Avalanche make a number of internal moves on busy first day of free agency

Jun 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson (42) is congratulated for scoring by defenseman Jack Johnson (3) and right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) and center Nazem Kadri (91) and left wing Artturi Lehkonen (62) n the second period against the Edmonton Oilers of game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If Wednesday’s moves were any indication, the Avalanche are more interested in running it back than in a shiny new toy.

Colorado spent the first day of free agency re-signing three of its own, bringing back veteran forward Darren Helm (one year, $1.25 million) and trade deadline acquisitions Josh Manson (four years, $4.5 million AAV) and Artturi Lehkonen (five years, $4.5 million AAV).

Helm and Manson were pending unrestricted free agents, both agreeing to terms mere moments before the start of free agency. Lehkonen, a restricted free agent with club-exclusive rights, elected to surrender four years of unrestricted free agent status in his new deal.

“It was important for us to get those guys done it was something we’ve been working at for a few weeks,” newly appointed general manager Chris MacFarland said.

Perhaps the hottest item of the day, center Nazem Kadri, has yet to make a decision on his future. The Avs are still trying to re-sign the 31-year-old Stanley Cup champion but are competing with a number of other teams and could potentially be priced out if they aren’t already.

Colorado ends the day with just over $4.6 million in remaining cap space. If Kadri were to re-sign, and if it comes in the $6 million to $8 million range annually, then the Avs would have to clear cap space by way of trade to fit him in.

“We’ve asked Naz’s agents to keep us in the loop on it,” MacFarland said. “Obviously, he’s a high-priority player, deservedly so. That’s the best I can say on that.”

Other big-name centermen that hit the market on Wednesday have all signed elsewhere. Andrew Copp (Detroit), Vincent Trochek (NY Rangers) and Ryan Strome (Anaheim) were all potential targets the Avs could have looked at if Kadri chose to move on.

With all three, and Evgeni Malkin (re-signed in Pittsburgh) off the market, that leaves Dylan Strome and former Av Paul Stastny as the last remaining notable free agent centers. MacFarland and Colorado’s brass would likely need to move toward a trade option if they were to replace Kadri’s second-line center spot this summer.

“We’ll monitor the free agent market for all potential target players so we have a good idea of what those costs would be,” MacFarland said. “And then the trade market sometimes evolves as free agency and the summer moves along. We’ll certainly monitor all of those situations.”

MacFarland said the team is comfortable with their forwards as currently constructed but — in the scenario that Kadri leaves Colorado — the team will strike if another opportunity presents itself.

The Avs lost three other pieces of their Stanley-Cup winning team in free agency. Andre Burakovsky signed a five-year deal with Seattle, Nicolas Aube-Kubel joined Toronto on a one-year contract and Nico Sturm signed for two years in San Jose.

Sturm was the only trade-deadline acquisition that will not be returning.

Colorado also made a number of depth moves for the American Hockey League, most notably the signing of goalie Jonas Johansson. The netminder spent parts of the past two seasons with the Avs before getting claimed by the Florida Panthers on waivers late in the regular season.

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Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

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