Let's Go Shopping!

Now comes my least favorite part of the year when there is no more hockey. This year's playoffs definitely delivered and it's always nice to see a team win a championship when they've been on such a drought. Seeing the Blackhawks win the championship with homegrown players has to be inspiring for the Avalanche as they are following in their "build from within" footsteps. The Stanley Cup Finals are over and free agency is right around the corner. It's time for the Avalanche front office to decide which direction to go. Stay the course and bring in personnel via the draft or pull out the check book and bring in players?

The Avalanche are in a great position heading into the offseason. The Avalanche currently are fourth in the league in available cap space and that's with 16 players under contract. The Avs have about 27.5 million dollars to spend this offseason and the salary cap could go up by 2 million dollars. It has been reported that Sherman intends to stay the course but with so much money, I think that would be a mistake. The Avs will re-sign Stewart, Mueller, Quincey, Yip, Hendricks and Porter. All of these signings should fit comfortably under the cap which leaves cash for free agents.

This year's free agent pool is one of the worst in years. The Avalanche are already set at goaltender and after they re-sign Quincey, will have 6 returning defensemen. The Avalanche pipeline is chalked full of defensemen with players like Shattenkirk, Gaunce, Cohen, Holos, and Chouinard possibly making a run at the roster next year. In my opinion the Avalanche need a first line winger to play alongside Stastny and Stewart and a shutdown defensemen.

The only real first line winger available July 1st will be Ilya Kovalchuk. There has been plenty of debate over signing Kovalchuk and I believe the Avs should make a play for him. The Avalanche may never have as much money to spend as they do this offseason and they desperately need a goal scorer on the first line. Galiardi was fine in the playoffs but he is an energy/checking forward he belongs on a checking line not the first line. The Avs haven't had a 50 goal scorer since Hejduk in the 2002-2003 season and he was playing on a line with Forsberg. Kovalchuk is arguably the 2nd best goal scorer in the league and he was playing for Atlanta. If he were to play on a line with Stastny, (which give it up folks, he's not a goalscorer) 50 goals would be easy and that 6.6 million invested in Stastny would finally pay off.

The only other way to land a first line quality scorer would be through trade. Teams up against the cap like Chicago and Montreal or rebuilding teams like Florida could be attractive trade partners. If the Avalanche do not pursue Kovalchuk, Nathan Horton in Florida would be my next choice. Horton is only 24, big and been the subject of trade rumors for months. He makes 4 million dollars but that is much less than the amount of money it will take to land Kovalchuk. Horton has a no-movement clause that takes effect July 1st so he will likely be dealt during draft weekend. Horton would add both size and scoring to the first line while still fitting into the rebuilding mantra. Another option is the champion Blackhawks. While they are celebrating their win, NHL GM's are circling like vultures ready to poach players. The Blackhawks face serious cap issues this summer. They are already over the cap for next year with players like Andrew Ladd, Anti Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson to re-sign. The Avs could try and take Patrick Sharp or Kris Versteeg of their hands as they try and dump salary. Another player worth looking at is Andrei Kostitsyn in Montreal. Montreal also faces cap issues as they will want to re-sign Tomas Plekanec and Jaroslav Halak. Kostitsyn has one year left on his contract and is the kind of player we all hoped Svatos would be. He is fast, shifty, and awesome in the shootout.

Defenseman is probably the only worthwhile position in this year free agent pool. Players like Gonchar, Volchenkov, and Hamhuis are likely to be available. The Avalanche should look into investing in a younger shutdown defensemen they can rely on for years to come. Volchenkov is an obvious choice but he will likely ask for a lot of money and the Avs may want to shy away from throwing out tons of money after handing out large contracts to Hannan and Liles who have been disappointing. The best choice for the Avs is Zybnek Michalek from Phoenix. He is only 27 and is just about as good as Volchenkov but because he plays for Phoenix, he has flown under the radar. Of course, the Avalanche are again loaded at defense, and bringing in a defensemen will likely mean the Avs will have to trade away one (Liles or Hannan).

There are plenty of people that will argue that staying the course and building from within is smarter. They will say follow the blueprint of teams like Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Washington. Yes those teams are loaded with talent NOW, but they were awful for many years and received lots of top 5 draft picks. The Avalanche in a rebuilding year, took 8th in the conference and now have the 17th pick in the draft. The Avalanche have plenty of defensive prospects to build around but few forwards now that most of them are part of the starting roster. So come draft weekend and July 1st, make moves and write those checks Mr. Sherman because the pieces are in place all we need to do is fill in the cracks.


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