The Avalanche agreed to terms with defenseman Ryan Graves on Sunday night and finalized the three-year contract Monday, general manager Joe Sakic said. The deal is worth $9.5 million with an annual cap hit of $3.17 million, according to a league source.
Graves, 25, made $735,000 in his breakout season of 2019-20 and his excellent play made Nikita Zadorov expendable. Zadorov, 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, was traded to Chicago on Sunday for winger Brandon Saad in a four-player deal including two minor-leaguers.
After signing the 6-5, 220-pound Graves from restricted free agency, Colorado now has its top-five defensemen under contract and has opened the door for playmaking defensemen Conor Timmins and/or Bo Byram to become full-time NHLers. Timmins, 22, played just two regular-season games and two playoff games for the Avs. Byram, 19, was the first defenseman selected in the 2019 draft (No. 4 overall) and is the NHL’s top prospect, according to The Hockey News.
Sakic, speaking on a Zoom call while Graves’ contract was being announced Monday, indirectly said his blueline will be fine without Zadorov’s size. Graves led the Avs in blocked shots and was second in hits last season.
“Ryan’s a big guy. He’s a defender. We feel with him, Erik Johnson, Ian Cole — they give us a physical presence,” Sakic said. “Cale Makar, he can play a physical style, too. You don’t want him banging out there, but he’s a strong kid (and) doesn’t shy away.
“We feel like our defense is going to be fine.”
Graves and Makar were Colorado’s top-pairing last season and Graves led the NHL with a plus-40 rating, highest ever by an Avs defenseman. Graves also led the Avs with 150 blocked shots, sixth-most in the league, and was second on the team with 112 hits.
Johnson was paired with Sam Girard most of this past season and Cole was often paired with Zadorov. Timmins or Byram could now be in the mix with Cole.
The Avs also have newcomers Dennis Gilbert, 23, and Kyle Burroughs, 25, who were acquired from the Blackhawks and Islanders, respectively, last weekend, plus Colorado Eagles regulars Jacob McDonald, Josh Anderson and Daniel Renouf.
The Avs will need to sign another defenseman, or two, but those possible moves could be depth for the Eagles.