Beginning this week, we’re going to be using Monday as a vehicle for both a written roundtable and then using it as the jumping-off point for the podcast. Today we’re going to start with a look at Colorado’s free-agent priorities. Let’s see how the gang feels about it.
Let’s start in-house. Which Avalanche pending UFA would you prioritize re-signing?
AJ: I think it’s probably Evan Rodrigues. The weakness of the class means J.T. Compher is going to get paid coming off a career year and the Avs really just can’t swim in those waters. To me, it looks like Rodrigues was the kind of fit we theorized he could be when looking at UFAs last season. He ended up being a very valuable member of the team and his flexibility and production were very needed. Now, imagine a season in which he actually gets to play the middle six role he was signed for.
He’s been in the 40-point range last year and the one-year deal he signed in Colorado was all about trying to pump up his market value as he tried to repeat his career year. He basically did and then had a strong postseason performance, so I’m struggling to see where he comes quite as cheaply as last year but the Avs can’t really afford much more than that. If Rodrigues is happy here, the Avs should try to start with filling in the middle of their forwards with him.
Jesse: Ehhh… look, the Avalanche have a lot of decisions to make in terms of free agents who they are going to try and bring back, versus ones they’re going to let walk. They are more or less deciding just how much of their bottom six they want to completely rebuild.
I don’t necessarily want to say that JT Compher is the “priority” to re-sign, but he is absolutely the first UFA they need to make a decision on. If you’re bringing him back, then you’re probably letting pretty much everyone else walk save for maybe one other player. If it’s possible for the Avs to retain Compher, I think they should. He has the biggest impact of any of their potential UFAs, no doubt about it. If he is clearly priced out, shift focus to trying to get Evan Rodrigues under contract.
Meghan: As a noted Evan Rodrigues appreciator, it’s Rodrigues for the balance between anticipated cost and value. He proved he could fill top-six minutes with some aptitude. Outside of a dry spell in February, his regular season – particularly a valiant December where his production didn’t suffer despite teamwide struggles – was a well-rounded campaign. When he was added just before training camp, he was expected to fill more of a flex role in the middle-six. His stints at center also demonstrated even more flexibility.
Because he’s vocalized how much his family enjoys Colorado, I could see him being motivated to stay for a similar price point (2 MIL) perhaps with some term. For a guy who can play an elevated role when asked, he’d infuse the middle of the forward group with skill and improve the overall balance. Certainly, this will demand the Avs answer the gaping hole at 2C.
Rudo: Lars Eller. The Avs have the least amount of depth at the center position currently, at least when it comes to true centers. Watching players flex into the center spot last season only proved how valuable stability down the middle truly is and JT Compher unfortunately did not live up to the hype when the playoffs rolled around.
Given the very weak crop of free agent centers, how hard should the Avs push to keep J.T. Compher?
AJ: The reality here is that Compher’s assist numbers went through the roof when he got put alongside Mikko Rantanen for an extended stretch of time but very little changed about he rest of his game. His underlying numbers remained consistent with that of a third-line player who can fill in during times of injury. Unfortunately for the Avs, that became a permanent role for Compher and he proved once again where his ceiling is as a player. Compher has every reason to ask for something in the range of Andrew Copp’s deal, while Colorado would be a lot more interested in what Minnesota just gave Frederik Gaudreau. That’s an ocean’s gap. I would stay in touch, but I’m wishing Compher well if he gets an offer closer to Copp’s.
Jesse: You need center depth, and that doesn’t stop at 2C. Compher has done everything for the Avs’ during his time in Denver, including taking on a prominent leadership role during this past season. I think he’s a bigger part of this team than people give him credit for. If I were Chris MacFarland, I would be pressing pretty hard to see if I could make something work with Compher. He’s absolutely key to that middle-six.
That said, if they really start digging into negotiations, and it’s clear that he wants market value (which would be totally fair if he did) and is unwilling to meet the organization in the middle in order to stay in Colorado, then it’s best to just shake hands and go separate ways. You can’t bog yourself down with rich contracts in the middle of your lineup.
Meghan: I think it could play out similarly to Nazem Kadri last summer. Avs should have the inside track with Compher due to the rapport both parties have built, but when it comes down to the money, it will be hard for Colorado to match the pressure of other teams. Because the market for a center (at least through free agency) is thin, other teams will surely make generous offers. His career history reflects a middle-six player who can flex up in the lineup. In a contract year alongside top-six talent, he outperformed previous years by a notable margin, but it might be a stretch to imagine him as a long-term 2C solution and the Avs have a glaring need. If they’re to throw second-line money somewhere, I think they need a more sure thing. All due respect, J.T. Compher will still get paid at the end of the day.
Rudo: Not very; you come to the negotiation table and see if he wants to take a good deal for the Avs but realistically between Rodrigues and Newhook I think you have replaced Compher well enough. You can take the money you were going to spend on him and put it towards pushing for a proper solution at 2C.
The Avs have two high-profile RFAs in Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram. What kind of deals would you try to give them?
AJ: We’ve talked about this on recent pods a bit already and will talk more on today’s pod about it, so I’ll keep it brief. I think I’m giving Newhook a classic two-year bridge deal as he’s still finding himself at the NHL level. I’d love to give Byram something more substantial, but he’s under 100 GP across three seasons so durability has been a real problem. He’s one of the tougher RFAs in recent Avs history and I think cost certainty is paramount as they try to attack their roster questions, so I’d lean the safe route a
Jesse: I love the idea of giving Newhook the JT Compher contract (4×3.5). Maybe a little too high the day you sign it, but at just 22 years old with back-to-back 30-point seasons I think that’s a great bet on his upside.
For Byram, I honestly have no clue. This is going to be a fascinating negotiation to watch unfold, simply because I don’t think there’s a great comparable out there anywhere. Byram is a confident young man who understands his value AND his potential. Both of which are very high, especially for a player that was born in 2001. Problem is… reality says that he has missed a significant portion of time during his Entry-Level Contract term. So what do you do? Anything short-term and you risk a huge breakout and potentially not being able to afford Byram once that deal expires. A long-term deal is a risk for Byram potentially being underpaid after just a couple of years. My guess is they either go with a 3×3, OR there just might be a chance they could get Byram to agree to take something similar to the deal that Sam Girard took at a similar age (7 years, $5M per year).
Meghan: Based on Elliotte Friedman’s report that the Avs have tried to sign Byram before, I think the price really needs to be right. I’m not sure if it’s term or AAV that held him back, but just combining a little bit of both, I’ll predict in the 3×4 range. Health has been an unfortunate setback, but he still projects as a high end top-four defenseman. As for Alex Newhook, I think the 16th overall pick recognizes the room to grow. I co-sign Rudo’s 2×2 projection – I think the two years will give Newhook a chance to bet on himself to push for more on his next contract based on how he shows in the immediate.
Rudo: For Newhook a 2X2 or something in that range just seems too easy to not lock up fairly easily. I would entertain something like a 4×3.5 if that was on the table depending on how much money the Avs have to flex and how the rest of free agency shapes up. Byram is a lot more complicated, I would love him on a longer term deal if at all possible you are very likely saving money in the long run assuming he can stay healthy. The problem being as the Avs are fully in win now mode a short term deal would be more effective for that. A compromise might be the dream deal, something where both numbers have a 3 in them.
Is there a pending free agent for another team that you think would be a particularly great fit in Colorado?
AJ: For me, it’s Jonathan Drouin. I want to take that chance. Avs fans have long been fascinated with reuniting Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon but I’m just trying to find a guy who I think has a real chance to outproduce a cheap contract next season. The goal-scoring is a real concern (he has just 17 goals in his last 163 games) and his defensive game needs work but he remains a sublime playmaker and I’m open to giving him a chance to win a job in Colorado’s top six next year. The way the Avs play could get the best out of Drouin and he should be pretty cheap given the tumultuous tenure he just had in Montreal.
Jesse: It’s Ryan O’Reilly. He’s really the only player that I see out on the free agent market that really would move the needle for the Avs in a meaningful way. You aren’t going to be able to replace what you will once again be without in Gabe Landeskog. His impacts off the ice are just too great to think that there’s anybody that could give you 100% of what Landeskog brings but in terms of on-ice impacts… O’Reilly would patch a lot of holes in the top-six by himself.
Meghan: 28-year-old, left-wing Zach Aston-Reese. With uncertainty surrounding Andrew Cogliano and the Avs bottom-six generally, Aston-Reese is a depth replacement option for a fourth-line role that provides all of the things we appreciated in Cogliano. His defense-first instinct will fit well alongside the likes of Logan O’Connor and company. He can penalty kill, though it’s worth noting his production leaves something to be desired. He was a PTO success story in Toronto this season, so he strikes me as a player who could be convinced to join a team with an active Stanley Cup-caliber core on a cap-friendly contract for 1 MIL or under.
Rudo: At the heart of it Ryan O’Reilly is the dream but if we are looking at not top-end options I’ll say Gustav Nyquist. He shouldn’t be too expensive but is good for 15-20 goals a year and at age 33 the hope is you can get him on short-term deal (2 years max) on top of this whenever he is put in a good situation with talent he finds ways to produce effectively. He should be a nice middle-six piece that can help flesh out the roster especially if the Avs lose Compher.