AVALANCHE

If the Avalanche have to trade Samuel Girard to keep Nazem Kadri, so be it

Jul 20, 2022, 6:00 AM
Samuel Girard Nazem Kadri...
(Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

You don’t win championships without making tough decisions.

Colorado Avalanche president of hockey operations Joe Sakic has made plenty of difficult moves over the years. He let Paul Stastny leave in free agency. He traded Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo, Matt Duchene to Ottawa and Tyson Barrie to Toronto. Heck, just this offseason he let Stanley Cup champion goaltender Darcy Kuemper depart town.

But that’s what makes Sakic so brilliant. He didn’t care what fans thought about difficult decisions at the time, and they all worked out. In the postseason the Avs eliminated Duchene, O’Reilly and Barrie in three consecutive series on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. They downed Tampa Bay in six games to win the whole enchilada and bring a third NHL championship home to Denver.

When Sakic decided to trade for New York Rangers backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev, it was clear that was the end of Kuemper’s short stint in Colorado. When he let Andre Burakovsky take a lucrative offer from the Seattle Kraken, Sakic knew he got the most out of “Burky,” but he wasn’t worth crazy money.

Sakic’s offseason, on the whole, has been brilliant. Retaining Valeri Nichushkin, Josh Manson and Artturi Lehkonen is a massive win. Throw in the fact Nathan Mackinnon, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Devon Toews, Bowen Byram and others will all be back next year, and the core of this team is very capable of winning another title.

Still, with free agency a week old, there’s one big mystery that remains. Where will Nazem Kadri play the 2022-23 season and beyond? It’s a question being asked all around the NHL, as his lengthy time on the market has turned heads. Usually free agency is wrapped up for all the big names around the league in 24-48 hours. But not with Kadri, and maybe not shockingly. He’s always been a guy who marches to the beat of his own drum.

Rather than offer an opinion on whether or not the Avalanche should re-sign Kadri, I’m here to provide a solution on how they get that done. It’s pretty clear almost all Avs fans want him back, and you’d be crazy not to. Kadri had tremendous signature moments in the postseason, including a hat trick in St. Louis and a phenomenal OT winner in Tampa Bay.

The Avalanche’s salary cap situation, though, is a problem. With just $3.91 million in cap space (according to Spotrac), Sakic and new GM Chris MacFarland can’t afford Kadri right now. He will certainly get more than that per year on the open market, and deservedly so.

So, how do the Avs bring back Kadri on a fair deal and get under the cap? The answer is obviously a trade. And it can’t just be any trade, it has to be a player making significant money. Unfortunately for the Avs, only one player isn’t part of the “core” and makes enough salary to dump. That is defenseman Samuel Girard.

Girard (acquired in the Duchene trade ironically enough) is slated to make $5 million next season, the seventh most on the team. When you look at who will make more, it’s guys Sakic simply would never trade, can’t trade or just re-signed. The only players earning more than Girard are Rantanen, Makar, Landeskog, MacKinnon, Nichushkin and Erik Johnson.

The first four are part of the aforementioned core, the fifth guy was just brought back on a huge deal and the sixth guy is probably untradable. Everyone in Colorado loves “EJ,” but at 34-years-old and a cap hit of $6 million, that’s not a contract GMs around the NHL are willing to take on. Johnson also has a “no-movement clause” he’d be unlikely to waive.

Two guys making just a little less than Girard were both re-signed this offseason. That includes Manson ($4.5M) and Lehkonen ($4.5M). Toews is scheduled to make $4.1 million in 2022-23, but you can bet Makar’s defensive partner isn’t going anywhere.

Out of the top-10 guys on Colorado’s payroll, for all the reasons outlined above, Girard is the only one Sakic can trade. It’s not Girard’s fault — he’s simply the odd man out. And let’s be honest, Girard breaking his sternum against the Blues in Round 2 was brutal, but the Avalanche were okay without him. Jack Johnson stepped in admirably and the defense never missed a beat. Byram slid up to the second power play unit, and that group was just fine as well.

Kadri, meanwhile, is a heart and soul guy. It’s impossible to measure what he means to the Avs in the locker room and on the ice. His playoff moments were special, and the support he received from the city of Denver after the abhorrent racist death threats in St. Louis was outstanding. He is a glue guy that Sakic must do everything in his power to bring back.

Tough decisions were made to help the Avs win a third Stanley Cup. Another one needs to happen this offseason to ensure their chances of repeating are the highest.

Joe Sakic must trade Samuel Girard to clear the cap space needed to re-sign Nazem Kadri.
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If the Avalanche have to trade Samuel Girard to keep Nazem Kadri, so be it