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Avalanche Thoughts – 2013 Draft Preview

Thoughts on what the Colorado Avalanche could do with the #1 overall pick and the recent trade to re-acquire Alex Tanguay.

Many thought that Joe Sakic‘s first big decision as Colorado Avalanche Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations would be this Sunday when the Avalanche will select #1 in the NHL draft. Instead he pulled the trigger a little earlier, trading David Jones and Shane O’Brien to the Calgary Flames for Alex Tanguay and Corey Sarich.

Right away this trade tells me that Sakic is trying to change the losing mentality in Colorado. Tanguay (33) and Sarich (34) are older than Jones (28) and O’Brien (29) but Tanguay and Sarich have won championships, Jones and O’Brien have not. The Avs also shed Jones’ terrible contract of $4 million per year until 2016. It’s possible that Jones bounces back from his three goal, nine point, season, and returns to the 20-goal form that got him that big contract, but it’s clear that the Avs weren’t going to stick around to find out. In Tanguay, we know what we’re getting. He’s an excellent playmaker off the wing, good on the powerplay, good in shootouts, and can score if he actually decides to shoot the puck. He’s not great defensively and he’s not going to throw his body around, but neither did Jones, and he has a lot more body to throw around. With Tanguay, we’re bringing in consistency and by getting rid of Jones, we’re shedding an enigma.

As far as Sarich for O’Brien goes, this was a money/depth chart move more than anything. O’Brien is signed for two more years while Sarich is only signed for one more year. They both make the same amount of money. Like Tanguay, Sarich has won a Stanley Cup and is known as a good locker room guy who sticks up for his teammates. He’ll play sound in his own end, something O’Brien didn’t always do, but won’t contribute much offensively, something O’Brien tried to do a lot, but usually failed. I think O’Brien was one of those “Vegas guys” than Jean-Sebastien Giguere called out last season since he has a reputation as a guy who likes to party. Sarich is going to go about his business, do what the teams asks of him, not complain, and provide leadership.

Basically the Avs traded two guys who couldn’t see the ice at the end of last year for their poor play for a guy who could play on the top line with Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau, and another depth defenseman who comes off the books a year earlier.

So far so good under the Sakic and Patrick Roy regime.

Now Avs management and fans turn their attention to the draft, where the team will select first overall. Sakic and Roy have been very outspoken this year, which has come to a shock to anyone who followed Sakic as a player, that the team will select center Nathan MacKinnon with the top pick. Some have said that the team is just trying to drum up interest in the pick and others say it’s just a smokescreen. Given how often they’ve talked about it though, I’m inclined to believe that the team will take MacKinnon. And if they do, then problems, good problems mind you, will arise.

With the addition of MacKinnon, the Avs will have Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny, and MacKinnon down the middle. That’s a lot of ice time for four guys who are point getters and not role players. They can’t each play five minutes a period, unless Roy becomes the most creative coach in league history. That means something will have to change. Plus there’s John Mitchell, who is the perfect fourth line center because he works hard, plays smart, and can chip in offensively.

Will one of them move to the wing? I always hate moving centers to the wing and vice versa. Joe Sacco tried to move Duchene to the wing a couple of seasons ago and that failed miserably. Joel Quinville tried to move Patrick Kane to center that same season. That also failed. Guys play center and wing of a reason. All four Avs players are natural center ice players. If the Avs were to try and move anyone to the wing, Stastny would be the most likely candidate. His defensive play has slipped, so moving him to the wing and taking away some of his defensive responsibilities could help. I definitely wouldn’t try moving Duchene to the wing again because we’ve already seen that fail. O’Reilly is too valuable in the face off circle and defensively to play wing. And MacKinnon shouldn’t play a position that he’s unfamiliar with right off the bat in his NHL career because it could lead to uncomfortableness, mistakes, and bad habits.

The most likely scenario is that one of them is traded. MacKinnon won’t be dealt if he’s picked. O’Reilly can’t be dealt until February, which could mean that the Avs roll with four centers (playing one at the wing) until then and then trade O’Reilly. They would be crazy to deal Duchene, who is on the verge of being a superstar, although he would fetch the nicest return. Still I think Sakic knows how valuable Duchene is, how how he works, how he’s ready to lead this team into a new era. That leaves Stastny and his $6.6 million contract that expires after this year. The price tag for Stastny is high and teams might not want to trade for a guy that they could lose after one season, which could make him difficult to move. There are scenarios where this could work though.

The first scenario is Dion Phanuef. Like Stastny, his deal expires after this year and he’s making $6.5 million. So the money is essentially even and the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn’t be parting with a a guy under a long term contract. It’s possible that Phanuef walks away from the Leafs after this year, so they may as well try to get something for him, right? And who knows, maybe Stastny falls in love with Toronto and playing with Phil Kessell and decides to re-sign with them. The same goes for Phanuef. Maybe he falls in love with Colorado and not being under the Toronto media scrutiny and re-signs. It’s a deal that seems to work for both teams. Toronto gets a playmaking center and Colorado gets a psychical defenseman.

The second scenario is Victor Hedman or Tyler Myers. Both players signed big contracts after their rookie deals were up and have since fallen out of favor with their teams. Hedman is making $4 million per year until 2017. Myers is making $5.5 million until 2019. It’s possible that both teams would like to get out of those contracts. Obviously Stastny makes more money, but he’s off the books after this year. So those teams could use Stastny for the season and then, if things don’t work out, let him go and use the money they’ll have freed up in free agency. It could be risky for both teams to give up on a young defenseman (Myers is 23, Hedman is 22) but if they continue to play below what they’re being paid, it’ll become a headache for the Avalanche and not for the Lightning or Sabres.

The third scenario is something completely off the board that no one is talking about. Much like the Tanguay trade, which wasn’t rumor or anything, it just happened, it’s possible that the Avs deal Stastny for a guy that hasn’t been in the rumor mill. Kris Letang’s name has come up since he and the Pittsburgh Penguins can’t seem to agree on a contract extension, but I doubt the Penguins want another center (unless they flip Stastny for something else) and I’m not sure the Avs are willing to sign Letang to a long term contract with the terms he’s seeking (rumored to be just shy of $8 million for at least five years and a no movement clause). Quite frankly, I don’t blame them.

Just to throw some names out there for the fun of it as potential trades for Stastny: Dustin Byfuglien (Jets need a center in the worst way), Alex Goligoski or Trevor Daley (Only because I think Dallas is stupid enough to do it), Braydon Coburn or Luke Schenn (Because the Flyers will trade anyone), Mike Green (Capitals need center help after Backstrom). I don’t think anyone of those happen, but if the Avs decide to go “off the board” from the rumor mill, I think a phone call could perhaps be made. Of course it’s possible that the Avs deal Stastny for a #3 or #4 defenseman and an extra forward or prospect instead of a #1 or #2 defenseman, just to shed his salary and then go from there.

No matter what happens, if the Avs takes MacKinnon on Sunday, I don’t expect to see Stastny at center for the team on opening night. Maybe it means he’ll be traded. Maybe it means he’ll move to the wing. But I don’t think he’ll be at center.

In the later rounds of the draft I expect the Avs to target a defenseman with size, a couple of wingers with size, and a goalie. Of course they could just draft the best player on the board, no matter what position, but I think they’ll be looking at adding size in this draft. The Avs have the #32 pick in the draft, which means they could find a first round talent at that spot, not unlike the year they drafted Ryan O’Reilly. I don’t know enough about the depth of this draft to say who the Avs might like, but I expect a quality pick at #32, most likely a winger with some size and energy.

It’s going to be a special day on Sunday. Not only with the team having the #1 overall pick, but also the potential trades that could happen as well.

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