Previewing the 2020-21 Colorado Eagles roster, Part 2

  

In part of one of my series previewing the Eagles’ 2020–21 roster, I covered the players who we know will be back in the Avalanche/Eagles/Grizzlies pipeline based on contracts already in place. Today, I’m going to talk about players from last year who are now free agents.

Who will not be back?

Before I get started on which players may (or may not) be back, let me touch on the two players who we know have moved on.

Igor Shvyrev (F):

Shvyrev never quite developed as much as people hoped. He was fun to watch, but ended up playing mostly on the fourth line in 2019–20. In May 2020, he was placed on unconditional waivers and cleared, thereby terminating the final year of his ELC with the Avalanche. He has since signed a two-year contract with the Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.

Tim McGauley (F):

McGauley spent the last few years bouncing back and forth between the ECHL and the AHL. He had an outstanding season with the Grizzlies last season. I honestly thought maybe we would see more of McGauley in Loveland this year, but he recently signed with Stjernen Hockey in Norway.

Who might stay?

Most of these players are unrestricted free agents. The exceptions are labeled with “RFA” next to their name. Teams generally have until the day after the draft to extend a qualifying offer to restricted free agents, so we probably will not know about some of these players until at least October. Obviously any claims made here about whether or not these players will be back in an Eagles uniform are sheer speculation. I do not have any kind of insider information (although I sure wish I did).

It is also important to remember that the AHL has specific rules regarding which players qualify as veterans and how many of them each team can have. One Eagles player who is already contracted for 2020-21 crossed the official AHL threshold from “developing player” to “veteran player,” putting the old roster one man over the veteran limit. The players below marked with an asterisk are veterans, and per AHL guidelines, at least one of them will have to be cut in order to comply with league restrictions.

Mark Alt* (D):

Alt spent the last two years serving as the Eagles team captain. He doesn’t get much respect in the Avalanche media, but as an AHL defensemen, he’s amazing. He may not be flashy, but he is steady and reliable, and he is a huge part of the team’s penalty kill. He had five goals and eight assists this year, with a plus-minus of 19. The fact that he wasn’t invited to this year’s phase three training camp for the Avalanche seems to indicate his days in Colorado might be over. If so, it’ll be a big loss at the blue line for the Eagles.

Antoine Bibeau (G):

Poor Bibeau had a horrible year here in Colorado, largely due to injury. He started only two games for the Eagles, resulting in an abysmal 6.02 GAA and a .765 save percentage. He played two games for the Avalanche when both Grubauer and Francouz were hurt, and he did better there. Shortly afterwards, he underwent surgery that ended his season. Given all the new goalies in the pipeline, I think it’s safe to say Bibeau will not be back in Colorado for 2020–21.

(Photo by Ashley Potts, courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

Colin Campbell* (F):

Campbell spent his entire pro career with the Grand Rapid Griffins before signing with the Eagles in 2019. He netted 10 goals and 16 assists in 48 games. Campbell was a productive part of the Eagles offense, but not so explosive as to be irreplaceable. I predict about a 50% chance of him re-signing in Loveland.

Erik Condra* (F):

Condra is a journeyman who has played all over place, racking up a grand total of 734 professional games (about half each in the NHL and AHL). In 2019–20, he scored 16 goals and 19 assists in 53 games played. On one hand, he is consistent and reliable. His absence would definitely be missed. On the other hand, he has to compete for one of the team’s limited veteran spots. He is also 34 years old and married with kids. You never know when he will decide that being away from home for months at a time just isn’t worth it.

Kevin Connauton* (D):

Connauton is another journeyman. He has played 314 games in the NHL and 259 in the AHL. He played 38 games with the Eagles this year, racking up five goals and 22 assists. The fact that he was invited to the Avalanche’s phase three training camp and included on the phase four roster in Edmonton indicates he’s doing something right. Maybe the organization intends to keep him around. But obviously, that is only speculation.

(Photo by Ashley Potts, courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

Sheldon Dries (F), RFA:

Dries played one year with the AHL’s Texas Stars before being given a one-year ELC by the Avalanche in 2018. He played most of the season with the Avs and was re-signed to a one-year contract for 2019–20. This time, he spent most of the season with the Eagles where he was the team’s top goal-scorer with 21 goals and 14 assists. Now, he is a restricted free agent. The fact that he was taken to Edmonton for the playoffs seems like a good sign, but the Avalanche are stacked up front. I’m guessing there is roughly a 70% chance of them extending him a qualifying offer.

AJ Greer (F), RFA:

AJ’s career has been tumultuous. He was drafted in the second round, and expectations were high. He has always shown an amazing amount of grit and talent in the AHL, but when he is called up to the NHL, his game never seems to materialize. Add to that his arrest last summer for an alleged assault and it felt like his days in the Avalanche organization were numbered. Still, he was given a one-year contract for 2019-20. After an embarrassing suspension early in the season, he settled down and netted 16 goals and 16 assists in 47 games played with the Eagles. But despite his apparent growth, he did not receive a single call-up to the NHL. Scott MacDonald wrote a great article for Mile High Hockey about Greer’s ongoing mental battles. In many ways, his frustration seems to be his own worst enemy.

Greer will start this year with 236 professional games under his belt. That means he has only one more season before he qualifies as a veteran in the AHL. On one hand, Eagles fans generally like him. If he wanted to settle into an AHL career, he would be embraced here in Loveland. But I am pretty sure that is the last thing Greer wants. The fact that he was not invited to the Avalanche phase three training camp does not bode well for his future in Colorado. I think it is highly likely he will take his chances elsewhere. I predict he will finally find his game, end up in a bottom six role for some other NHL team, and someday he will have the game of his life at the Pepsi Center, playing against the Avalanche.

Michael Joly (F):

Michael Joly came into the ECHL undrafted in 2017 and took the league by storm. That season, he scored 54 goals and 42 assists in 76 games played! (That includes both regular season and playoffs.) He helped the Eagles win the Kelly Cup and was named the playoff MVP. Is it any wonder Eagles fans love him? But when the Eagles moved to the AHL, Joly had some work to do. He started out scrambling for a spot in the lineup, but he kept working. He kept improving. By the end of the 2018-19 season, he was starting in the top six. He finished that year with fifteen goals and fifteen assists. He was injured twice in 2019-20 –– once early in the season, and again in February. He still netted ten goals and nine assists in 42 games played. And nobody is better in a shootout.

(Technically, that was a penalty shot, but you get the idea.)

The thing I love about Joly is his attitude. Where Greer seems to get frustrated and ends up too much in his own head, Joly buckles down and keeps working. Several times this season when the Eagles were behind late in the third, it felt like Joly was one of the only players working his tail off to get the team back in the game. But that works against him, too. Where I see a player who plays hard until the final buzzer to make plays happen, I think Cronin sees a kid who strays from the system when the system matters most.

Regardless, I personally think the Eagles should keep Joly around. He may never be NHL material (or maybe he will be), but he will keep working and trying, no matter what. Plus, Eagles fans love him. As a gate-driven organization, it makes sense to keep at least one fan favorite on the roster (as long as he is still productive, which Joly is). (One could argue being a fan favorite was what kept Darryl Bootland on the roster for so many years.) And from Joly’s perspective, why not stay in the town where he is a minor celebrity? Nobody else will appreciate him the way Eagles Country does. All that being said, Joly was apparently not invited to the phase three training camp. It is quite possible the coaches aren’t as enamored of him as the fans are.

Jayson Megna* (C/F):

Another vet, Megna has played 121 total NHL games and 355 in the AHL. He was second only to Sheldon Dries in goals scored this year, finishing with 18 goals and 16 assists. He even played eight games for the Avalanche (although with zero points). He was obviously a big part of the Eagles’ success this season, but will he be back? I have no idea.

Hunter Miska (G), RFA:

Miska came to the Eagles from the Tucson Roadrunners. The assumption was that he’d back up Bibeau and Adam Werner. He was even sent to the Grizzlies for a while. But in the end, Hunter Miska stole the show in Loveland. He finished the season with a 2.48 GAA and .924 save percentage. His performance in some of the later games in the season was outstanding, earning him the starting position in the minds of the fans, if not the coaches. If this were any other league, Miska would already have a contract inked. But of course, this is the AHL where a stellar goaltender may find himself out of a job so that some new prospect can learn the ropes. And when I look at all the goalies the Avs have already signed, I have to wonder. If nothing else, Miska proved his worth this season. Somebody out there is going to want him in their net. I hope it will be us, but I have a feeling I may be disappointed.

Griffen Molino (F):

Molino may seem like an odd name to see on this list. He played most of the season with the Grizzlies, where he netted 22 goals and 37 assists. Late in February, Molino was called up to the Eagles and signed to a professional tryout agreement. He did not look out of place in the AHL lineup. He played nine games before the season was suspended, scoring this amazing goal plus two assists in that time. I would not be surprised to see him back in the system this year, maybe splitting his time between Utah and Colorado.

Julien Nantel (C/F):

I’m a little bit sad typing this, because I really like Nantel. He’s the only player left on the roster who participated in both Kelly Cup runs. In the 2017 playoffs, he scored 7 goals and 7 assists and was second only to Alex Belzile in points, making him an integral part of that first Kelly Cup victory. But nothing lasts forever. Nantel’s ELC ended in 2019, but he was given a one-year contract for the 2019-20 season. He started out with a bang, scoring as many points in the first few weeks as he had the entire previous year. I predicted he was going to have a breakout year. Sadly, he fell lower in the lineup as the season wore on and didn’t play at all for much of February. He finished the year with eight goals and five assists. I would like to see him back in Colorado, but I suspect the Avs will pass on offering him another contract.

Logan O’Connor (F), RFA:

What’s not to love about Logan O’Connor? An undrafted kid from the University of Denver, he was invited to the Avalanche’s 2018 development camp and ended up signing a two-year ELC with them. In his two years with the Eagles, he racked up 31 goals and 36 assists. He led the league in short-handed goals in 2018-19. He also scored his first two NHL goals with the Colorado Avalanche in 2019-20, before the season was suspended. He was part of their phase 3 training camp and was one of the players taken to Edmonton for the playoffs. He was even part of the warmups in Round One when Donskoi’s condition was questionable. It seems like a slam dunk that Eagles fan favorite LOC ends up with a contract. The only question is, will he be in Loveland or Denver? As an Eagles fan, I would sure to love to have him back, but I absolutely think he deserves a spot with the Avs and I hope for his sake he gets it. He is a fast, hard-working player who would make a great addition to their bottom six. And I will buy a #25 jersey the minute he makes the roster.

Conclusion

That covers all the existing contracts and free agents. Up next, I will tell you a bit about the new players who have been signed by the Avalanche/Eagles.

Center Ice Forums Previewing the 2020-21 Colorado Eagles roster, Part 2

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