defense remains a problem overall and losing O’Reilly hurts the team in the short term. Expect the Avalanche to come in around 85-90 points, likely finishing at the bottom of the Central Division in 2016.

Thank you very much, Sean!

The answers to our questions were long enough, so I don’t even bother you with my comments, except for this one:

Over the past weeks, it became clear that just about every Colorado Avalanche fan expects their team back in the playoffs next year, or at least very close to that. I myself have recently come to the conclusion that last place in the Central Division may be the most realistic outcome, though, and as we can see, many other writers seem to agree.

Your turn to shoot us with comments! And again, thank you very much, Sean Tierney!

Next: Outsider's Opinion: Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert

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