We’re back with another edition of the Avalanche Roundtable. Rudo is on vacation this week so it’ll just be the remaining three of us to talk about big-time player acquisitions. We saw landscape-altering deals last year with the trades of Matthew Tkachuk and free agent signing of Johnny Gaudreau.
Who is the best player that gets traded this summer?
AJ: I’m going to say Pierre-Luc Dubois. I think Winnipeg should have an aggressive summer moving a few guys but I’m not sure their management has the courage to do something so drastic. Dubois has made it obvious he isn’t long for Winnipeg long term. He’s going into his final year of RFA and people seem to believe he’s destined for Montreal. If the Jets are smart, they’ll get ahead of their problem and just trade him there and try to get a Kirby Dach-like player in return and start working on their next attempt at contention with the focus being on Kyle Connor and Josh Morrissey.
Jesse: I’m sticking to my conspiracies and saying Auston Matthews. New GM, and the potential for there to be uncertainty when it comes to Matthews long-term future. Get something for him while you can.
Meghan: I think Toronto will pay to extend Auston Matthews which will leave the fate of William Nylander’s extension in question. Mitch Marner’s contract set the price for a winger markedly high, and I think both these things alongside the pending activation of Nylander’s ten-team no-trade clause will make him a target this offseason. Toronto is also staring down an important decision to make in net: will it be a guaranteed payday for Ilya Samsonov and what comes next for Matt Murray whose contract expires in 2024-25? All these things lead me to believe Nylander will be a hard asset to keep and if Toronto wants to maintain some leverage in the return, they’ll need to do this now. The 40-goal scorer can play in someone’s top-six and powerplay, so he should fetch a decent return.
Who is the best free agent scheduled to hit the market this summer?
AJ: This is almost a trick question because who actually ends up hitting the market is usually a very real mystery until the market actually opens on July 1, but I think the best forward will be Ryan O’Reilly and the best overall player is probably going to be Dmitry Orlov. I don’t see how Boston keeps Orlov around but that front office has performed some borderline miracles in recent years so I don’t want to totally count them out.
Anyway, Orlov is an underrated two-way defender whose market could be very useful for the Avalanche in gauging a Devon Toews extension. He has the potential to slot onto a team’s top pairing and his aging curve has been wonderful to this point. I’d consider him the top player available, which is more of an indictment of this market than anything else.
Jesse: It’s O’Reilly, and in my opinion it’s really not that close. I just don’t think there’s anybody else out there that will single-handidly improve a roster as much as Ryan O’Reilly will.
Meghan: Ryan O’Reilly is a highly-skilled swiss army knife. The market is thin for centermen. He can penalty kill, powerplay, and play top-six minutes. His work ethic is undisputed around the league and his leadership acumen is stabilizing. At 32-years-old, his production pace hasn’t fallen completely off even though he’s missed time the last two seasons. He’s a pretty reliable risk, but he will inevitably come at a steep price to the highest bidder in knowing this.
Which non-playoff team goes the hardest to try to get into next year’s postseason?
AJ: Meghan answered first and I echo her selection of team. The Sabres are really in a wonderful position to push, especially if Toronto does something drastic and takes a step or two back next season. They have an explosive forward corps that is extremely deep with NHL-ready prospects who may not even be able to crack the roster next year and a young defense brimming with potential. Their biggest hole has been in net and they just graduated one of the NHL’s top young goaltender prospects in Devon Levi. Should they hope the 21-year-old Levi is ready for the spotlight or use him as a trade chip to chase names like Connor Hellebuyck or John Gibson? Regardless of what they decide, it should be go-time for the Sabres.
Jesse: Folks, come on. It’s the Pittsburgh Penguins. As long as Crosby and Malkin are on the roster, ownership wants to see the team pushing for a championship. Goaltending has failed them two years in a row, and I think they’re going to do everything they can to get back on track.
Add in a new GM (Hi Kyle Dubas!), and forget about it. The Pens are selling out to get back into the dance.
Meghan: Buffalo intrigues me. The Atlantic division was stacked with juggernauts in the scheme of things: President Trophy-winning Boston, active-deadline Toronto, near-dynasty-level Tampa, and possible Stanley Cup Champions from Florida who finished a point ahead of Buffalo. Boston might be my second answer to this question due to some of the cap space that could be freed up if Patrice Bergeron retires (and David Krejci lesser so). For Buffalo, they came close to the wild card spot and received a prolific season from Tage Thompson with Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner, and Rasmus Dahlin right up there.
They have some decisions they can afford to make with their depth in the immediate, but they will need to make them with the extensions of a handful of pending 2025 RFA’s in mind – namely defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is a young goaltender still finding his way, but Craig Anderson’s retirement will open the door to reevaluate what they’d like to do in net (is 21-year-old Devon Levi ready? Will they re-sign Eric Comrie?) They have decent cap space to play with (a projected $16,959,763), but they do need to make decisions in net and within their depth. Because of this, I think they can take the biggest swing and should consider something to make a splash and gain an edge in a tough division.
Which playoff team takes the biggest step back this summer?
AJ: My early contender for this is Minnesota. They have comically overachieved the last couple of years on the backs of various outlier trends that held up just long enough for them to get summarily dismissed in the first round. Two years ago it was a flood of career-high seasons from a large contingent of their forward corps, this last year it was an exceptional breakout year from Filip Gustavsson that helped them along. They’ve proven to be a hard-nosed group that puts in an honest effort, but their talent level remains suspect and as the salary cap penalties from the Parise/Suter buyouts worsen this year, GM Bill Guerin remains challenged to find creative solutions.
I guess you can color me unconvinced that a bunch of percentage-driven things will go right for the Wild for a third straight season. They remain very good at the top of their defense with Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon and I trust them to replace Matt Dumba and John Klingberg (two players whose reputations exceed the quality of their play at this point in their careers) with guys who fit, but will that be enough? I’m betting no.
Jesse: Basically copy/paste AJ’s answer here for me. I’ve been waiting for the wheels to fall off of this Minnesota team since 2020, and it just hasn’t happened (give them credit).
I think next year the dead cap becomes too much, the goaltending flames out, and the depth up front isn’t enough. Not to mention, Dean Evason put on one of the worst coaching displays in the playoffs I’ve seen in several years. I just don’t know if he has what it takes to keep this team afloat.
Meghan: Edmonton is hand-cuffed to some costly contracts that make it difficult to make any changes. But changes – especially to their goaltending and defensemen – are necessary for them to take a step forward. Jack Campbell’s predictably tough showing in net will hold them back in a big way, and it will be difficult to offload that contract. I think the Oilers take the biggest step back this summer because they can’t take many forward.
Will the Avs commit the most money to an internal or external free agent this year?
AJ: I think it’s internal. If the Avs were able to convince Ryan O’Reilly to come back to Denver, I’d change my answer but my gut tells me that someone will offer more money, term, or both than what the Avalanche will be comfortable with and that leaves the next biggest contract they sign as Bowen Byram’s. Depending on the length, it could be a major deal or merely a bridge deal that is sensible for both sides while Byram accumulates more games to put on the ice for an easier contract the next time around.
Jesse: Internal. If there’s one thing this organization has proven over and over, it’s that they will not overpay for free agents. I don’t know, maybe the Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne thing scared them off.
Meghan: Internal. I think Colorado takes the biggest swing at a center, and I think they seek to inherit one through a trade. Through free agency, I think any centerman worthy of their top-six benefits from inflation when it comes to their contract. An Adam Henrique-type who has one more year at 5.825 is comparable to what J.T. Compher might be eyeing but with the possibility of retention and the incorporation of assets in the return if MacFarland and company can lean into the art of the deal. My gut tells me, proportionally, RFA Bo Byram is about to get paid. With needs still at center and on wing, I think this will limit Colorado’s ability to take on a single free agent with a higher AAV because they’ll try to balance both, but because I think they seek one through trade, I believe Byram is the highest paid free agent.