GM Grades: Joe Sakic
Long gone seems the days of helter-skelter defensemen carousels of the Joe Sacco days. Joe Sakic has this team under control today and in the future with head coach Jared Bednar, a core group locked down (minus Mikko Rantanen), and enough salary cap room to improve the team come trade deadline if all goes smoothly. The Avs are poised for success. However, like all good teams in the search of glory, the Avs have room for improvement. Now is not the time to stand pat. Avs fans have waited long enough for this, so coming into the offseason Sakic had some dirty work to do. It wasn’t rocket science, the rebuild is in win-now mode. The dirty work was strictly improving this team.
After a year that showed a team that’s ready to compete and step into the ring, they knocked out the Western Conference champs (Calgary Flames) and gave a strong San Jose Sharks team a sign of what’s to come in years ahead.Embed from Getty Images
The Five Big Needs
Sakic had five big needs this offseason.
- Number one was to shore up his top-six forward group with a bonafide number two centermen.
- Two was to sign restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen to a long term contract.
- Three was to pump confidence into goalie Phillip Grubauer by ending the Semyon Varlamov era in Colorado and handing the net solely to Grubauer.
- Four was to fill out the forward spots with fast, youthful secondary scoring to give Colorado’s three-headed monster (Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon, Rantanen) more space on the ice and more for opposing teams to worry about.
- Last but not least was to decide whether to trade or sign Tyson Barrie. Barrie had one more year left on his contract that’s paying him a bargain 5.5 million but is due for a pretty substantial raise come 2020.
With those issues in mind, let’s look over what Sakic has done by grading the solutions or lack thereof he’s done so far.
Sakic went for the” kill two birds with one stone” trick on July 1st, with a blockbuster trade that sent defensemen Tyson Barrie and forward Alexander Kerfoot to the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Nazem Kadri and defensemen Calle Rosen. On the surface, some may say this trade stings a bit for the avid Avalanche fan. Barrie is an entertaining, explosive, offensive-minded defenseman. Not to mention fan-favorite, locker room favorite, and Nathan Mackinnon’s best friend on the team. But with the entrance of Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins who isn’t far out of the picture, the need for a Tyson Barrie type player with a cap hit coming off somewhere north of eight million a year seems redundant. Especially with a team that lacks secondary scoring up front.
Kadri has a deal that’s very team and salary cap-friendly, pulling in an average of $4.5 million per year till 2021. For a guy who has scored 30+ goals twice in his career, that’s a bargain in today’s National Hockey League. Kadri slides into the number two center role, second power play, penalty kill, and as a reliable guy in the face-off dot.
If Jared Bednar and the Avs leadership can keep Kadri out of the Department of Player Safety’s office and on the ice, the deal just might be what the Avs need to give them the extra punch, literally and figuratively. Sakic took a leap by trading the talented defenseman for what the team needs. For that we thank you.
Remember the years of the Avs so-called “salary cap structure”? Where no one was allowed to make more than Matt Duchene and to sign team-friendly deals like Mackinnon’s contract. Mikko Rantanen is about to blow all of that up, and rightfully so. He’s produced at an insane level, has stayed healthy (so far) and seems like he wants to lock it down in Colorado. Pay the man! When Rantanen fell to the Avs at the tenth spot of the 2015 Entry draft, the Avs knew they were getting a good player. But I’m not sure they were quite expecting him to turn out like he already has.
At this point in Rantanen’s young career, Sakic needs to take the bull by the horns, “put his you know whats on the table” (credit: Patrick Roy) and sign Rantanen before he has another career year. That would make the price go even further into the pocket of Avs owner Stanley Kroenke. Sakic is a patient man, he may also be waiting for the Mitch Marner saga in Toronto to unfold to ensure he doesn’t overpay too badly. Still, with Marner potentially holding out of training camp or possibly into the regular season, that situation is not ideal. That being said, with Sebastian Aho signing a picture-perfect deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, one has to think Rantanen’s deal will be in that ballpark.
The Avs need to roll out the red carpet a season early and show Rantanen how badly they want him for eight-plus years playing alongside MacKinnon. With no deal done and no chatter about it, it’s disappointing. Hopefully, Sakic’s got a plan before the 2019-20 season kicks off. There’s still time Joe. Do the right thing.
Phillip Grubauer plain and simple won the starting job from Semyon Varlamov last year. With years of groin problems and inconsistent play after his 2013-2014 Vezina finalist year, along with an expiring contract, it was Varlamov’s time to ride into free agency. At least that was the hope. With Grubauer as the starter, the backup role was given to Pavel Francouz, who signed a show-me contract of $950,000 for one year. With the uncertainty and lack of experience behind Grubauer, there was always a chance Varlamov would squeeze his way into another contract. But the Francouz contract being a one-way deal was the proof in the pudding.
Sakic is putting total faith into Grubauer going into the 2019-20 season. Letting him steer the ship in net will pay off for years to come. AYE AYE captain Joe!
Throughout last season it was clear to everyone most nights the Avs were a one-trick pony. If the big three weren’t scoring, ain’t nobody scoring. So Sakic via trade went out and got Kadri. But at the same time made a deal that left a few scratching their heads. Sakic traded Carl Soderberg for defensemen Kevin Connauton and a third-round selection in the 2020 Entry draft. Trading Soderberg at this time of the team’s progression seems odd. Soderberg is maybe overpaid for a third-line center. Still, with the cap space the Avs have, and the need for depth players up front with the ability to put up 35-50 points, it doesn’t seem like a fair trade-off. Connauton may be needed at seasons start with Ian Cole seemingly sidelined for a couple of months with hip surgery.
Looking down the Avs pipeline of defensemen at the AHL level, as well as Bowen Byram having a legit shot at cracking the roster, the need for Connauton with an already crowded pipeline seems redundant. On the flip side, it means the Avs will only get younger down the middle. With JT Compher likely to be thrust into the third line center role and play bigger minutes, giving the kids more chances is a great philosophy.
Also coming via trade was Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals for a minor leaguer and two second-round picks. This could turn out to be great for the Avs. Burakovsky has upside, but just couldn’t quite pull it all together on a Capitals team that didn’t let his potential run. He’ll get every chance in Colorado to come into his own and be that 50-60 point secondary scoring the Avs need.
In free agency, the Avs stayed to their ways of not landing the big fish, staying out of long-term contracts. Instead, they got Joonas Donskoi. The 27-year-old Donskoi signed for four years with a cap hit just south of four million a year. He will also get to play alongside skill players and get a chance to increase his career-high totals. The term is a bit too long, but he’s cheap enough to be a solid third/second line floater throughout the lineup and produce.
With last year’s playoff experience for the Avs and Sakic injecting more youth and players like Kadri in their prime, without ruining their cap space. It’s a recipe for success.
Sakic left a few question marks up front. A few things most certainly have to go right for these deals to be home runs. But it’s certainly a swing worth taking. Batter up!
Overall Grade: B+
Feel free to drop a comment on what you think Sakic has done this off-season. What you would grade his performance? Let’s go fellow armchair GMs!
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