Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Colorado Avalanche

This is the second of my team evaluations for the Northwest division. I'm going to be taking a look at the budget for each team for both the upcoming season and the 2010-2011 season as well as looking at each of their significant moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline using 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at nhlnumbers.com, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Minnesota Wild. Next up is the Colorado Avalanche:

Budget 2009-2010 (56.8M Cap)

Top 3 Forwards - Stastny, Hejduk, Wolski = 13.70 or 24.1%

Middle 6 Forwards - Svatos, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 4.30 or 7.6%

Top 4 Defenders - Hannan, Liles, Salei, Foote = 14.73 or 25.9%

Goaltending - Anderson, Budaj = 3.06 or 5.4%

Bottom 8 Players - Preissing, Quincey, Clark, Koci, Stewart, Hensick, Tucker, McLeod = 12.33 or 21.7%

This team is a bit of a mess and I'm going to assume that they're in full-on re-building mode. The Avalanche are spending way too much money on the bottom of the roster. Most of this is on defense with six different defenders making at least 2.75M. To make matters worse, not one of those six defenders look likely to outperform their contract. Ug. Ly. As far as the forwards go, there really isn't any depth at all. One guy signed and no RFA's to come. Yikes. Then you have the top three guys. They're not terrible by any means but neither do they match up well against the top guys on the other clubs. Now, the Avalanche have enough space that they could try to turn this around but I would instead expect them to tank and go for another high draft pick. At this point, they would be wise to consider playing closer to the floor than to the cap both to save money and to ensure that they stay bad. If they don't find some depth at forward, their task should be easily completed.

1. Colorado drafts Matt Duchene 3rd overall in the 2009 entry draft. Now, before I start, this was a good smart pick by the Avalanche. However, the Avalanche are rebuilding right now. The team this year is destined to suck. In fact, as much as I hate that teams do this, they probably even want to suck. As such, it would make no sense for the Avalanche to let Duchene make the team this year. If he does make the team, he's granted UFA status at 25 instead of 27, he's not going to be as good of a player during his entry level deal and his entry level deal will be wasted on years that the Avalanche want to lose. They haven't decided to put him in the NHL yet but given their lack of forward depth, it would seem to be a very real possibility. It would be the wrong decision.

2. Colorado does not give a qualifying offer to Cody McCormick. This is pretty harsh. A bad team with no forward depth won't give a qualifying offer of less than $600,000. Now, McCormick is pretty bad. He gets outshot and outscored at even strength and doesn't provide much offense while being ranked third last in quality of competition among Avalanche forwards and first in quality of teammates. This guy sucks. Normally I don't like giving away free depth, but really, McCormick probably isn't a replacement level player.

3. Colorado signs Peter Budaj to a one year deal at 1.25M per year. This contract may be Budaj's last with the Avalanche since he'll become an unrestricted free agent next season. They've invested a lot in him to this point so it doesn't surprise me that they wanted to take another look next season. In this list (credit to Derek Zona) of goalies with at least one season since the lockout Budaj ranks 36th in save percentage out of 52 goaltenders with a save percentage .902 since the lockout. The majority of goalies ranked below him are no longer in the NHL. If I were the Avalanche I'd probably have given up on Budaj by now and tried some of the other available goalies, but given the amount of time the Avalanche have put into Budaj, it's understandable they'd try him out for one more year... especially since they aren't really interested in winning games.

4. Colorado signs Craig Anderson to a two year deal at 1.81M per year. According to the same list I referenced above, Anderson ranks 24th among goalies since the lockout in save percentage (.908). The highest ranking UFA goalie was Ty Conklin who ranks 8th with a save percentage of .916. Now save percentage isn't the be-all end-all of goaltending statistics, but it is a good indicator of performance. While I may have preferred Conklin, giving Anderson a shot in split duty on a short term deal is basically the same idea. If Anderson pans out, there's a good chance that he can be signed to a second contract at a pretty affordable rate which gives the Avalanche more money to spend in other areas. For more information on Anderson, you can check out this article by the Contrarian Goaltender.

5. Philadelphia signs Ian Laperriere to a three year deal at 1.17M per year. My understanding is that Laperriere was a very popular player in Colorado. That, along with Colorado's desperate need of middle 6 forwards makes his departure seem a little strange from a Colorado perspective. He's the kind of character guy that can really help a rebuilding team and I would have expected the Avalanche to retain him. Unless Laperriere expressly wanted out of Colorado for a better chance at winning, letting him walk really doesn't make sense.

6. Colorado signs David Koci to a one year deal at 0.58M per year. I really don't think that enforcers have much value. Both Mirtle and Kent have discussed how useless enforcers are at actually playing hockey and I certainly fall in with them. As such, I think this signing is a waste especially since it's one less roster spot available for taking a chance on a real player. Plus, it implies that the management sees a need to have an enforcer on the roster, something that will not serve them well when the team is actually good.

7. Colorado trades Ryan Smyth to Los Angeles for Tom Preissing + Kyle Quincey + 5th round pick. Unfortunately for Avalanche fans, this is actually a decent trade for the Avalanche. The main benefits are clearing out some cap space and moving the rebuilding process forward with the acquisition of Kyle Quincey. The biggest thing here is the money which makes the acquisition of Tom Preissing particularly unpalatable - he has another two years left on his contract and the Avalanche really had no need of another well-paid veteran defenceman.

Quincey is an interesting acquisition. Earlier this year the Kings took him off of waivers from the Red Wings (who in hindsight probably wished they would've waived Brad Stuart's 3.5M deal). Quincey played as a #4 or 5 defenceman for the most part with the Kings. He had the most favourable split of offensive to defensive zone faceoffs on the team and yet was still outscored 5 on 5 (although his Corsi was very good). His power play numbers, on the other hand, were outstanding. He played 3:19 per game and put up 6.28 pts/60 which is an elite number for a defenceman (it beats Pronger, Niedermayer, Lidstrom, Boyle and Green). The Avalanche may really have something good for their power play. If they don't realize it, Quincey could quickly get buried in the rotation.

I always wonder how a fifth round pick gets negotiated into these deals but it's always nice to get another lottery ticket. Overall, I was somewhat underwhelmed with the return given what the Rangers were able to get for Scott Gomez only a few days earlier in another clear salary dump. Still, the important thing is that the Avalanche moved Smyth's contract when they had the chance.

8. Colorado signs David Jones to a two year deal at 0.84M per year, Brian Willsie to a one year deal at 0.6M and Darren Haydar to a one year deal at 0.53M. These are all relatively minor moves that I decided to group together. Although I haven't included any of these players on the above chart, there is a very good chance that all of them spend the year with the Avalanche if more forward help isn't brought it.

David Jones is coming off of his entry level deal with the Avalanche. He split time between the AHL and NHL for the last two years. This past season Jones faced middling opposition with poor teammates and started in the offensive zone 18 more times than the defensive zone. He was both outshot and outscored at even strength and didn't play much of a role on special teams. He really can't be slotted any higher than a fourth lline role at this point.

Brian Willsie is a veteran of close to 400 NHL games. Last season Willsie split time with Colorado and Lake Erie. He played in 42 games with the Avalanche, registering 4 points (0.58 pts/60). He faced the second easiest competition among Avalanche forwards with at least 40 games and was handily outshot and outscored. At best, Willsie is roster filler at the NHL level. In the AHL, he is able to score close to a point per game, so if he spends most of the year in Lake Erie, he might get to help a team win games.

Darren Haydar is the most interesting of the three and in some ways reminds me of Rich Peverley, another relatively small player who scores very well in the AHL. Peverley was claimed by Atlanta off waivers, put with Kovalchuk and had quite a lot of success. Haydar is both smaller than Peverley and a better scorer in the AHL (he led the league last year). Unfortunately for him, there probably isn't a plan to play him with Paul Stastny. That said, this is exactly the kind of player that rebuilding teams need to be giving chances. It's quite possible that Haydar can play in an offensive role in the NHL, and that has value. It's a much better plan than signing then the David Koci's of the world.

If the Avalanche don't make many more acquisitions look for Willsie and Jones to move into the bottom 8 players and for Haydar, Hensick and Tucker to move into the middle 6 forwards. If "lack of forward depth" is part of the game plan, that should cover it.

9. Joe Sakic retires. As an Oiler fan I can't properly understand what this would be like. Sure, Sakic had a great career but he's also been the Avalanche captain since they moved to Colorado. He never asked to be traded, got booed out of town, left as a free agent or cost too much for the owner. All I can really say is that I'm jealous that Colorado got to enjoy Sakic for all these years, both as a player and as a person. For a proper Colorado fan's perspective, you can go to Mile High Hockey. From the team's perspective, Sakic's retirement officially ends an era. For the first time since they moved to Colorado, they suck.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M projection)

Top 3 Forwards - Stastny, ???, ??? = 6.60 or 13.2%

Middle 6 Forwards - ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 0.00 or 0.0%

Top 4 Defenders - Hannan, Liles, ???, ??? = 8.70 or 17.4%

Goaltending - Anderson, ??? = 1.81 or 3.6%

Bottom 8 Players - Preissing, ???, ???, Jones, McLeod, ???, ???, ??? = 4.38 or 8.8%

The rebuilding process is now well under way. At this point, the Avalanche need to focus on moving some of the remaining players out. They should hold onto Stastny and possibly Liles but one of the main goals of the rest of the summer will be moving Hannan and Preissing out for some future value. This year's trade deadline should will be another opportunity for the Avalanche to turn the players they have now into future value. They're in a good position to begin the turn-around for 2011-2012. Until then, keep moving things for futures and experimenting with guys like Anderson and Haydar and hope to find a gem.

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