Hockey News

Avalanche Must Prioritize Re-Signing Pending Free Agent Drouin – Hockey Writers – Colorado Avalanche

While the 2024 Stanley Cup Final is in full swing, the Colorado Avalanche continue to prepare for the offseason. The Avalanche have nine players on the waiting list who need a new contract this summer (six forwards and three defensemen) led by top-six forward Jonathan Drouin.

The 29-year-old has set career highs in both assists (37) and points (56) this season after signing a one-year deal last summer in hopes of reviving his career. Drouin may have earned himself a big promotion, but his history with young teammate Nathan MacKinnon could force him to stay in a good position where he is deployed in a way that plays to his strengths and protects his weaknesses.

Jonathan Drouin, Colorado Avalanche (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Drouin has struggled to live up to his high draft stock (third-overall in 2013) but it looks like he's found a long-term home in Colorado. The reality is that the uncertainty throughout the roster and the market value of a top player could mean he stays or is on the way again, even though his success makes him a valuable piece going forward. Let's dive into the Avalanche's salary cap for 2024-25 and how much Drouin can expect to command as an enticing free agent.

The NHL Salary Cap is expected to continue to rise

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted NHL salary growth for nearly half a decade. Financial realities brought on by the recession forced the league to set the cap at $81.5 million for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons after increases of at least $2 million in four consecutive seasons.

The NHL recently confirmed a salary cap of $88 million for next season and could see the cap reach $92 million before the 2025-26 campaign. This increase represents the first jump of five percent or more since the title jumped six percent before the 2018-19 season.

Aside from the Avalanche's pending players, uncertainty over the long-term futures of captains Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin should add to what promises to be a tough season for the franchise.

You may also like:

Landeskog has not played since Game 6 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final due to multiple surgeries and subsequent rehabilitation, a long-term issue. Nichushkin entered Phase 3 of the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program midway through the team's second-round series and is serving a six-month suspension without pay as a result of violating the terms of Phase 2.

Barring an earlier-than-expected return from Landeskog, that leaves the Avalanche without the services of their top two forwards until mid-November. As long as they remain out of the picture, they can count on an additional $13.125 million in cap space ($7 million for Landeskog and $6.125 million for Nichushkin), though they should have cap space if they return to work next season.

Assuming both Landeskog and Nichushkin are out, the Avalanche are expected to have $23.22 million in cap space while needing to sign or promote at least five more forwards and two defensemen. If both return next season, that cap space shrinks to about $10 million for three forwards and two defensemen.

The Avalanche may be forced to hang on to their American Hockey League (AHL) franchise hopes, but keeping Drouin in the fold is crucial whether or not the other two main players return.

Drouin Set To Cash In On New Contract

Using Evolving Hockey's free agent contract projections, we can get an estimate of what Drouin's next deal could look like if he re-signs with the Avalanche. These projections are based on historical comparisons using variables such as age, position, production, and a player's status as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) or restricted free agent (RFA).

Estimates provide the most likely time (in years) and average annual value (AAV) for the next free agent contract although outside factors can influence negotiations and make the final terms higher or lower than expected.

Regardless of the final figure, Drouin is a sure bet to get a healthy raise on the $825,000 he earned against the cap in 2023-24. While it may be on the extreme side of the curve, his next contract could top the $5.5 million AAV he made in six years with the Montreal Canadiens before signing with the Avalanche.

Term AAV Opportunities
1 $2.44 million 8%
2 $3.94 million 6%
3 $4.66 million 28%
4 $4.78 million 30%
5 $5.57 million 25%
6 $5.28 million 3%
Drouin's most likely contract terms courtesy of Evolving Hockey

Progressive Hockey Projections suggests there is an 83% chance Drouin signs a contract between three and five years in length with an AAV between $4.66 and $5.57 million. Although he is eligible to sign a seven- or eight-year contract with the Avalanche, the projection given those results is a one percent chance of that happening.

The playmaker hasn't reached his peak stock due to major concerns during his time in Montreal, but he looked rejuvenated in his first season in Colorado alongside MacKinnon, a young teammate. He enjoyed a bounce-back campaign that saw him finish fifth on the team in goals (19) and assists and sit behind only MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar in points. He played more than 18 minutes per game in all situations and was a force to be reckoned with, scoring 19 points with the man advantage (fifth among Avalanche skaters).

While his absence due to injury was not the main reason for the Avalanche's second-round exit, one wonders how the team would have fared had his return not coincided with Nichushkin's suspension. He had three assists and was tied for fourth among Avalanche hitters in scoring streaks, showing his importance in the life of the offense.

Drouin comes in at No. 15 in the Hockey Writers' free agent rankings, but I doubt he and the Avalanche fail to reach an agreement before July 1.

Drouin Should Be A Top-Six Staple for the Avalanche

Fittingly, Drouin's agent (Allan Walsh) made comments on his podcast that made it seem like a reunion was on the cards. He praised the performance of the Avalanche organization and expressed how relieved his client was. There's no guarantee in the world of sports, but where there's smoke, there's often fire.

For Drouin, the decision is clear. Pursue a lucrative extension elsewhere due to the Avalanche's salary cap cuts, or stay in a position that allows him to thrive again off the ice.

It's hard to blame a player for taking a life-changing amount of money to provide for their families for the rest of their lives when an NHL career could end at any time due to injury, but this appears to be the playing field designed for the veteran forward. Can he get the best of both worlds and get paid well while still being a key player in the Avalanche's top six?

Data courtesy of the NHL.

Substack Hockey Writers Colorado Avalanche Banner

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button