Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Avs’ newest forward is already dropping MAJOR hints about wanting to stay in Colorado, but can the team afford to keep him past this year?
New forward acquisition Brandon Saad should be no mystery to Colorado Avalanche fans. Having spent seven of his nine NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, the winger has only faced the Dallas Stars (30 games) more than Colorado (29 games) during his career. With five 20-goal seasons, Saad can find the back of the net, and with two Stanley Cup rings to his name, he will provide leadership to the forward group.
Not only that, analytics show he could reach even greater heights with the outstanding forward group Joe Sakic has put together. A strong play-driving winger, Saad has consistently underperformed his expected goals added while still scoring, speaking more to his linemates underperforming than his own abilities. This likely won’t be the case in Colorado, as he looks to slot into a second-line role next to the perpetually underrated Nazem Kadri and either Gabriel Landeskog or Andre Burakovsky on the other wing.
Brandon Saad, traded to COL, is one of the league’s top offensive scoring chance drivers who has consistently had those pucks not go in. But he himself scores a bunch of goals. It’s weird. #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/iSKyYL02vx
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) October 10, 2020
Under contract for only one more season at $5 million, Saad joins a long list of UFAs that the team must address. This list includes the captain, Landeskog, starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer, two of the better defensive forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Matt Calvert and defender Ian Cole.
While most don’t see Cole as a priority, Landeskog and Grubauer certainly should be, and there will only be so much money to go around. With big money extensions coming for Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar in upcoming seasons as well, the salary cap space General Manager Joe Sakic has been able to play with these past two offseasons will be much more limited.
That puts Saad in an interesting position. He just turned 28, putting him smack dab in the prime of his career; his next extension will likely be his last chance at a big pay day. Does he take the money and run, or does he take less to stay in Colorado and play with what should be a long-term Cup contender?
— Mile High Hockey (@MileHighHockey) October 15, 2020
Saad said on the NHL At The Rink podcast that he’s falling in love with the city of Denver and is extremely excited about the prospect of playing with such a young and talented team. Who wouldn’t be? The Avalanche have a young core that is sure to be the envy of every GM in the NHL. And Saad is a great fit with Colorado as well, with his ability to skate, shoot and create opportunities for others. He could potentially have a career year with the Avalanche next season, which would in turn driving his price up. It’s a great position for the player to be in, but an extremely difficult one for Sakic if he plays up to his potential with a potent Avalanche team.
According to CapFriendly, the Avalanche are looking at around $26.3 million in cap space for 2021-22. This is with 12 players under contract and without factoring in the likely extensions for Landeskog — as well as Cale Makar and Conor Timmins, who will both be restricted free agents during the next offseason when their entry-level contracts expire.
Makar is the biggest piece of the puzzle. Looking at the top of the 2016 draft, it’s hard to find a player comparable to Makar. The fourth overall pick that season was Jakob Chychrun, a solid defender for the Arizona Coyotes but nowhere near Makar’s level. However, two picks later Charlie McAvoy was selected. McAvoy, while not quite to Makar’s level, is a fantastic young defender whose two-year, $4.9 million AAV bridge contract is where the following estimate for Makar comes from. Say Makar signs a three-year, $5.5 million AAV bridge deal. That would leave Colorado with an estimated $20.8 million in cap space.
The next piece is the captain. This is the trickiest contract to estimate, as Landeskog likely has more value to the Avalanche than any other team but may take a hometown discount to stay. A good contract to use to compare is Dallas Stars’ forward Tyler Seguin’s eight-year, $9.85 million AAV deal signed during the 2018 offseason. Since Seguin has a been a more reliable goal scorer—and factoring in a slight hometown discount for Landeskog—his extension might figure to be seven years at $8 million AAV.
That leaves $12.8 million in cap space for Grubauer, Bellemare and Calvert.
Grubauer made $3.3 million AAV on his last contract and is likely due for small bump, as he’s now settled in as the No. 1 goalie. Using the deal Robin Lehner recently signed in Las Vegas as a guidepost for either Grubauer or his replacement, a $5 million AAV deal seems reasonable. That would leave Sakic with 15 contracts out of 20 and $7.8 million in 2021-22 cap room. Assuming four of the remaining five slots are filled with ELC contracts or cheap veterans, another $3 million can be estimated to leave the Avalanche with one roster spot and $4.8 million in cap space.
One major factor not previously discussed but is a major factor is defenseman Erik Johnson. Johnson is currently on a $6 million AAV contract with a modified no-movement clause that runs through the 2022-23 season. With the Seattle Kraken expansion draft coming after the upcoming season, there has been speculation that Colorado will waive Johnson prior to the draft to be able to hold onto younger assets (like the recently acquired Devon Toews). This would drastically change the cap outlook for Colorado. In the case that Johnson is waived, the likelihood of resigning Saad increases.
Saad is about to finish a six-year, $6 million AAV contract that he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015 before being traded back to Chicago. Does he take a smaller contract, say three years at $4.5 million AAV, to stay with Colorado and be a part of the team’s Stanley Cup contention window, or does he parlay this season into another mega deal in free-agency?
With big money due to Makar and Landeskog next season and players like Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri due the following year, can the Avalanche afford to keep Saad? With all the shifting factors that will go into the decision, the odds of Saad resigning today are about 40%. If Sakic waives Johnson before the expansion draft, the odds go up to at least 70%.
If the team wins the Stanley Cup in 2020-21, it’ll all be well worth the price of the rental.