30 IN 30 - COLORADO AVALANCHE (30th place)
For those of you that didn't catch many Western Conference games on tv last season, the Avalanche had kind of a bad season... This team has quite the task ahead of them in re-shaping the roster in order to pull themselves out of the basement. At least the only way they can go is up?
Despite bold statements made by management that this team will undergo sweeping changes (I'm looking at you Joe), I honestly don't see a deep enough roster asset pool for them to pull from in such transactions. Nor do I see them selling off a player with gamebreakinig ability like Matt Duchene. Maybe they trade Landeskog for a defenceman but trying to fill the hole he would leave (and possibly others) up front just diverts the problem, as quality free agents won't be lining up to sign a deal with the worst team in the league. The return on a player who's highest single season point production sits at 65 is a lot lower than most would expect. Finding a trade partner will likely be limited to those who see him as a fringe first line player. Whether such deals take place or not, we will analyze their current roster for the expansion draft.
Protection List Structure
- MacKinnon (F)
- Duchene (F)
- Landeskog (F)
- Johnson (D) (*NMC)
- Barrie (D)
- Beauchemin (D) (*NMC)
- Zadorov (D)
- D - Johnson (*NMC)
- D - Barrie
- D - Beauchemin (*NMC)
The obvious issue for the Avalanche in the upcoming expansion draft will be Francois Beauchemin’s ‘No Movement Clause’. At the ripe age of 36, Francois doesn’t have much left in the career tank to give to a team set on adding even more youth to the lineup next season. Whether an agreement can be made to amend this clause before the deadline will be wholly dependent on Beauchemin understanding the hard truth that Vegas doesn't want him. Adding a 35+ year old veteran isn't in the cards for the Golden Knights via the expansion draft, and the sooner he realizes that, the more he can help the team protect key players. Without such a decision, Ol' Burnaby Joe will remain strapped with the aging NMC defenceman taking up one of his protection slots. This creates a scenario where the 8S-1G (as outlined above) could be the more advantageous of the two expansion models.
Importance should be placed on developing young players within the organization the roster, as the nearly impossible task of acquiring a run of the mill second pair defenceman makes losing Nikita Zadorov even greater. The 8S-1G structure should be the play here, and honestly might be the only play as the team could be forced to leave Carl Soderberg or Blake Comeau unprotected to go along with Joe Colborne in order to fulfill the '2 forwards under contract' exposure requirement (*note: this is based upon the contracted player list at the time this article was published). Even though Zadorov has yet to live up to expectations, his size and potential ability to shut down some of the Western Conference's big centremen are intriguing enough qualities to hold onto him and see where his development takes him. At 22, I think the risk in relying on 'potential" driven stat projections is still low enough to take, especially with the small cap hit his upcoming contract - likely a bridge deal - will cost the team in relation to others his age after rather pedestrian player impact rates (51.26 AdjCF%, 34.92 GF%, 96.56 PDO).
Who Fills the Final Protection Slot?
With this all in mind, the final spot in our preferred 8S-1G protection list will be between Carl Soderberg, Blake Comeau, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Matt Nieto.
Some of you will probably read this and instantly think, Blake Comeau, really? In his defence, with an influx of young forwards like Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost coming into the lineup, a veteran presence on the bottom two lines is a notoriously undervalued role. Statistically Comeau has continued to produce positive Corsi numbers (51.04 CF%) that continue to elevate following the adjustments we include in our analysis to hinder values inflated by offensive zone starts and the statistical likelihood of shot production that goes with it (53.26 AdjCF%). Unfortunately for Blake, he doesn’t play the valuable position of centre, so he doesn’t receive the same sort of praise given to a veteran face-off man in a checking role. With his contract up after the 2017/18 season and the logical decision to run away from this train wreck to play for a winner in the twilight of his career ahead of him, we will rule him off the protection list and a very sneaky option for the Vegas expansion pick.
Next up on our list is Matt Nieto. The California kid unfortunately isn't in California anymore, so Joe Thornton effect on his career is long gone. His season stats were inflated playing alongside several regular season dynamos/playoff chokes in San Jose. His current Corsi numbers are solid, but his GF% has been consistently low at 34.2%, 40.4% and 40.7% the last 3 seasons. Looking a bit deeper, his team shooting percentage while on the ice is way down (4.02%) from where it needs to be as player toeing the line as a top-6 player. So despite his ability to - at least statistically - contain play in the offensive zone, he doesn’t appear able to generate production on his own. Unless he’s deployed with offensively talented linemates, I don’t see Nieto as a quality contributor at this point, making it unnecessary for the Avalanche to protect him.
The tough call: Soderberg or Grigorenko?
Carl Soderberg is coming off arguably the most disappointing season for anyone on this roster. With over 900 minutes played in an offensive role, Carl was either unable to get into quality shooting positions or unable to find teammates in those spots seeing a total of 121 fewer shots on goal while on the ice than his previous 2 season average at 5v5 play - a very troubling sign. For his sake let’s hope this was circumstantial to coaching. At a $4,750,000 cap hit for another 3 years, his statistical return per dollar invested by the team is atrocious, earning himself the equivalent of $339,286 per point. If his individual player output is more than just a single season dip, Colorado will struggle to get any return in value for him via trade and be on the hook for 2 more years of this pay rate. However, if you look at seasons past, there are positive signs this wasn’t the real Carl. He statistically produced at a 2nd-3rd line player rate for 3 seasons prior, with 48, 44, and 51 point campaigns over that mark. His Corsi and GF% were also much better while immersed in the Boston system, with an Adjusted Corsi back up to the acceptable 50% midline. For those of you about to jump on this and say "he must have played with Bergeron”, the answer to that is no, he played predominantly with Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson so quiet down. Clearly there is hope for the Swede to bounce back despite the horrific showing, it’s just up to the Avalanche whether they see it a season confined let-down or the beginning of the end for his career.
Mikhail Grigorenko is an interesting case. The young Russian came into the league with obvious offensive potential. Producing at both the Major Junior (2011-2012: 59GP 40G 45A 85pts & 2012-2013: 23GP 15G 24A 39Pts) and American League level (2014-2015 43GP 14G 22A 36Pts), Grigorenko has shown the ability to contribute as a centreman with scoring ability. The underlying issue with his game lies within his Corsi and Goal Differential splits. His advanced stats are tough to assess because (1) almost everyone on Colorado has seen the effects of bad team play, and (2) he only has one true full season at the NHL level to compare with. His years in Buffalo are heavily impacted by a high percentage of shifts starts within the defensive zone, bringing down his possession-based numbers by means of mere probability of production against him. Nevertheless, with such a significant percentage of his points coming at 5v5 play (79% to be exact) it would be interesting to see if he's simply in need of more offensive zone starts or power-play ice time to spark production. With a very manageable contract on the horizon after back-to-back disappointing seasons, Grigorenko's expected cap hit should add favour to his assessment. Overall, he's a big centre with bad possession numbers thus far, and if Colorado is going anywhere in the near future players like him need to step up quickly.
Ultimately, the ability to hold a younger player like Grigorenko's NHL rights in restriction for potentially more years and likely at a cheaper rate than Soderberg's present deal are defining points in this comparison. With similar possession rates this past season and Soderberg's falling goal differentials, Mikhail Grigorenko will be our 8th and final skater in the protection list.
What This Leaves The Golden Knights?
In this scenario, Vegas will likely choose to pass on Soderberg's $4.500M cap hit and let Colorado deal with the risk of him decaying further. The appeal of Calvin Pickard in goal could draw considerable attention from media pundit's, but the Vegas brass should have their eyes firmly set on two goalies in the east. Although we would take a hard look at Blake Comeau as a potential veteran presence on the 3rd or 4th line, his contract is less than ideal for a team looking to build long term foundation. So when it's all said and done we believe the Golden Knights will take a chance on upstart Sven Andrighetto, a 24 year old forward who caught fire after his trade from the Montreal Canadiens. Sven split time between the Canadiens (27GP-2G-8A), the St John's IceCaps (26GP-10G-14A) and the Avalanche (19GP-5G-11A) so his stats are a bit all over the place, but I believe his speed and streaky scoring will be enough to convince George McPhee of a selection.
Good luck Burnaby Joe, I really hope you can find players willing to sign here and your management stops screwing draft picks out of entry level contract performance bonuses, Maybe that way good young players will stop leaving or requesting to leave your team (re Ryan O’Reilly, Colin Smith). Seriously take a look on CapFriendly.com for yourself! In a time when young players are capped by entry level restrictions and rely on these bonuses for a good chunk - if not the majority - of their compensation, the Avalanche traditionally low ball them, leaving young players little option but to sign the dotted line or delay their professional careers. Bad practice if you ask me.
*Hint: It would be smart to sell the team to college free agents looking to play right away, especially with the the reigning NCAA champs right in your backyard.
Next up: Vancouver Canucks