The Avalanche’s Good, Bad, and Ugly July

Alexander Kerfoot, Colorado Avalanche, Editor's Choice, Joonas Donskoi, Long Read, Nazem Kadri, Tyson Barrie

The Colorado Avalanche conducted a fair amount of business in the lazy summer month of July. Some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it ugly. Here’s a breakdown of the Avalanche moves and you can decide for yourself: has it been a good summer for the Avalanche? Or did they bury themselves in a collapsible ice cave?

The
Good

The Avalanche made enough moves to keep the month of July hopping. Some of their best transactions, though, weren’t even on the radar at the start of the summer.

1. The Avalanche extended coach Jared Bednar for an additional two years, giving him three more years with the club. With three years already under his belt, he has shown an ability to help the club improve each consecutive year. However, the real trick with this deal is whether Bednar can lead the team to the Stanley Cup. The extension shows the world that Colorado rewards success. But it’s such a new feeling for weathered Avalanche fans; it may take awhile for hope to sink in.

2. Colorado finally traded controversial defenseman Tyson Barrie — for a bag of pucks. No, really. The Avalanche actually got a fair return, picking up talented center Nazem Kadri in exchange from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Nazem Kadri
Nazem Kadri could be the key to improving the Avalanche’s secondary scoring. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer)

Kadri is locked up for the next three years for a very reasonable $4.5 million. The feisty player will likely center the second line, upgrading the team’s secondary scoring. That part of the deal was good. Stay tuned for the rest of the trade, it will show up later. Spoiler — it’s not so good.

3. The Avalanche not only selected touted defenseman Bowen Byram with their fourth overall pick, the team even signed him to an entry-level contract (ELC). Before the season started. Even before rookie camp. Did someone new join the front office without the Avalanche making an announcement?

Bowen Byram Vancouver Giants
The Avalanche selected up-and-coming defenseman Bowen Byram fourth overall in the draft. (Chris Relke/Vancouver Giants)

Even though they signed Byram, it may be awhile before he suits up in any kind of Colorado uniform. Because of his young age, he can either play for the WHL or the Avalanche; no AHL option is available. Signing young shining prospects presents interesting challenges. Do it again!

4. Czech goaltender Pavel Francouz earned a chance at the NHL backup spot by playing lights out for the Colorado Eagles last season. In a rare treat, the Avalanche recognized his stellar play and signed Francouz to be their backup goaltender for the upcoming season. It’s an unusual, feel-good moment for Colorado fans to see a player rewarded for his AHL effort with a solid NHL role. Hopefully, Francouz’s promotion opens the flood gates for more prospects to earn spots on the club’s NHL roster.

5. In an uncharacteristically proactive move, Colorado signed young defenseman Samuel Girard to a seven-year deal, set to commence when his ELC expires. It’s a solid move, especially with the Barrie trade and it sends a great message to the other young guys on the team — give it your best and you will be rewarded. It’s just so responsible, it begs the question, is this the same Avalanche organization from five years ago? No, no it’s not.

6. One of the more intriguing stories surrounding the offseason centered on how the Avalanche would handle signing forward J.T. Compher when his ELC expired. Compher presented an interesting wrinkle to the Avalanche development process. He played well last season, but would he earn a solid offer?

Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher
Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher extended his tenure with the club. (Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports)

Indeed, he did, as the Avalanche signed Compher to a four-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $3.5 million per year. With the signing, he became the fifth highest paid forward on the team — for now. Only six players on the whole team will earn more than Compher. It’s an interesting contract. Will he be able to live up to the deal? Right now, only the shadow knows.

7. The Avalanche managed to sign all their restricted free agents except one in the month of July. Not a single one went to arbitration, which is good news all the way around.

The
Bad

Not
everything the Avalanche did in July was sunshine and roses. Some moves seemed
more stinky. Or at least, not good.

1a. The biggest disappointment in the Barrie trade was losing forward Alexander Kerfoot. Kerfy earned his spot on the team, kept up with the top line when needed, and added a spark on the other line combinations. He started his NHL career with the Avalanche and was part of the youth movement. It wasn’t a surprise to see Barrie go, but losing Kerfoot seemed like breaking up the roommate trio with Tyson Jost and Compher. Goodbye party-boy frat line — we hardly knew ye!

Avalanche center Alexander Kerfoot
The addition of Alexander Kerfoot to the Kadri-Barrie trade made for a pricey deal. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

1b. The Avalanche paying half of Barrie’s salary this season seemed unnecessary. It made sense for Toronto, who is struggling with salary cap issues. But Colorado overpaid for Kadri, especially when adding Kerfoot into the deal. It’s not the worst that could happen. The Avalanche have the cap room, the team needed a solid second line center, and they could afford the price. Toronto’s GM Kyle Dubas negotiated a win. Until Barrie’s new contract comes up for discussion. Okay, maybe the Avalanche didn’t do so bad after all.

2. This one happened in June but there was hope that a July trade was in the works. Or, at least, an explanation. The Avalanche picked up defenseman Kevin Connauton in the trade for Carl Soderberg. Why would Colorado need yet another defenseman? And a 29-year-old at that? Well, the answer is worse than the actual acquisition.

Both Erik Johnson and Ian Cole needed surgery after the playoffs. Cole had surgery on both hips and isn’t likely to play until December. There’s hope Johnson will be ready for the start of the season. But in this case, it looks like the Avalanche were covering their bases. It’s bad but it’s also probably good they aren’t relying solely on 20-year-olds for the blue line.

3. The Avalanche signed 34-year-old center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to a two-year deal. He’s likely to center the fourth line. But he’s 34 and it’s a two-year deal. What happened to the team’s youth movement? Where’s the room for the young guys to make the team? Whoops, I’m ahead of myself. I’ll get to that later. Still, it’s questionable.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare #41, Vegas Golden Knights
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will play for the Avalanche this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

4. The Avalanche pursued the much-touted free agent winger Artemi Panarin, offering even more money than what he actually signed for with the New York Rangers. It’s hard to pick out which is worse, both are bad. The Avalanche allegedly offered Panarin more than the Rangers’ $81.5 million over seven years he signed. And Panarin turned down more money to avoid playing in Colorado.

The Avalanche are an up-and-coming team but Denver can’t compete with the Big Apple when it comes to big city life. It’s a stark reminder that no matter how good a team is, for some people the destination matters. Denver may not be everyone’s cup of tea or mug of beer. Maybe Panarin could do advertisements in California and Texas on why people shouldn’t move to Colorado? It would lessen the disappointment.

5. Colorado picked up right winger Joonas Donskoi and promptly signed him to a four-year, $3.9 million AAV contract. Donskoi has a lot of playoff experience with the San Jose Sharks. But four years? What does that say to the prospects with the Eagles? There’s no room at the Avalanche NHL inn? Donskoi may very well prove to be a solid addition to the team, especially in the short run, but the term raises questions. It’s not “end of the world” bad but it is kind of a head-scratcher.

Joonas Donskoi Sharks
Welcome Joonas Donskoi to the Avalanche. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

6. For some reason only God seems to know, the Avalanche re-signed defenseman Anton Lindholm. For two years. Why? I don’t know. It’s not like they don’t already have blueliners coming out their ears. Did the front office just decide to go nuts acquiring defensemen? Is there a world-wide shortage of middling blueliners to worry about? It’s a mystery.

7. The Minnesota Wild fired general manager Paul Fenton. It’s a dark day in Avalanche land as we are forced to say goodbye to the GM who did more to undermine the Wild than a knee-on-knee hit in the playoffs. The news isn’t all bad though, folks. Word on the street is the Wild interviewed Peter Chiarelli. Yes, the same Chiarelli who couldn’t find a way to get Connor McDavid into the postseason. It’s so bad, it’s good. Maniacal laugh.

The
Ugly

1. Some uglies are uglier than others. This one? Not so good. Bubble forward A.J. Greer was arrested after getting into a brawl in New York and charged with third-degree assault. People wondered why he struggled making the team because he has talent. Perhaps Greer’s decision-making paradigms need to shift, or he needs to mature, or he’s a bonehead. Hard to tell from this, but seeing talent go to waste for any reason is ugly.

2. Swift winger Sven Andrighetto did not get an offer from the Avalanche at season’s end. Nor did he get any he liked from any other NHL team. Instead,  the spark-plug forward will play in the KHL. It’s a little sad when former Avalanche players don’t find other homes in the NHL. It’s ugly when it happens to such a good guy.

Avalanche right wing Sven Andrighetto
Former Avalanche right wing Sven Andrighetto signed a KHL deal. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

3. For all the Avalanche moves, they are still looking for that sniper on the wing. Maybe Donskoi will be that guy, or one of their other additions. But for a team that made such a stink about needing a speedy wing and stressed adding fast young players, not much happened on that front. The youngest player they picked up outside of the draft was 24. The oldest was 34. That’s kind of ugly.

4. Related to #3, the Avalanche added four veteran forwards to their roster, only one of them is under the age of 25. Assuming they all make the team, there’s only room for one of their young forward prospects like Vladislav Kamenev, Shane Bowers, Martin Kaut, A.J. Greer, Logan O’Connor or Sheldon Dries. Want to know what clogging the development pipeline looks like? This is it.

Vladislav Kamenev Colorado Avalanche
Avalanche forward Vladislav Kamenev will be fighting to make the club after two injuries. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

But the forwards aren’t alone with this issue. The young defensive prospects face the same uphill battle. CapFriendly shows eight defensemen currently on the Avalanche roster, including two 29-year-olds — Mark Barberio and newly acquired Connauton. Remember, they also re-signed 24-year-old Lindholm and picked up 25-year-old Calle Rosen in the Barrie-Kadri trade. Lest one forget, promising prospects Bowen Byram, Conor Timmins and Nicolas Meloche are chomping at the bit to make the NHL club, too.

It’s one thing to fill a couple gaps until the young players develop. It’s another thing to bring in aging veterans that prevent young players from moving up. Which one are the Avalanche facing? Training camp will tell. But this kind of logjam looks pretty ugly from here. Let’s hope it’s a temporary problem and not a shift in team policy.

5. The Avalanche signed promising young forward prospect Brandon Saigeon to a one-year AHL contract. Saigeon scored 92 points in 68 regular season OHL games and 16 points in 15 playoff games. Why they would risk insulting the 21-year-old by offering him an AHL deal instead of an entry-level contract? There may be more going on behind the scenes but from the outside looking in — it’s pretty ugly.

6. The biggest ugly of all is that Mikko Rantanen is still unsigned. Even worse, rumors have it that his agent is not interested in a long-term contract. While everyone waits for Mitch Marner to sign his contract, helping to set the price for unsigned restricted free agents (UFAs), the uglier the waiting gets. Tick tock.

Who
Knows?

Some Avalanche moves are clearly good, bad or ugly. Others are more of a toss up. Some risk with potential reward. They need time to see if it was a hit or miss.

1.Colorado signed Andre Burakovsky to a one-year deal. The 24-year-old left wing, formerly from the Washington Capitals, cost Colorado a second- and a third-round draft pick in 2020. The player may thrive in a different environment with the Avalanche or he could turn out to be a risk that doesn’t pan out.

The Avalanche are gambling that Andre Burakovsky can bring additional firepower to the team. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Burakovsky has been a 25-point scorer for his last two seasons with the Capitals. It begs the question raised earlier — did the Avalanche not have someone in the system who could be called up for the AHL to fill his role? Colorado likely hopes Burakovsky can up his game with them. But until he does, it’s just an interesting story to follow.

2. As part of the Kadri-Barrie trade, the Avalanche acquired Calle Rosen, a 25-year-old defenseman. Reports suggest he’s a promising player. But really, how many blueliners do the Avalanche really need? At this rate, they could start auctioning them off for draft picks. Or nachos. What does one do with a stockpile of defenders? Maybe Nashville knows.

3. The Avalanche handed out one-year deals to a handful of restricted free agents (RFAs) and one UFA. The biggest contracts went to burly defenseman Nikita Zadorov ($3.2 million) and veteran forward Colin Wilson ($2.6 million). Kamenev signed for $750,000 while Graves, Greer and Dries all signed for $735,000.

It’s good the Avalanche haven’t mortgaged their future but it’s concerning that, aside from Wilson, the rest represent the youth movement for the team. These players have one year to figure it out or the team moves on without them. It raises questions. Are the Avalanche still young and hungry or have they moved past that point? Will the young players have a chance to make the NHL squad? Will Zadorov ever get out of the doghouse? These, and other questions, will only be answered as the hockey soap opera skates on.

4. A couple of Avalanche prospects looked good in the World Junior Summer Showcase. Forward Sampo Ranta finished the tourney tied for second in scoring. Blueliner Bowen Byram stood out enough for the announcers to suggest he could make the Avalanche this season. Finnish goaltender Justus Annunen had two good showings and one bad one. Forward Alex Newhook didn’t seem to fit with his linemates, while forward Luka Burzan and defenseman Drew Helleson looked average. It’s too early to know the players’ development trajectory, but it’s always good to have six prospects playing in the showcase.

Sampo Ranta of the Sioux City Musketeers
Avalanche prospect Sampo Ranta showed well in the summer showcase. (courtesy USHL)

5. Toronto media folks have made a big deal about how good Kerfoot is as a two-way center and how he plays well on special teams. It’s enough to wonder if they got Kerfoot and Compher confused. Kerfoot is a solid player but he is going to have a hard time living up to the hype. Toronto media can be brutal. Hopefully, they treat him well. But if the hype train continues, it could be a rough slog.

That’s it for this edition of the Avalanche’s good, bad, and ugly. Stay tuned for the next installment, where hopefully Rantanen will have signed his contract. Or there will be solid rumors he is going to sign his contract. Or his agent will imply a contract signing will happen before the season starts. One never knows when the next skate will drop in hockey. Until then, keep your blades cool and the puck flying. Unless you’re a goaltender. In which case, bless your posts Patrick Roy style.

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