Quickly flipping the page on the 2023 NHL Draft, the focus now shifts to the start of free agency, which officially opens on Saturday, July 1.
The Colorado Avalanche figure to be active both in trying to retain their own key free agents while finding the best options to bolster their roster for the 2023-24 season.
As is, the Avs have $8.575 million in cap space. However, that doesn’t consider Gabriel Landeskog’s contract going on LTIR, which I’ll get to here in a minute.
Before diving into the free agency primer, here’s a brief look at the Avalanche’s top 10 cap hits for the 2023-24 season.
1. Nathan MacKinnon: $12.6 million
With his new contract kicking in following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, MacKinnon became the highest-paid player in the league, surpassing Connor McDavid in that category. The 27-year-old is under contract through the 2026-27 season.
2. Mikko Rantanen: $9.25 million
With two years left on his deal, the Avs will need to prepare themselves to re-up with Rantanen following the 2024-25 season, especially if he continues to produce at the level we saw this past season. The Finnish forward scored a whopping 55 goals and 105 points while playing in all 82 games.
3. Cale Makar: $9.0 million
Makar finished third in the Norris Trophy voting behind Erik Karlsson (San Jose) and Adam Fox (New York Rangers). He was limited to just 60 games last season but still scored 66 points (17 goals, 49 assists)
4. Gabriel Landeskog: $7.0 million
Landeskog will miss the entire 2023-24 campaign after undergoing knee surgery. Assuming he returns for the start of next season, it will have been two years since he played a meaningful game. For the upcoming season, though, the Avs can place his contract on LTIR, giving them nearly $16 million in cap space to work with.
5. Valeri Nichuskin: $6.125 million
After his mysterious absence from Game 3 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nichuskin came under tremendous scrutiny for his role in an incident at the team hotel in Seattle. He’s not under investigation by the NHL or the Seattle police, so hopefully, he can put this behind him in 2023-24. He still has seven years left on his deal, so the Avs need him to be focused and be a 50-point player, much like he has been in the last two seasons.
6. Samuel Girard: $5.0 million
Girard has been the center of trade rumors over the last couple of seasons, but it seems, at least for the time being, he’ll remain on the roster in 2023-24. Still just 25 years of age, Girard is scratching the surface of his potential, especially coming off a career-high 37 points (six goals, 31 assists) last year.
7. Artturi Lehkonen: $4.5 million
Perhaps the best bargain contract in the NHL? Artturi Lehkonen has been effective since the Avs acquired him in March 2022. In 2022-23, the 27-year-old averaged the most TOI (20:27) while enjoying a career year to the tune of 51 points in 64 games. Like MacKinnon, he’s under contract through the 2026-27 season.
8. Josh Manson: $4.5 million
Another excellent acquisition and re-upping by the Avs’ front office, Josh Manson has brought some grit to the blue line. He was limited to just 27 games due to injury in 2022-23 but still produced 10 points (two goals, eight assists) over that span. Assuming he’s good to go for next season, he’ll be a big piece along the right side of the defense.
9. Devon Toews: $4.1 million
Toews is another player who is under heavy trade speculation. He’s entering the final year of his contract and expected to receive a sizeable increase on his next contract. Will the Avs move him this season or re-sign him? That will be a significant storyline leading up to the start of the 2023-24 campaign and throughout, especially as they approach the trade deadline.
10: Ryan Johansen: $4.0 million
Johansen gives the Avs a legitimate 2C behind MacKinnon, and at just $4.0 million, his contract looks like a bargain. Sure, he had a subpar year in 2022-23, but he’s a year removed from a 63-point season and has scored at least 26 goals three times over his career. Insulate him on the second line with Nichuskin and perhaps Evan Rodrigues — should the Avs re-up with him — Johansen is likely to see a bounceback year in 2023-24.
Unrestricted Free Agents
- Darren Helm
- Andrew Cogliano
- Lars Eller
- Matt Nieto
- J.T. Compher
- Evan Rodrigues
- Jack Johnson
- Erik Johnson
A few quick thoughts on the UFA’s:
- According to Adrian Dater, there’s still a chance that the Avs bring Cogliano back for another year. His leadership and grit are exactly what Colorado needs.
- Per a recent report, the Avs are set to move on from J.T. Compher, who has been with the organization since 2016-17. He should fetch a well-deserved contract in free agency already drawing interest from the Blackhawks.
- Erik Johnson, the longest-tenured member of the Avalanche, is likely to move on from the organization as well.
Restricted Free Agents
- Ross Colton
- Ben Meyers
- Denis Malgin
- Bowen Byram
A few quick thoughts on the RFA’s:
- The Avs will get a deal done with Ross Colton. Evolving Hockey projects him to fetch a four-year deal at $3.351 million AAV.
- According to The Athletic’s Peter Baugh, the Avs did not give a qualifying offer to Denis Malgin. The primary reason: his arbitration rights could end up netting a higher dollar value than the team is comfortable with.
- Bowen Byram is likely to get a bridge deal. Evolving Hockey has him at two years, $3.21 million AAV. That buys some time for the big contract he’s going to command.
Even with Landeskog’s contract going on LTIR, the Avs remain limited with their financial flexibility on the open market. Colorado has a number of free agents of their own to kick the tires on, and the front office will likely have to find a couple of bargain deals out there.
That means seeking an investment in a player returning from injury (Max Pacioretty), a player who was bought out that won’t be seeking a big-time contract (Matt Duchene), or a player they hope they can get the most out of in a bottom-six forward role (Jonathan Drouin).
And that’s just considering the offensive side of the puck. Defensively, might Colorado look at a guy like Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the left side of the defense, hoping he can become a 40- or 50-point player again?
General manager Chris MacFarland has his work cut out for him, but there are enough attractive options out there to bring into a “win now” franchise, and the Avs will need to consider all possibilities.