My thoughts on what the Colorado Avalanche did yesterday as the NHL free agency period began.

While the big names are still fielding offers and take their sweet time, the Colorado Avalanche wasted no time in getting the guys they wanted yesterday when the free agent market opened up.

Last week I wrote that the team needed a winger to play with Matt Duchene, suggesting Ray Whitney, Jiri Hudler, or P.A. Parenteau. Whitney was quickly snatched up by the Dallas Stars as they were willing to give him two years and Hudler currently remains unsigned. However, Parenteau will be wearing burgundy and blue next year.

I love this signing. He’s a young forward who has worked extremely hard over the course of his career to get to where he’s at. Last year he put up 67 points on a line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson on a below average New York Islanders team. He’s a great playmaker and has proven that, with the right players around him, he can put up points. In Denver, he’ll have the right players around him. He’ll likely be on a line with Duchene and Milan Hejduk. Both guys had a down year last season, but Duchene’s was due to injuries and inconsistent linemates while Hejduk’s was due to just the latter. As long as Joe Sacco keeps that line together (a huge question mark given Sacco’s love for changing up the lines), they should be able to develop the necessary chemistry that turns them into a scoring threat every time they’re on the line. We know Hejduk is a natural goalscorer, and while his game dipped last year, he’s still a smart player who knows how to find the open ice and the puck. Now he’ll have a natural set up guy who knows how to find him. Duchene has the potential to put 20 goals easily, now with a playmaker on his line and not two goalscorers (Peter Mueller and Hejduk being his usual two linemates over the years), I expect Duchene to be more selfish and not feel like he has to get the puck to his teammates in order to be effective. Duchene is just as talented as Tavares and with a playmaker on his line for the first time in his career, he’ll prove it this season.

The Avs weren’t done though as they also added John Mitchell and Greg Zanon.

The Mitchell signing won’t earn the team a lot of publicity, but I really like it. I’ve been a fan of Mitchell for years and, believe it or not, often trade for him in the EA NHL video game series to be my 4th line center for my virtual Avalanche team. Now he’ll be the 4th line center on the real Avalanche. Mitchell is essentially the replacement for Jay McClement (who, ironically, went to Toronto to be the replacement for Mitchell) but he’s younger and cheaper. Mitchell is a very good defensive forward and great in the face-off circle. He’ll help out the penalty and might chip in a bit offensively even though he’ll be playing fourth line minutes. I expect his linemates to be Cody McLeod and Mark Olver (maybe Chuck Kobasew at times). That’s a nice fourth line that is responsible defensively and will work hard every shift. They’ll be a pain in the ass for the other teams and will get their fair share of ugly goals around the crease.

The signing of Zanon was a little out of nowhere given that the team seemed to be set defensively. They were bringing back all six top defenseman, plus the young players like Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliot. Now with Zanon, who is currently the second highest paid defenseman on the team (although he’ll soon be third when Erik Johnson gets re-signed), that means someone from last years six will be out of the rotation. I’d make Matt Hunwick a healthy scratch, but apparently Sacoo loves him, and he is the most offensively talented defenseman on the team. It’s more likely that Ryan O’Byrne becomes a healthy scratch as he and Zanon play a similar game, but money always wins out. It’s also very possible that the Avs try to trade one of their defenseman, as everyone is in the market for a NHL ready blueliner. I’d keep all seven defenseman as injuries are bound to happen and just play the guys who are playing the best hockey. Lets just say they scratch Hunwick, that would be a top six of Johnson, Jan Hejda, Shane O’Brien, O’Byrne, Ryan Wilson, and Zanon. That’s a psychical line up that isn’t afraid to block shots and makes good decisions. They’re not scary offensively, but Johnson and Wilson can contribute with points and O’Brien stepped up his offensive game last year as well. Plus, while having a defense that can chip in points is nice, defenseman play defense for a reason. And if the team ever feels like they need a spark from the back end, that’s when they can insert Hunwick.

Things actually got off to a rough start though as the team announced on twitter that they had signed Matt Carkner. It turns out that Carkner’s people didn’t know about this signing and stated that the Avs jumped the gun. Not only did they jump the gun though, they didn’t even get to the starting line as Carkner ended up signing with the Islanders. The non-signing of Carkner led to the signing of Zanon, who is a better player anyway and I guess the Avs were so mad that the Isles got Carkner that they decided to take Parenteau from them. At least that’s how I like to look at it. I’d also like to think that Avs management will reach out to me to now run their twitter account, although I’d likely be fired within a week after at least one, “Why is Joe Sacco still the head coach?” tweet a day.

Barring a trade, I feel like the Avs are done dipping into the market. They got their guys and the team feels pretty complete. They have their 12 forwards, 6 defenseman, and 2 goalies plus plenty of depth players. Now they need to focus on re-signing Ryan O’Reilly, Erik Johnson, and Jamie McGinn, all of whom are restricted free agents. All three will get re-upped, but it’d be nice if the team got the deals done sooner rather than later.

Maybe the Avs didn’t land Parise or Suter, but they got the guys they needed and wanted on the first day and now don’t have to deal with the headaches that come with trying to court a big name free agent, and the even bigger headache of dealing with the fallout if said free agent goes elsewhere.

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