Colorado Avalanche: Sakic Possibly Waiting for the Off-Season

Jun 24, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Tyson Jost shakes hands with Joe Sakic after being selected as the number ten overall draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 24, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Tyson Jost shakes hands with Joe Sakic after being selected as the number ten overall draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

While fans and pundits are agitating for a big trade, it’s possible Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic is set on waiting for the off-season to make any big moves.

The Colorado Avalanche are currently in a fight with the Arizona Coyotes. The “winner” gets last place in the entire NHL. The Avalanche have been winning that race for a month now, but the Coyotes are just one loss away from usurping Colorado.

Neither team really wants to be dead-last in the NHL. While it’s true that the last-place team gets the best chance at a first-overall draft pick — and is almost assured of a top-three draft pick — it’s said 2017 isn’t a stellar draft year. However, that’s a race the Colorado Avalanche are more sure to win than one for a playoff spot.

Because of the dire circumstances, the Colorado Avalanche are expected to make a move. Fans and pundits alike fully expect the team to trade a core player, someone along the lines of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog or Tyson Barrie.

Dealing any of those players is extremely tricky. GM Joe Sakic would have to ensure what he got in return was worth giving up one of those core players. You couldn’t gamble in a Duchene trade the way he did in the Ryan O’Reilly trade.

Firesale of Core Players

If Joe Sakic were really going to effect a huge trade, he’d have to define in what stage the Colorado Avalanche are. No, actually, he’d have to declare a true rebuild — playoff contention isn’t an option at this point.

Sakic would then have to brainstorm a blueprint for what the team should be. This doesn’t mean taking the pieces he has and trying to augment them. Trading someone like Duchene or even Landeskog is akin to the Toronto Maple Leafs trading Phil Kessel — you’re starting from scratch.

Nathan MacKinnon is generally seen as the only untouchable player on the Colorado Avalanche. So, if you’re building to his strengths, you’re looking either for players who are fast, gritty and agile or who complement those traits.

Of course, the blueline needs special attention, too. You have to make a decision once and for all as to what style of defense corps you want. Do you focus on analytic-darling puck movers, or do you slam the curtain down with some aggressive stay-at-home types?

That decision helps drive your goal tending decision as well. Right now the Colorado Avalanche is in a death spiral of seeing what kind of game Semyon Varlamov is going to have — or if his groin is going to allow him to have a game that night at all. If you’re going to hang your hat on such an inconsistent goalie, you’ve pretty much got to go with the less-sexy stay-at-home style defense.

Here’s the thing: Nothing suggests Joe Sakic is about to embark on a total rebuild. And if you’re not embarking on a rebuild, trading a core player is madness. It’d be like stabbing yourself to distract from having just had a limb severed.

Cap Space

Recently Terry Frei made an off-hand comment in an article that Joe Sakic was looking forward to the off-season when the team would have some freed-up cap space. In fact, not counting AHLers, the team has nine contracts expiring this summer, representing roughly $15 million. The largest chunk of that, of course, is Iginla’s $5.3 million salary.

The team will be through with Brad Stuart‘s $3.6 million buyout as well. Coupled with the roughly $1.2 million the team still has in cap space, that’s around $20 million the team can spend over the summer.

Certain players — and their contracts — are likely to return. I’ve got to think the Colorado Avalanche won’t give up on defenseman Nikita Zadorov just yet. Whether or not they sign Mikhail Grigorenko again depends on how badly Sakic wants to prove he didn’t lose the O’Reilly trade. If Rene Bourque continues playing the way he has, they might give him another year.

However, the Colorado Avalanche would still have a good chunk of change — at least $15 million — to augment the current core. You could get two excellent players for that money — a stud defenseman and a great forward. Colorado could use both.

Such a move would suggest Joe Sakic thinks the Avalanche are close to contending again, if even just for a playoff spot. Otherwise, you get young players and prospects to rebuild the team.

Which brings me to the other seeming part of Sakic’s plan.

High Draft Pick

I don’t think Joe Sakic built this team to tank and get a high draft pick on purpose. However, if he sticks with his plan to wait for the summer before making any big moves, then that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

It’s true that the current top draft prospect, center Nolan Patrick, isn’t a Connor McDavid-level player. However, Patrick is an explosive skater who crashes the net and makes excellent on-ice decisions. He might not be the Colorado Avalanche savior, but he’d be an excellent complement to Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene.

Center Nico Hischier might be a tantalizing pick for Sakic if the team doesn’t get the first-overall selection. Hischier is right up Sakic’s alley with quickness and skill, soft hands and great vision. He’s neither big nor gritty, but Joe doesn’t gravitate toward those players.

Personally, if the Avalanche don’t get the first-overall, I’d like to see them select Michael Rasmussen. He’s big and gritty with speed. His size and ice vision make him difficult to move if he doesn’t want to move.

Something that could happen — I got this idea from Adrian Dater — is the Avalanche trade their first-round pick for a great defenseman now. I guess it would have to be to a team in similarly dire straits that was honest about its rebuild. (Can you say Oliver Ekman-Larsson? Yeah, I know I’m dreaming.)

MORE FROM MILE HIGH STICKING: How the Avs Can Put 2016 Behind Them

In any case, I don’t think Joe Sakic is going to make a big move during the season. He’s almost certain to trade Jarome Iginla to a Stanley Cup contender at the trade deadline, though I suspect Colorado will have to retain some salary. Beyond that, he might trade a secondary player to relieve some cap space. However, he exposed both John Mitchell and Eric Gelinas on waivers, yet both are still with the team.

The big moves are going to come in the off-season, both at the draft and in free agency. Sorry, Avs Nation — no matter how you look at it, we’re simply going to have to keep limping through the 2016-17 season.

Erik Johnson Update

I attended the New Year’s Day practice. After most of the players had left the ice, I noticed someone hobbling toward the exit. It was our very own Erik Johnson.

I couldn’t see his feet, but clearly Johnson was wearing a boot. He seemed to be moving pretty well, though, and he did not have crutches. Like I said in a previous post, let’s hope his recovery is within the six to eight weeks — he’s four weeks in now.

By Nadia Archuleta for Mile High Sticking