Colorado Avalanche: Salary Cap and Addressing Need

Feb 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Tomas Tatar (21) chases the puck with Colorado Avalanche left wing Blake Comeau (14)and center Shawn Matthias (18) in the third period during a Stadium Series hockey game at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Tomas Tatar (21) chases the puck with Colorado Avalanche left wing Blake Comeau (14)and center Shawn Matthias (18) in the third period during a Stadium Series hockey game at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Once the Colorado Avalanche sign their restricted free agents, they are limited in what they can do within the salary cap ceiling.

The Colorado Avalanche did not rock the world with blockbuster trades like certain teams did recently. However, on the eve of Free Agency Frenzy, it’s time to look at what the team can even do.

GM Joe Sakic has said the team doesn’t intend to “make a splash” in free agency. However, they intend to look to their depth with free agents. What’s more, he’s remarked that a top defenseman is something he wants — and that’s something the team may need to find in trade.

Well, defensemen P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Adam Larsson — whom I hadn’t even considered, but now I kind of want — are officially off the market since they were already part of blockbuster trades. Since there are too many variables to address concerning trades and cap space, I’ll leave that alone.

That said, let’s look at what the Colorado Avalanche has to work with.

Colorado Avalanche Cap Space

According to General Fanager, the Colorado Avalanche have 26 active contracts that amount to  $52,065,593 in cap hit. Within that cap hit is included nine forwards, six defensemen and a goalie.

The biggest contracts going into 2016-17 are center Matt Duchene’s (who’s considered the cap ceiling for the team) and Erik Johnson, both slated to make $6 million. Gabriel Landeskog ($5.57 million), Jarome Iginla ($5.3 million) and Semyon Varlamov ($5.9 million) are close behind.

Some other big contracts include Carl Soderberg ($4.75 million) and Francois Beauchemin ($4.5 million). The rest of the contracts are pretty reasonable.

The team recently traded defenseman Nick Holden to the New York Rangers and Reto Berra to the Florida Panthers, which freed up a little more than $2 million in cap space. They are buying out defenseman Brad Stuart’s $3.6 million contract, but that still counts against the cap.

In all, the Colorado Avalanche have $20.9 million in projected cap space. However, they have some big restricted free agents to sign.

Colorado Avalanche Restricted Free Agents

The Colorado Avalanche have made qualifying offers to five restricted free agents — I suspect all of them will re-sign with the team.

Defenseman Duncan Siemens was the biggest surprise. The 22-year-old has spent all but one game of his entry-level contract playing in the AHL. His contract carried a cap hit of $863,333, though Colorado never had to pay that out. I suspect he’ll be offered the same amount of money next season.

Goalie Calvin Pickard has been tagged as Varlamov’s backup — and potential rival when the latter’s groin inevitably acts up. He’s coming off an entry-level contract with a $850,000 cap hit. I’m guessing he’ll get a pay raise — maybe around what Reto Berra made, $1.4 million.

Mikhail Grigorenko is coming off a one-year standard contract worth $675,000. He actually took a pay cut last year from $925,000. Let’s be generous (since it’s Kroenke Sports Empire’s money) and go back to $925,000.

I’ve deliberately left the two biggest names until last, Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie.

We’ve speculated about Barrie’s contract (and trade, but that’s another topic) here before:

Related Story: What is Barrie Worth?

I don’t see him breaking the Duchene/Johnson ceiling. Again, since it’s Kroenke money, let’s go big — $5.5 million.

I’m not sure about MacKinnon. It’s widely believed he’ll be the one to break the ceiling. Will he do it with his next contract, though, or get a bridge deal? I’m going to guess that, either way he won’t break the ceiling next season. He’s coming off his entry-level contract that carried a cap hit of $925,000 but an average annual value of $3.75 million with bonuses.

Nathan MacKinnon is the future of the Colorado Avalanche. He’s going to want a pay raise, even next season. Let’s play Oprah with Kroenke money: You get $5.5 million, you get $5.5 million — you all get $5.5 million!

So, here’s the break down:

  • Siemens: $863,333
  • Pickard: $1.4 million
  • Grigorenko: $925,000
  • Barrie: $5.5 million
  • MacKinnon: $5.5 million

That takes up another roughly $14 million in cap space, though Colorado may not have to pay out on Siemens’ contract. That gives the team just $6 left over.

Prospects and UFAs

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While the above figures do take Duncan Siemens’ projected salary into account, they don’t take into account other Colorado Avalanche prospects.

Both defensemen Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov were part of the $52 million cap hit. Mikko Rantanen was not. He’s expected to play for the Avalanche next season — his cap hit is $894,166.

The Colorado Avalanche need at least two more forwards, maybe three. J.T. Compher, who was acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, will probably be given a chance. His cap hit is $925,000.

That leaves roughly $4.2 million, still with Siemens’ contract. I’m leaving him on because head coach Patrick Roy likes to run with eight defensemen on the roster.

So, it becomes pretty clear why Sakic is saying the Colorado Avalanche aren’t going to make a big splash in free agency — they probably won’t have the cap space for it.

Colorado has two rental players going into unrestricted free agency, forwards Mikkel Boedker and Shawn Matthias. I’m guessing Boedker expects to become part of the $5.5 million club, and the Avalanche are unlikely to have that.

Matthias is a possibility. The 26-year-old is coming off a standard contract with a $3.75 million cap hit. I’m sure he’d love to make $5.5 million, but his play doesn’t support it. The Colorado Avalanche might be able to sign him at the same cap hit if they offered him long term — at least four years.

Colorado Avalanche Needs

The Colorado Avalanche’s needs are two-fold. They need to complete their NHL team while replenishing the AHL roster for call ups. Players who will spend the majority of the time with the San Antonio Rampage won’t have an impact on the cap ceiling, so we’ll leave them alone for now.

The Colorado Avalanche generally keep13 forwards and 8 defensemen on the roster. With Siemens but without Matthias, they need one more defenseman and two more forwards.

Colorado’s top-six consists of Duchene, Landeskog, Soderberg, MacKinnon and Iginla. That leaves one spot open. Rantanen might try to fill it, but that might be asking too much of the young forward. Grigorenko is another possibility.

The Avs also have five more forwards under contract — John Mitchell, Cody McLeod, Andreas Martinsen, Blake Comeau and Rocco Grimaldi. They are all bottom-six players, and Grimaldi may even spend some time in the AHL. Of them, Comeau is the most expensive with a cap hit of $2.4 million.

If Colorado signs Matthias at $3.75 million, they only need one more bottom-six/13th forward, and those come cheap. He’d have to — that would leave them with just $2.25 million.

The Avalanche have two top defensemen in Johnson and Barrie as well as an aging top defenseman in Beauchemin. They have talented young prospects in Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras. Maybe one of them could be a top-four the same way Ranty or Grigo could be a top-6.

Zadorov and Bigras are both on entry-level contracts, so they make under $1 million. The Colorado Avalanche have a fifth defenseman under contract, Eric Gelinas ($1.57 million). He’s a bottom pairing player.

The Avalanche would need one more defenseman to fill out the roster (if Siemens makes it), possibly a seventh d-man player. Again cheap, and again, that’s good — he’d have to share the $2.25 million with a role player forward.

So, the Colorado Avalanche can try to get a pretty good player like Matthias and a couple role players, or they can go for three decent players. Fan favorite Jack Skille is an option — he cost just $675,000 last season, and they could probably get him for that again.

Next: Avs Missed Out on Trades

Joe Sakic has some difficult decisions to make. Suddenly I’m glad I’m just an armchair GM.