The hockey world is preparing for NHL Lockout II. For the Colorado Avalanche, the hope is to avoid the explosion that occurred after the first one in 2004-2005. The team lost four of its six best players over the course of two seasons because of a combination of rule interpretations and contracts expiring before the last lockout. The Avalanche appear to have learned from their mistakes.
While the party line from the Avalanche is that their salary cap floor spending of the past several years is to grow talent; it appears that their entire strategy has been based around avoiding a malfunction from the NHL lockout. Arguably the most powerful team in the league prior to the salary cap era, the current CBA destroyed the Avalanche. Due to bonus rules and salary crunching, the Avalanche lost their core: Adam Foote, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and Alex Tanguay in two years. Only Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk remained from the core that won the 2001 Stanley Cup.
This time around the salary is way below the current cap to avoid any rollbacks that may occur from the lockout. However, perhaps more importantly, the Avalanche will not be renegotiating to retain a lot of current players next year. Not including the unsigned Ryan O’Reilly, the Avalanche have 19 of their 22 players signed for at least two years.
The Avalanche free agents after this current season include defenseman Ryan O’Byrne and forwards Chuck Kobasew and Milan Hejduk. None of these players represent the current Avalanche core as Hejduk could retire if the season is wiped out, and O’Byrne and Kobasew will likely be replaced at the expiration of their contracts. The Avalanche, from a personnel standpoint, have nothing to lose and other teams’ expiring contracts to gain at the end of this season.
This strategy first became apparent when goalie J.S. Giguere signed a two-year contract with the club. Most thought that the 35-year-old goaltender would feel out his contracts from year-to-year going forward, but this move showed the Avalanche wanted to guarantee his services no matter what happens with the NHL and NHLPA negotiations. The Avalanche hope to come out of the gate contending the second time around.