Colorado Avalanche Made Their Own Roster Mess

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 24: General manager of the Colorado Avalanche Joe Sakic attends the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 24: General manager of the Colorado Avalanche Joe Sakic attends the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The management team of the Colorado Avalanche is solely to blame for the current mess involving Will Butcher and Nikita Zadorov

It could be a tough week for the Colorado Avalanche. If they don’t sign Nikita Zadorov in the next couple days, he may well be the second high profile young defenceman this week to eschew the organization for another team. And if he does leave, it will be for the same reason Will Butcher is: the Avalanche don’t have their priorities straight.

For whatever reason, the Avalanche insist on finding reasons to part ways with their young players. It’s an all too familiar pattern, and it will cost them yet again. The only question is whether they lose two good young defencemen instead of one.

The most frustrating part is that the solution appears painfully clear, at least from the outside. Stop worrying about less important things like size and contract value, and focus on building a good team.

A Problem Like Will Butcher

NEWARK, NJ – FEBRUARY 14: Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) talks with teammates Fedor Tyutin (51) and defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16). (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ – FEBRUARY 14: Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) talks with teammates Fedor Tyutin (51) and defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16). (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Colorado probably could have signed their 2013 5th round draft choice last season. Given the season Butcher had in the NCAA this year – winning league MVP, best offensive defenceman and captaining his team to the national championship – it’s debatable whether he would have been better off had he turned pro. He may not have had the opportunity to develop the way he did if he played in the AHL last season.

Financially he definitely would have been better off though. He would have been paid a hefty sum rather than having to pay tuition. And the Avalanche could have had him for decent value had they signed him prior to this year.

But he’s small.

So the Avalanche allegedly told him there’s no place for him in their future. Curiously, they didn’t trade his rights or take any steps to gain some value from a guy they didn’t seem to want. They let him go back to the NCAA and tear it up.

Now they want him.

Will Butcher owes the Colorado Avalanche nothing. They didn’t do him a favour by drafting him and owning his exclusive negotiating rights for 4 years. It wasn’t the few days of development camp the Avalanche offered, that he had to pay to attend, that made him into the best player in his league.

Butcher earned the opportunity he’s presented with now. He earned it by not being signed earlier, by forfeiting tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars by not turning pro. Will Butcher made himself into the player he is now, with only a little bit of help from the Colorado Avalanche.

Now, he’s in a position to leverage his hard work and sacrifice to choose where he begins his professional career. It’s natural for Avalanche fans to lament that reality, but it’s not fair to blame him for it.

Related Story: Avs and Ungrateful Will Butcher

What is fair, is to blame the front office for letting it get to this point.

Salvage Mission

The cleanest solution would involve going back in time and not telling Will Butcher to be taller. Alas, that’s not an option. The only thing the Colorado Avalanche management team can do from here is try and trade Butcher’s rights.

The Nashville Predators found themselves in a similar situation with their 2012 draft pick Jimmy Vesey. After winning the Hobey Baker in 2016, Vesey opted to test free agency. Fearing a loss of their asset for nothing, the Predators traded him to the Buffalo Sabres for a 3rd round draft pick.

Of course, given that Vesey signed with intra-state rival the New York Rangers instead of the Sabres, teams might be cautious to pull the trigger on a similar move with Butcher. Nevertheless, it’s imperative the Avalanche get something for Butcher.

If they can land a mid round pick in the upcoming draft, the Avalanche can salvage the situation they got themselves into. Not entirely of course, but more like getting a tourniquet on a wound before bleeding out.

Ideally, they would also learn from this situation, but that’s asking a lot from a group that repeats their mistakes.

The Irony of Nikita Zadorov

Zadorov is more than half a foot taller and 40 pounds heavier than Butcher, so his size isn’t the reason he’s on the verge of leaving. But the reason he is (allegedly at least), is one that Colorado Avalanche fans are all too familiar with.

It’s the reason he’s here in the first place.

Colorado doesn’t want to pay one of their good young players. As an organization, the Avalanche still seem stuck in the notion that a perfectly aligned salary structure is more important than a good team.

Zadorov ostensibly wants more money than GM Joe Sakic and company want to give him. Which is the same reason they traded Ryan O’Reilly for the package built around Zadorov 2 years ago. How horribly ironic it would be if Zadorov fled the team for the same reason they traded for him.

Related Story: Time Running Out for Zadorov Deal

Now to be fair, Zadorov hasn’t done much in the NHL. He certainly hasn’t earned a high value contract. And without knowing the terms being negotiated, it’s unfair to heap too much scorn on management.

But unless Zadorov’s looking for something exorbitant, the Avalanche should just suck it up and sign him. They can deal with the fall-out later.

History offers some hope, since the Avalanche snuck in a deal with O’Reilly minutes before going to arbitration. Why they let it get to that point rather than offer a deal they were clearly comfortable with earlier remains a mystery. Maybe the guy with the most playoff over-time winners in history gets a deal done at the last minute.

But the fact it got this far is a bad omen.

The Value of Nothing

More from Mile High Sticking

Fixing this problem is easy. Stop playing hardball with your good young players and driving them away. Overpay them if you have to.

Even if Zadorov’s cap hit was 5 million, way more than he’s worth, that would be more than offset by Francois Beauchemin and Cody McLeod coming off the books next year. They can afford to pay Zadorov, they’re just choosing not to.

Getting bad value in this contract is better than getting nothing at all.

Teams don’t win without getting into cap trouble. The Pittsburgh Penguins had to jettison Marc Andre Fleury to get under the cap this year. The Chicago Blackhawks had to dismantle after each of their cup wins.

They weren’t obsessed with never getting into cap trouble. Cup winning GMs do what they need to do to win, then deal with it from there. They know that it’s better to have a good team than a good salary structure. It seemed Colorado’s management had learned this lesson, but now that hope is dimmed.


If they sign Zadorov to a deal that doesn’t work for them long term, trade him. There’s no way the Avalanche will be in cap trouble this season or next, so refusing to overpay a guy a little bit is just petty and self-defeating.

Imagine the Avalanche had sucked it up and paid O’Reilly the deal he got with the Sabres. They would have got two prime years of a great hockey player, with the possibility of trading 26 year old top 6 centre who is under contract for 5 more years.

Instead they got worse, and are in danger of falling even further behind.


The Colorado Avalanche could very well lose two good young defencemen this week, and if they do, it will be their own fault. Will Butcher is under no obligation to bind himself to the team that drafted but failed to sign him. Nikita Zadorov might be asking for more than he’s worth, but given the situation, that shouldn’t deter the Avalanche from locking him up.

In both cases, management looked at a player who could be an asset and prioritized their ability to play hockey below something less important. Butcher is small, Zadorov hasn’t done much in the NHL.

So what?

The Colorado Avalanche need to stop searching for excuses not to keep good players around. They’re too good at finding them.