The Taylor Hall sweepstakes, Part 1, begins at 10 a.m. Friday when NHL free agency starts.
It is believed that Hall, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner with New Jersey, is seeking a short-term contract with a Stanley Cup-contending team. It could be just a one-year deal that would pave the way for a longer contract after next season in free agency. The current economic climate is expected to limit free-agent spending, particularly with the league possibly playing without fans again next season.
The Avalanche could be the right fit for the 28-year-old Hall — who would slot in on either wing on the top two lines and not disrupt the team’s ideal 1-2 punch at center with Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri. Hall would be a significant upgrade from Valeri Nichushkin, who failed to produce a point in 13 of 15 playoff games.
In a career playing for mostly weak teams in Edmonton, New Jersey and Arizona, Hall understandably seeks a chance with a winner. Although the Avs’ primary needs aren’t upgraded scoring potential, adding Hall would undoubtedly help. Colorado decided to pass on Hall when the pending free agent was shopped by the Devils before the trade deadline, but that was because general manager Joe Sakic didn’t want to disrupt chemistry for one of the league’s top-scoring teams, and because the price for Hall would have been high.
Now, with free agency, it only takes money to add Hall, a proven high-character player who would fit in well behind Colorado’s established star players and team leaders.
The Avs’ primary free-agent need is adding toughness among the bottom-six forwards — a guy like Corey Perry (but not Corey Perry) — and perhaps a goaltender like Corey Crawford, 35, a three-time Stanley Cup champion probably willing to serve as a backup but ready to jump in and be the No. 1 guy.
The Avs have been eliminated from the playoffs with a third-string goalie in net for the second time in three years. Although Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz are both under contract next season, Sakic and his staff might look to deepen that position.
Colorado enters free agency approximately $21.5 million under the salary cap, with 15-of-23 players under contract. The Avs still need to sign restricted free agents Andre Burakovsky and Ryan Graves, both due hefty raises, plus Nikita Zadorov, Nichushkin and Tyson Jost.
Zadorov, an inconsistent defenseman, could be traded, and if that’s the plan, the Avs might look for a veteran shutdown defenseman to replace him in free agency. They already have defensemen Erik Johnson, Sam Girard, Ian Cole and Cale Makar under contract, with Graves to be signed and young prospects Conor Timmins and Bo Byram coming up. So the position is stocked.
Here are five of the Avs’ possible free-agent targets, in order of importance:
F Taylor Hall
Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, shoots left but can play either wing. He beat out MacKinnon for the 2018 Hart Trophy with a career-best 39-goal, 93-point season. Hall has played in the postseason just twice in 11 seasons. He had two goals and six points in nine playoff games in September, including a goal and an assist in Arizona’s five games against the Avs.
F Wayne Simmonds
Simmonds, 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, is tough and mean — two areas the Avs can improve on with their depth forwards. No longer a top-six power forward, Simmonds, 32, can add scoring and grit in the bottom-six. He signed a one-year, $5 million free-agent deal with New Jersey on July 1, 2019 and that’s about what it will take to sign him — unless he takes less to play for a Cup-contending team.
G Corey Crawford
Many reputable NHL insiders, including Sportsnet and ESPN, have said the Avs are interested in Crawford. To that end, he has to be on this list.
F Kyle Clifford
Clifford, 6-2, 210, is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Los Angeles Kings. The 29-year-old was a trade-deadline acquisition by Toronto in Februar, signed to serve as the depth-forward grinder. He’s coming off a five-year, $8 million contract — approximately what he’ll make on his next deal.
F Matt Martin
This guy won’t put the puck in the net often but he’ll clear the way for others to do so. Martin, 6-3, 220, grew up in Ontario and has never played for a team outside the East Coast. Perhaps he’ll choose to remain there but a $3 million annual salary could lead him west. Martin, 31, had a $2.5 million cap hit for the Islanders last season.
Other possible candidates: F Vladislav Namestnikov, G Jacob Markström, G Brayden Holtby, G Henrik Lundqvist, F Mike Hoffman, F Andreas Athanasiou, F Tyler Toffoli.