Colorado Avalanche Can Avoid Trading Core Player

The Colorado Avalanche can still adequately rebuild the team for relevancy without trading a core player. Find out how.

The general thought about the Colorado Avalanche is that the team should either blow up the core or at least trade one of the core players for a stud defenseman.

According to Avs GM Joe Sakic, the only untouchables on the team are Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. In other words, they’re the core of the core — or MacK is, and Ranty is a core prospect. The rationale for this is their age — Nate is just 21 and Mikko 20.

Other core players include Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov. It sounds like Sakic would be willing to move any of them. According to rumor mills, he’s already taken calls for both Duchene and Landeskog.

I’ve explored the idea that the Avs rebuild can involve blowing up the core:

Should the Avs Blow Up the Core?

And I’ve also explored the idea that they can trade a single core forward — Duchene or Landeskog — for a defensive stud:

Should the Avs Trade a Core for a Defensive Stud?

Now, I like the way the rebuild can look in the latter scenario because it has the Colorado Avalanche building an impressive defensive corps. The inspiration comes from the Columbus Blue Jackets. As Jason Brough of NBC Sports points out, the Jackets turned their weakest point into their strongest. It has them top of the NHL right now.

Here are the strengths of the CBJ blueline:

As I noted in the post, the Colorado Avalanche have two pieces of that puzzle already in place — Erik Johnson as the skilled, talented vet and Tyson Barrie as the talented puck mover. Additionally, Colorado has a pretty exciting defenseman in Nikita Zadorov. We could plug him into the Ryan Murray slot, though I like partnering him with EJ.

Additionally, I could see Chris Bigras taking up one of the slots — maybe the Nutivaara slot space. That leaves the Avs needing two great pieces to complete the puzzle — a more-than-decent two-way defenseman and a stud d-man.

Colorado could pick up a two-way player in free agency. It’s the stud that’s the problem. The team would have to trade a core forward, Duchene or Landeskog, to land one.

So, let’s say the Avs pick up a good two-way defenseman in free agency to partner Tyson Barrie instead of a stud. Their extra defensemen could be Patrick Wiercioch and/or Eric Gelinas. Fedor Tyutin will be gone in free agency, and, well, they simply have to find a way to unload Francois Beauchemin.

If the Colorado Avalanche draft a defenseman high this year, develop Nicolas Meloche and perhaps trade a draft pick for a good prospect, that’s not too shabby. It’s not a fantastic blueline, but it’s serviceable.

That is, if the Colorado Avalanche shores up its forward corps. The Dallas Stars have shown us you can allow even three or four goals if you’re more than capable of scoring five or six yourself. (I’m not saying the Avs should adopt that as their philosophy.)

So, rather than unload Duchene, the Avs need to provide him the right kind of linemates. I’ve already proposed he’d do well with fellow speedster Matt Nieto. He also needs a solid two-way forward in the mold of Ryan O’Reilly or Paul Stastny. Maybe Sakic could target Martin Hanzal, though he’s already 30. (More on that in a moment.)

Keep Landeskog and keep him on the line with MacKinnon and Rantanen. That’s the only line that’s consistently shown any chemistry this season.

From there, the Avalanche forward corps is already going to look radically different. The following players are all unrestricted free agents this summer:

With the exception of Martinsen, the others should be gone.

Additionally, Mikhail Grigorenko (22, $1.3 million) and Matthew Nieto (24, $735,000) are restricted free agents. No one wants to admit Grigorenko is a bust because he was a key piece of the O’Reilly trade. However, unless he takes a pay cut, he’s got to go. Nieto, if he plays as he did in his Avs debut, would be a nice addition with a modest contract.

The following players still have contracts at least through next season:

Soderberg is the tough one. If the Avalanche were able to unload him, they might have to retain salary. Maybe it’s better to just keep him.

I don’t know about getting rid of Comeau or McLeod. It’s tough to say a team would want to trade for either one. However, if the Avs had to retain some salary here, at least it wouldn’t be as onerous. In that case, trade McLeod with salary retained, and relegate Comeau to the fourth line.

I don’t mind keeping Colborne. He’s young — and that’s what the Colorado Avalanche need. Sakic is finally admitting that — the Avs need to get younger.

That’s the best rationale for keeping Duchene,who’s 25, and Landeskog, who’s 24. Both are in the prime of their careers and can blossom with the right supporting cast.

So, here’s what the Colorado Avalanche could potentially be pared down to forwards-wise:

  • Nathan MacKinnon (21, $6.3 million)
  • Matt Duchene (25, $6 million)
  • Gabriel Landeskog (24, $5.5 million)
  • Joe Colborne
  • Blake Comeau
  • Mikko Rantanen (20, $894,167)

Add to that Martinsen for the fourth line and Nieto, as needed. That still leaves Colorado up to six roster spots and a fair amount of cash available. (Like I said, Grigorenko could take one spot if he offered the “I’m not living up to my potential” discount.) Maybe AJ Greer or JT Compher could take up one of those roster spots.

The only way this plan works and makes the Colorado Avalanche a better team is if Joe Sakic manages to sign some two-way players — scratch that, young two-way players — on both forward and defense.

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The team is supposed to have around $17 million of freed up cap space this summer. Get rid of Beauchemin to free up a spot as well as either McLeod or Comeau. The Colorado Avalanche could significantly improve without trading a core player.

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