The Colorado Avalanche rostered one of the most dangerous teams in the cap era this season. They were on pace for 120 points over a full 82 games, something only four teams have achieved since the 2004 lockout.
For the record, the 2010-11 Canucks hit 117 points during the regular season. Three other teams (‘20-21 Vegas Golden Knights, ‘12-13 Pittsburgh Penguins, ‘12-13 Chicago Blackhawks) also played at a 120-point pace or better.
Although it didn’t lead to Stanley Cup success, Colorado is primed for a strong future thanks to a core of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, which is complemented by a deep roster.
Joe Sakic and the Avs are bound to lose a good player in the expansion draft, but their situation isn’t as dire as one might assume.
Here is Colorado’s projected protection list, courtesy of Peter Baugh from The Athletic.
- Nathan MacKinnon
- Mikko Rantanen
- Gabriel Landeskog (UFA)
- Nazem Kadri
- Andre Burakovsky
- Tyson Jost (RFA)
- Valeri Nichushkin
- Cale Makar (RFA)
- Samuel Girard
- Devon Toews
- Philipp Grubauer (UFA)
A couple of things are worth noting here.
- Judging by this list, neither of the Avs two BC boys, Devon Toews or Tyson Jost, will be exposed. Toews has played his way onto the list after a fantastic first season in Colorado. For Jost, despite posting just 17 points in 54 games, his impact as a cost-effective, third-line, penalty-killing centre means he likely will be protected.
- There’s a noteworthy defenceman mentioned down below who will likely be unprotected, unless the Avs elect to protect eight skaters...which isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
- One reason why that’s not out of the realm of possibility is because Gabriel Landeskog is an Unrestricted Free Agent. It’s been suggested that the Avs could leave him unprotected, which would allow Colorado to protect the fourth defenceman. If that’s the case, do the Avs leave Landeskog, Jost and Nichushkin exposed?
That would theoretically open up other trade possibilities for the Canucks (I’d love to see Jost as the Canucks third-line centre), but for now, we’ll focus on the projected unprotected players that Vancouver can target via a trade with the Avs.
2020-21 Stats: 54 GP, 2-13-15
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons at a cap hit of $3.16 million (UFA in 2023)
In case you didn’t guess which noteworthy defenceman I was referring to, here’s the answer.
RYAN GRAVES FANCAM— madi (@madi_sherrick) June 22, 2021
Don’t Trust Me by 3OH!3 pic.twitter.com/KHXI7LfWk5
I’d be shocked if the majority of NHL teams weren’t calling Sakic to inquire about Ryan Graves’s availability if he were to go unprotected in the expansion draft. The hulking 6’5”, 220-pound rearguard has quickly emerged as a legitimate top-four defensive defenceman in the NHL.
The 26-year-old largely played alongside Cale Makar in the playoffs, but during the regular season, he had a rotating cast of partners. No matter who he played with Graves was one of the best defencemen in hockey in terms of preventing scoring chances.
If you’re looking for a superior Alex Edler replacement as a left-shot, second-pairing defenceman, there aren’t many better options than Graves.
Trade Value: This reminds me of the “Trade Tanev Club” from years back. At the time, Tanev was around the same age that Graves is now. I’m sure Sakic would love to get a first-round pick for Graves...but I don’t think you can afford to give that up if you’re the Canucks. However, a second-round pick and another middling asset (Kole Lind, Will Lockwood?) could potentially get a deal done, or at least get a conversation started. If something along those lines would get the deal done, then the Canucks have to pull the trigger. It’s also worth noting that Colorado is short four picks in the upcoming draft, including their second-rounder.
2020-21 Stats: 51 GP, 17-14-31
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons at a cap hit of $3.9 million (UFA in 2023)
The 28-year-old Finnish winger had a career year for the Avs in 2020-21. Despite playing only 51 games, Donskoi set a career-high with 17 goals.
Expecting Donskoi to score at a 27-goal pace over 82 games isn’t realistic, but he is a solid middle-six forward who can safely be relied upon to register 30+ points per season.
With Colorado boasting an abundance of depth on the wings, Donskoi and his $3.9 million cap hit are expendable.
Trade Value: Although Colorado has cap space to work with, impending contracts for Landeskog, Makar and Grubauer push them uncomfortably close to the cap ceiling. With that being the case, could Colorado be incentivized to shed a contract for a player like Donskoi? You can envision this being a Nate Schmidt type of deal, where a player with contract and term gets traded at value for a third-round pick.
2020-21 Stats: 48 GP 10-8-18
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons at a cap hit of $3.5 million (UFA in 2023)
Similarly to Donskoi, JT Compher is another solid middle-six forward who can provide offence. He’s also signed for two more years with a similar cap hit.
There are a couple of differences between the players, however. Compher is two years younger (26), and he plays as a hybrid centre and winger, whereas Donskoi is just a winger. Therefore, Compher could fill in as a third-line centre for the Canucks. Among all Avs forwards, only Kadri took more defensive zone faceoffs for Colorado at even-strength.
Trade Value: You’d have to assume it’s something in the ballpark of the deal for Donskoi. Perhaps a third-round pick would suffice if Colorado is eager to shed a bit of cap space. Otherwise, the asking price might go up.
2020-21 Stats: Did not play.
Contract Status: Signed for one more seasons at a cap hit of $2 million (UFA in 2022)
Because of Vancouver’s impending cap crunch, it makes a ton of sense to buy out the remaining year of Braden Holtby’s contract.
According to CapFriendly, buying out Holtby would chance his cap hit from $4.3 million to $500,000, for savings of $3.8 million next season. Buying him out would cost the Canucks $1.9 million in cap space during the 2022-23 season, however, they project to have more cap flexibility by then anyways.
If the Canucks are serious about improving next season, they should strongly consider buying out Holtby, finding a cheaper backup, and using the cap savings to improve the roster.
That’s a long explanation of why Pavel Francouz is on this list. Although he didn’t play a game last season due to injury, he is expected to be fully healthy in time for the 2021-22 season.
In 36 career games, Francouz has a .923 save percentage. Ideally, you’d like to have your backup goalie make a little less than $2 million, but swapping out Francouz for Holtby would result in $1.8 million in cap savings for next season. Francouz is more cost-effective compared to Holtby, and there’s a good chance that his on-ice performance is superior as well.
Trade Value: The trade that Toronto made for Dave Rittich (a third-rounder at this year’s deadline) seems like the ceiling for this type of deal. Perhaps Colorado could recoup their missing fourth-round pick in this year’s draft in a deal for Francouz.
Which player would you like to see the Canucks target in a trade with the Avalanche?
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