Keepin' it Cool

By AJ Pacheco

Almost a month into free agency, and things are pretty quiet on the Avalanche front. So far the Avs have been pretty frugal in their spending, only handing out contracts to Quincey, Yip, Budaj, Koci (still puzzling) and newcomer Daniel Winnik. The Avalanche remain well under the salary cap minimum with only Stewart and Mueller left to re-sign. I advocated, earlier, that the Avalanche front office whip out their checkbook and spend some money but after seeing what has happened so far I'm okay with the fact that they didn't.
This season's free agent period has been one of the quietest in recent memory with most of the big names signing on Day 1. The Eastern Conference teams have been most active this offseason. The Penguins and Devils scooped up the 4 best free agent defensemen and until Monday everyone was at a stand-still waiting on Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk's ridiculous 17 year contract was quickly voided by the NHL and since then the worry of another lockout has become more common. Contracts like Kovalchuk's aren't new, Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo, and Rick DiPietro have been signed to similar gigantic contracts. All of these contracts are legal under the collective bargaining agreement but by loading up the beginning of the contracts and handing out very little towards the end, teams are able to minimize their cap hit and in a sense get around the salary cap. The latest collective bargaining agreement ends in 2012 and it is very possible, again, that the NHL could experience another lockout (perhaps this is what the Mayans predicted...?). In order to save the sport, the NHL will need to either take the salary cap more seriously and eliminate loop holes or just do away with it. The salary cap levels the playing field but at the same time big market teams are handcuffed and are unable to spend the money they make and at the same time small market teams are forced to spend to the minimum even though they are destined to lose money.
Back to the Avalanche, I believe the Avalanche are playing it very safe for fear that another lockout could occur. Think about it, after the last lockout the salary cap was only $39 million (the cap has risen to $59 million since then), when the league resumed operations, the Avalanche had a tough choice deciding out of Sakic, Blake, Forsberg, and Foote who to keep. Ultimately, they chose Blake and Sakic and if you look at the contract situation now, Paul Stastny is the only Avalanche player under contract after the next two seasons. The Avs are watching their spending in case the cap goes down in a couple seasons to avoid the tough decisions of 2005.
All is not lost though, the Avalanche will likely have to sign one other player besides Mueller and Stewart to reach the cap floor and with all of the defensemen in the system I hope they shoot for a top six forward. There aren't too many left but Lee Stempniak or Maxim Afinogenov would be solid and affordable additions.
I was preaching earlier to spend, spend, spend, but now I am glad that the Avalanche fought that urge. With the Kovalchuk debacle and the careless spending during the first few days of free agency, I'm glad the Avalanche kept their distance. Luckily for the Avalanche, Vancouver and Calgary happened to be amongst them. The Canucks overpaid immensely for Dan Hamhuis and Calgary.... Really Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay? I guess it's safe for Flames players to make vacation plans for April.

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