The 2011-12 NHL Trade Deadline sits just four days away from the posting of this article. To date, we’ve seen a handful of trades but nothing that has caused our pulse to quicken. With time running out before the deadline passes, teams on the fringe will have to ultimately decide whether they are buyers or sellers in this year’s market.
Nearly every team seems to be on the edge of playoff contention this year (sorry Columbus) which makes the buyers vs. sellers picture pretty complicated as the deadline approaches. Perhaps one of the most confusing situations surrounds the Avalanche, a team that recently completed a trade sending Kyle Quincey to Tampa Bay (then ultimately Detroit) for Steve Downie. Sitting just two points out of the final playoff spot in the West, it’s impossible to rule them out at this stage. However, a statement from the recently traded Quincey indicates that numerous players have their bags packed in Colorado.
As seen on Pro Hockey Talk, Kyle Quincey recently stated that plenty of Colorado players have their bags packed in case the team decides to make a trade. Clearly, the uncertainty extends beyond this article and deep into the dressing room.
The Avalanche have struggled to find any source of consistency in 2011-12. This has resulted in the Avs posting a 30-27-4 record that has included plenty of dismal stretches mixed in with stretches that made the team look like a true contender. In net, the Avs have split time between Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere with Giguere appearing to be the more reliable of the two. At defense, the Avs dealt away arguably their best defenseman when they sent Quincey to the Lightning. Up front, the Avs have seen Paul Stastny struggle and Matt Duchene miss significant time. The end result is a squad that lacks a true identity, both on the ice and in the standings.
At first glance, sending Quincey to Tampa Bay seems like an indication the Avs are ready to be sellers. However, the piece they received in return, Downie, is a player that should help the club’s offense and bring a nice boost of physicality to the lineup. Downie is a player that can make an immediate impact, dismantling any speculation that this trade was Colorado waving the white flag.
Ultimately, Colorado’s status may not be fully determined until Sunday after the team takes on the Blue Jackets on Friday night and the Red Wings on Saturday night. If they are able to secure all four points then we might see the team decide to stand pat or make trades that can help the immediate season. If the Avs fail to capitalize or if they resort to mediocre play while the other teams surrounding them in the standings (Los Angeles, Calgary, Dallas, Minnesota and Anaheim) march ahead we might see a ton of movement in Denver as the front office looks ahead to the future.
Based on Quincey’s statement, the situation in Denver seems like it’s just inches from the tipping point. Regardless of whether the Avs end up being buyers or sellers, they do have plenty of pieces that could be moved to either improve the team now or improve the team for the future.
The Avalanche have an absolutely huge amount of players with contracts expiring after 2011-12. Including the recently acquired Steve Downie, the Avs have 16 players that are set to be restricted or unrestricted free agents in 2012-13. Granted, some of these free agents have an almost 100% certainty of remaining in Colorado beyond 2011-12 (Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson) barring some type of fire sale, that still leaves the Avs with plenty of parts they can juggle around without having to worry about a trade partner balking at any bloated, long-term contracts.
Defensemen Shane O’Brien and Matt Hunwick, both unrestricted free agents after this season, have already been rumored to be some of the first guys that could head out of Colorado. Defensive help is at a premium this year which might force Colorado to deal one, or both of these defenseman, while their value is inflated.
At the forward position, all bets might be off save a handful of players. Duchene and the emerging star Ryan O’Reilly can likely rest peacefully knowing that if they did get traded the fans in Denver would riot in the streets. Captain Milan Hejduk’s future is unknown beyond 2011-12 as retirement becomes a viable option. Every other forward should be on watch.
In net, J.S. Giguere has occasionally been brought up in conversations as potential trade bait given his solid play this year and light contract ($1.25 million a year) that expires after the 2012-13 season. His experience could be a prized commodity for a team that wants a more stable option backing their usual starter.
My opinion? I think the Avs are sellers regardless of how they play this weekend. All year long the Avs have been a team that has struggled to put the pieces together to make me believe they have a legitimate shot in the playoffs. Even if they win their next two games, I don’t see them being able to perform consistently through the month of March.
As things stand right now, the NHL is a seller’s market. It seems like nearly every team in the league is looking to buy and only a handful of clubs are willing to sell. With so many contracts set to come off the books, the Avs would be wise to trade their assets in exchange for prospects or picks that can help them out in the future. It makes a whole lot of sense to get some sort of return off a player you have no intention of bringing back after the current season. Given the market, the Avs could also fetch a higher return now than they could if they wait. Due to the lack of available options, teams will be forced to pay top dollar for players that may only slightly improve their ranks.
The Avs haven’t been shy to make a big trade. As recently as last season the team dealt Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk away in a blockbuster that brought in Erik Johnson and Jay McClement. For better or worse, the Avs know how to create a stir in the NHL trade market. In my opinion, it’s a matter of “when” and not “if” the Avs deal again before the deadline.
What do you think the Avs will do? Add your vote to the poll on the right side or comment below. Our questions will be answered soon enough but now is your time to look smart by correctly predicting whether the Avs will end up being buyers or sellers.