NHL Expansion Draft: Colorado Avalanche Protection Strategy

Finally, the Colorado Avalanche are brought back to the level of every other NHL team by one simple fact. That they, like 29 other teams, must prepare for the NHL Expansion Draft.

The Colorado Avalanche are now just like every other team. Odd that that was their goal all along. They have to prepare for the NHL Expansion Draft just like 29 other NHL teams. And the Colorado Avalanche finally get what they want. Cause they couldn’t at the NHL Draft Lottery.

The Colorado Avalanche have to answer a few simple questions. Who do they keep? Who do they let be exposed to Vegas? And who could be taken? Plus, will Colorado be fine with that selection?

Colorado Forwards

NHL Expansion Draft

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

The Avalanche have six forwards that meet the minimum requirements, including being under contract next season. Those six are Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Carl Soderberg, Joe Colborne, and Blake Comeau. None of them have NMCs.

MacKinnon will be an Av long after the memories of these other guys have faded. Duchene and Landeskog remain trade block targets, and the Colorado Avalanche will not let them go for free. Out of the other three, Comeau had the most points. Plus he’s the cheapest. Comeau gets protected.

That means that the Avalanche have three more spots open. They will likely use these on either newly signed players before the expansion draft or on restricted free agents. Without guessing who will be signed, let’s use them on restricted free agents.

Sven Andrighetto was a deadline acquisition, and he immediately came in and scored 16 points in 19 games. His production is ahead of players who played 55-80 games for the Avalanche. Andrighetto was huge for the Avalanche and will continue to be so.

Mikhail Grigorenko and Matt Nieto are also young gunners for the Avalanche who will be prominent players for them next season. They’re both RFAs this offseason, but it’s worth the investment in these players to protect them.

Which just leaves the question of exempt players.

Avalanche Defensemen

The Avalanche have a conundrum on their hands (first time using that word in a hockey post. They have two defensemen with NMCs, but not both of them are worth it. Erik Johnson is a 29-year-old defenseman who scored 17 points in 46 games for the Avalanche this season. Francois Beauchemin is a 36-year-old defenseman who put up 18 in 81.

NHL Expansion Draft

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) passes (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

The Avalanche have Tyson Barrie, the future of their defense, and Nikita Zadorov, a 22-year-old restricted free agent, to protect as well. Barrie tied for third in scoring for the Avalanche this season. Zadorov added ten assists in 56 games. Both of these guys needs to stay.

So the question becomes – who do you waive of these two? At least, who do you try and convince to waive? Because god knows the Avalanche need to keep their good young defensemen. They have to get younger and better and two steps in that direction are Barrie and Zadorov.

The answer to this riddle, of course, is to try and convince the old man to waive. Francois Beauchemin observed this team this year. He played the best his 36-year-old body could muster, and it only led to 18 points on a team that got 48 in the standings. If I was 36, I would rather go to an expansion franchise with the hope of new players than stay on the bottom-ranking one. Especially when that bottom-ranking one didn’t even win the draft lottery.

Don’t worry Avs fans, you’ll keep your young defenseman. Because give a guy an out on this team, they should take it, even in an NHL expansion draft.

Goaltenders & Exempt Players

There are not many able goaltenders on this team. In fact, of the three that played this season, the best stats were far below NHL average. So far below, it’s almost embarrassing, and what’s more embarrassing? That guy wasn’t supposed to be the starter.

That’s Calvin Pickard, who played 50 games, started 48, and posted a 2.98 GAA and a .904 SV. And that’s still far above the play of Semyon Varlamov (3.38/.898) and Jeremy Smith (3.54/.888). The Avalanche are keeping Pickard. He’s a 25-year-old goalie who doesn’t become a restricted free agent until next year. There’s still hope for him.

Everybody else is older. Which means that Pickard is a pretty obvious selection here. If either of these goaltenders goes in the NHL expansion draft, the Avalanche should consider that a miracle and build a better defense in front of Pickard.

NHL Expansion Draft

Colorado Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard (31) warms up (Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)

The exempt players on this list aren’t as big a name as other teams and aren’t as plentiful as perhaps the Avalanche would like. Still, the names that stick out: J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Mikko Rantanen, Chris Bigras.

The Avalanche have to get younger. They’ve already fallen out of the top 3 in this year’s entry draft, trading back might make sense for good prospects in return. If I’m the Avalanche I want to get as young as possible as fast as possible.

Vegas’s Selection

The Colorado Avalanche will expose the following list of players. Carl Soderberg, Joe Colborne, Rocco Grimaldi, Francois Beauchemin, Eric Gelinas, Duncan Siemens, Patrick Wiercioch, Mark Barberio, and Seymon Varlamov.

NHL Expansion Draft

Dallas Stars center Devin Shore (17) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Mark Barberio (45) chase the puck (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

That’s not a ton of choice for this Vegas team in this NHL expansion draft. Seymon Varlamov used to be an adept starter in this league, being a Vezina finalist four years ago. He used to be able to post a .900+ save percentage consistently. His last four years have been a steady decline. But he’s just 28. There’s a chance he can turn it around.

But at 5.9 million, his is not a contract worth a risk and a chance. None of the forwards are worth pick either. On a team they couldn’t score, none of them were deemed worthy of saving.

So the choice becomes Mark Barberio or Francois Beauchemin. Barberio posted 9 points in 34 games and is just 27 years old. He makes only 750K. And he’s who Vegas is going to select from this team. The Golden Knights may be going with a cheaper NHL expansion draft to try and make a move in free agency. Barberio would contribute to that.

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