Despite a wealth of promising talent up front, the Avalanche still have major problems on defense. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Colorado Avalanche enter this season with Joe Sakic as the new executive VP of hockey operations, Patrick Roy as the new coach and an exciting group of young forwards led by Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon.
What they lack, however, is an improved defense corps, which was their Achilles heel last season.
Having passed over promising defenseman Seth Jones to select MacKinnon in the draft, the Avalanche's only significant blueline additions this summer was acquiring ageing veteran Cory Sarich (via a four-player trade with Calgary) and signing former Ottawa Senators defenseman Andre Benoit.
Their blueline currently consists of Sarich, Benoit, Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda, Ryan Wilson, Matt Hunwick and Tyson Barrie. That's hardly an upgrade over a defense that gave up the sixth-most shots-against per game (31.4) last season and explains why the Avs also had the fourth-worst goals-against per game (3.12).
ESPN.com's Tim Kavanagh observed that the Avs have more than $10 million in cap space should they wish to add a defenseman before the season opens in October.
Kavanagh listed unrestricted free agents Ryan Whitney, Ron Hainsey and Ian White as veteran defensemen who could help the Avalanche. Other possibilities include Tom Gilbert and Mark Fistric. All could be had at affordable prices.
So far, however, there's no indication the Avalanche intend to add to their blueline before training camp opens on Sept. 11.
If the Avalanche does decide to go the trade route for a defenseman, they should contact the Phoenix Coyotes.
NBC Sports’ Joe Yerdon reported Coyotes GM Don Maloney acknowledged he's still seeking scoring depth. “We have very good flexibility right now, but if we can find another bonafide top-two NHL player that'd be our preference,” Maloney said.
Yerdon noted the Coyotes could draw from their blueline depth to address that issue, suggesting Keith Yandle or Derek Morris as possible trade candidates.
Yandle, 26, is the Coyotes best puck-handling defenseman, posting a team-leading 30 points last season. He has three seasons remaining on his contract at an annual average cap hit of $5.25 million and doesn’t have a no-trade clause.
While the Coyotes have more than $6 million in cap space, they don't want to take on too much salary.
If Maloney shops Yandle, he could seek a “dollar-for-dollar” deal, hoping to land an established top-line scorer, preferably a left winger.
The hiring of former player-agent Bill Zito as Columbus’ new assistant GM has one pundit speculating the move could bring Tim Thomas to the Blue Jackets.
SI.com's Allan Muir believed a training camp invitation would be Thomas’ best option to return to the NHL and wondered if Zito would convince his new bosses to extend an invite to his now-former client.
Muir wrote Thomas would be a significant upgrade over current Blue Jackets backup Curtis McElhinney, but acknowledged the former Bruins star wouldn't see much ice time behind 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Blue Jackets will likely evaluate Bobrovsky and McElhinney over the course of the pre-season. If the need arises, they could give Thomas a look, provided he's still available at that point.
Other clubs with more questionable goaltending (NY Islanders, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers) could also extend training camp invitations to Thomas.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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