In what may be Joe Sakic’s most important summer as Colorado Avalanche general manager, he has a number of important decisions to make in his effort to bring the Avs back to relevance.
The NHL Entry Draft and the Expansion Draft, as well as which free agents to keep around and which ones to acquire, are all decisions Sakic will make that will be heavily scrutinized by Avalanche fans.
This summer, the Avalanche will have to decide on the fate of nine free agents from this past season’s roster; five restricted, four unrestricted. As of today, that leaves the Avs with room for eight contracts, but, of course, there is the issue of possible trades and the expansion draft at hand.
Based on the play of this year’s team, four of the nine possible free agents should be brought back. Following are the four players that should be re-signed based on each one’s individual play in order of lowest priority to the highest.
While Grigorenko’s found himself everywhere from getting first-line minutes to being a healthy scratch from time to time, the 22-year-old is still a project Colorado mustn’t quit on.
In a down year for scoring for the Avalanche as a whole, Grigorenko only scored four less points than his previous year but tallied four more goals. Not only did Grigorenko have to adapt to coach Bednar’s new system, he also spent much of the year playing on the wing. Being a natural center he is still learning to play on the wing, but his youth mixed with his spurts of high-level skill provides both time and hope for him to become an important part of the Avalanche’s future.
The jump Nieto made from almost being an AHL player when the San Jose Sharks put him on waivers to being in the Avalanche top-six is beyond impressive. Granted San Jose is one of the league’s best teams and the Avalanche are the worst by a landslide, Nieto’s apparent fit in the Bednar system is undeniable.
Nieto has a great blend of offensive skill and grit that seemingly can fit up and down the entire depth chart. Versatility like his is hard to find.
Learning on the fly with just over half of the season left to play, Nieto only managed eleven points with the Avalanche. With a full season under his belt with coach Bednar now that he has acclimated to his new team it seems likely he exceeds his career-high in point, which is 27. At 24 years of age, Nieto fits exactly what the Avalanche are looking for. It is likely he is exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights in their expansion draft, but it seems likely the NHL’s newest team has little interest in Nieto.
All that needs to be said as a case for bringing back the trade deadline acquisition is 16 points in 19 games.
Much like Matt Nieto, Andrighetto was easily transitioned into the style of hockey coach Bednar likes to play. He was able to jump right in with Colorado’s best players and scored more in his 19 games in an Avalanche sweater than a handful of the Avs forwards who were in Colorado all year.
Games Played Goals Assists Points
Sven Andrighetto 19 5 11 16
Carl Soderberg 80 6 8 14
Matt Nieto 43 4 7 11
Joe Colborne 62 4 4 8
John Mitchell 65 3 4 7
Nikita Zadorov has emerged as one of the NHL’s most promising young defensemen. Paired next to Erik Johnson, the ZJ pairing was statistically one of the strongest at driving play and maintaining a shutdown defense. The physicality with which Zadorov plays forced opposing teams to gameplan around what he brings to the table, which is a lot of hurt (See February 4 game versus the Winnipeg Jets).
Zadorov’s season was ended early due to injury and he was only capable of 10 points with zero goals in the 56 games he played this year. However, the common adage for defensemen is that it takes 300 games played for them to fully acclimate to the NHL. Zadorov is only at 145 and the ceiling for him is sky-high.