For the most part the hockey rumor mill has been void of much discussion about Colorado and their involvement in the free agent sweepstakes. There has been a little pen given to the possible signing of Drury, but as I said, not much. However, I think Colorado may surprise everyone with a few big moves. Let me offer a few reasons why they will be players and why top free agents would consider the Avalanche.
Firstly, Colorado has the cap space to be a player in this year's free agent market. The team has 16 players signed for the upcoming season with a $30 million cap hit which leaves them plenty of room to spend and match competing offers.
Secondly, Joe Sakic is not getting any younger. They need to replenish the leadership on the team and add some veteran experience among the top six forwards to support the development of Statsny and Wolski.
Thirdly, the defense corp of the Avanlache lacks some big bodies that can keep the opposition honest in front of the net. Adding a defenseman or two that provide an intimidation factor would free up more room for Liles and Leopold to provide good outlet passes and join rushes more often.
Fourthly, the Avalanche have a great arena, great fans, solid management and supportive ownership. There are few franchises in the league that are better. There have been a couple of fumbles along the way, like the Theodore signing, but if it had worked out what a steal that would have been. It is a real hockey town and what player does not want to play in that type of environment.
Now the question is who do they sign? Let me offer my take.
Chris Drury / Ryan Smth:
I think the Avalanche would prefer Drury over Smyth if they had to chose, because of the history and for his leadership style. He is a lead by example kind of player (just like Sakic) and he is clutch in important situations. And, I think they regret making that trade for Morris. As for Drury, I do not think there is any bad blood and playing alongside Hedjuk again with whom he entered the league could be very attractive.
Ryan Smyth would be interesting, because he would be the first skilled, banger winger since Adam Deadmarsh to play for the Avalanche. The Avalanche have some very skilled young guys like Statsny, Wolski and Svatos, but they not are quintessential go the net players. Ryan would find the hockey environment very similiar to Edmonton which I think is important. At the end of the day he is a small town guy.
My feeling is that Drury is at the top of the Avalanche's list. A couple of years more with Sakic and Drury leading the top two lines is a nice scenario. After that I believe they will make a big push to sign Lecavalier when he becomes a free agent.
Defense: Stuart / Hannan / Sutton
I really like Brad Stuart for this team. He brings a physical presence, but also has good offensive ability. He is young and would be a good partner for Liles. In fact, he may make Liles expendable.
I think Scott Hannan would be a back up candidate to Stuart. He also brings a good physical presence, but his offensive game is lacking. Skrastins already fits the prototypical stay at home defenseman.
A possible sleeper could be Andy Sutton. In Atlanta he was prone to erractic play, but let's be fair, Atlanta is not known for their defense. I think if Sutton is surrounded by Liles, Leopold, Skrastins and Stuart or Hannan he could become a much more consistent defenseman. The upside is that Colorado would get a big, mean player who could match up well with some of Anaheim's big players or those of San Jose.
There are going to be some surprises in the next few weeks (as usual) and I would be very surprised if Colorado is not one of those teams leading the charge. Please let me add for disclosure purposes, I am a huge Colorado Avalance fan.