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Should the Avalanche pursue Travis Hamonic?

AJ Haefele Avatar
November 30, 2015

 

When news broke a few weeks ago that New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic had requested a trade to a team in Western Canada, eyebrows all across the hockey world went up in piqued curiosity. When the details of the request were made public, the interest was even greater. A player in his prime at a premium position was suddenly looking to be moved to either Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, or Edmonton. With Vancouver apparently not showing interest, the list was down to three teams in the blink of an eye.

When it became clear those teams might have trouble meeting Islanders GM Garth Snow‘s asking price for Hamonic, the list reportedly was expanded to include the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche, which brings us to today’s big question: Should the Avalanche pursue Travis Hamonic? As the Avs head into Brooklyn tonight to take on Hamonic’s Islanders, it only seemed a fitting time to take a look at the player so many teams have shown interest in (Detroit and Los Angeles asked and were more or less told to go away) and what it might mean for Colorado.

The Player

Before we get into cost, let’s first get into Travis Hamonic and the kind of player he is. At 25-years old, he’s in the heart of the prime of his career right now, making the interest obvious. He’s having a strong start to this season, posting a 52.6% score-adjusted corsi-for, the strongest defenseman number on a strong possession team.

His WOWY (with or without you) numbers indicate his two most frequent defensive partners, Calvin de Haan and Nick Leddy, are benefiting quite a bit from playing alongside Hamonic:

de Haan with Hamonic: 52.3%
de Haan without Hamonic: 47.3%

Leddy with Hamonic: 52.1%
Leddy without Hamonic: 48.9%

In the case of both de Haan and Leddy, both players see more defensive zone usage when paired with Hamonic than without, making the stronger corsi numbers even more impressive.

While this year Hamonic is off to the strongest start of his entire career, his HERO chart suggests that he might be playing just a touch over his head:

Hamonic

Either way, there’s no denying that Hamonic is a strong two-way player and being only 25-years old means his best days very well could be ahead of him. What you see in that HERO chart, though, is that his offensive production may not grow much beyond what he’s already shown. He scored a career-high 33 points last season but is only on pace for about 21 points this season as he’s scored one goal and five assists through 24 games. While his career indicates he’s likely somewhere between his high last year and his pace this year, it still falls in the category of good but not great. The main attraction to acquiring Hamonic is a combination of his two-way ability, age, and his contract.

The Contract

In today’s NHL salary cap landscape, no conversation about the appeal of trading for a player is complete without discussing the financial implications for both franchises. In the case of Travis Hamonic, you’re talking about one of the best value contracts in the NHL today.

Hamonic is currently in year three of a seven-year, $27 million contract that began in the 2013-14 season. This is a 25-year old, top-four defenseman having the best season of his career and his cap hit is only $3,857,143 for this season plus the next four. In terms of cap hit, his closest comparables right now are John-Michel Liles (35-years old), Michael Del Zotto (only 25 but already on his third franchise), Justin Braun (28 and in the first year of his deal), and Johnny Oduya (34 and waited two weeks into free agency to get signed).

Needless to say, Hamonic is far better bang for the buck both in the short and long-term when you look at the other players making similar money. From the Islanders perspective, his value of a contract allowed them to go big in contract extensions for both Johnny Boychuk ($6M annual average value) and Nick Leddy ($5.5M AAV) last season. The Isles have no other big-money contracts along the blue line and with just over $6M in salary cap space remaining, they could conceivably take on larger contract in return if they needed to.

However, key forwards Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen are both unrestricted free agents next summer and both players are likely to command significant raises from the sub-$3M salaries they currently own. Given the uncertainty surrounding the salary cap situation and the power of the Canadian dollar, the NHL’s financial landscape is nothing short of murky right now and giving up the major value Hamonic’s deal represents could be a significant setback for a franchise that historically has struggled to attract free agents.

From Colorado’s seat, the deal would obviously represent a significant bargain as the Avalanche are sitting on just over $8M in salary cap space right now but only have 11 position players signed through at least next season and are facing big extensions for Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie as well as a tough decision on Alex Tanguay and the looming possibility of Alexander Radulov looking to re-unite with Head Coach Patrick Roy should he choose to leave the KHL.

The Cost

Now comes the tricky part. Say the Avalanche decide they are interested in acquiring Hamonic, which has been reported to be the case. Isles GM Garth Snow has been reticent to give Hamonic up without a similar player coming back in return. The hard part for Colorado is their limited trade assets that would make sense for Snow. When talking about the Jets, the target for Snow has allegedly been Jacob Trouba, a young defenseman with NHL experience and a ton of upside. For the Flames, Snow has asked about T.J. Brodie, another young defenseman.

The only player that currently fits the profile from the Avalanche perspective is Barrie but a straight Barrie-for-Hamonic swap doesn’t even really make much sense for the Avalanche as they get a better defender but a worse offensive player on the blueline. With Barrie’s upcoming contract negotiations, look for him to ask for and receive upwards of $5M AAV on a long-term contract extension so the financial ramifications make sense for the Avalanche but not the Islanders.

The other option you’re looking at is a trade package built around top defensive prospect Chris Bigras. Bigras, who lit up the OHL last year and is in his first full season of professional hockey, is a very well-liked prospect around the league and is a realistic call-up possibility for the Avalanche this season if injuries further strike their blueline.

Still, Bigras alone won’t be enough to entice the Islanders to give up Hamonic and the Avalanche would likely have to part ways with a player on their current roster. With New York not in need of forward help, finding a player to replace Hamonic along their blueline immediately would be important. Were Brad Stuart healthy, the Avs would likely love to move on from him and it would give the Islanders a player who could play the right side of the blueline.

Because Stuart isn’t healthy and the Isles probably have scouts that would veto the inclusion of the now-terrible Stuart, the Avs are more likely facing the prospect of having to give up Nick Holden alongside Bigras to make a Hamonic deal happen. While plenty of Avs fans would rejoice at jettisoning the mercurial Holden, the fact is Holden has been one of Colorado’s better defenders this year and his play has been a big reason why Nate Guenin has been a healthy scratch and why the Avs play in November drastically improved.

Holden’s contract also represents excellent value as a low second pairing, high third pairing-caliber defenseman. Replacing Hamonic with Holden immediately and then adding in Bigras to their blueline next year could be a way for the Islanders to use the cost-efficiency of Bigras’ entry-level contract and Holden’s solid value to keep their blueline from sinking into the corsi abyss while also allowing the team to contend for both today and tomorrow.

The Verdict

The possibility of giving up Bigras hurts for anyone who has followed his development since being Colorado’s second round selection in 2013 as he has steadily risen from “intriguing prospect” to “we can’t wait to see this guy in Denver.” He’s a prospect who has only gotten better when challenged and has been downright good in his first full pro season thus far.

That said, the upside of Bigras is right in the range of what Hamonic currently is. Given his age, contract situation, and ability, it only makes sense for the Avalanche to pursue Hamonic with the idea of adding Hamonic to their current blueline without giving up Barrie. One potential downside is that it would give Colorado three right-handed defensemen in Erik Johnson, Barrie, and Hamonic and none of the three have shown any ability to play on their off-hand at the NHL level.

Still, it’s hard not to look at the potential addition of Hamonic without giving up Barrie and thinking Colorado wouldn’t be setting themselves up for something potentially special along the blue line, especially with Nikita Zadorov still waiting in the wings and Beauchemin still playing at a high level.

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