Sakic walking fine line in free agency as big deals loom

DENVER (AP) — Joe Sakic’s free agency wish list: Depth and more depth.

That’s no real surprise after Colorado’s injury-riddled season.

The tricky part for the Avalanche general manager is fortifying an already talent-rich roster in this time of a flat salary cap ($81.5 million) that could be extended.

Sakic is mindful of the budget given what lies ahead next season — pending deals for captain Gabriel Landeskog, rookie of the year Cale Makar and goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

That’s why the Hall of Fame forward turned team executive is walking a fine line to improve a team that’s been knocked out in the second round the past two seasons.

“You’ve got to be really careful looking into the future,” Sakic said in a video call Monday. “You have to have depth to win. … We feel we’re trying to put together as deep of a team as possible to make a run this year.”

The Avalanche bolstered their blue line Monday by picking up defenseman Devon Toews from the New York Islanders in exchange for second-round selections in 2021 and ’22. The 26-year-old Toews had six goals and 22 assists in 68 games in 2019-20.

Colorado also made a big move over the weekend by acquiring gritty forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Dennis Gilbert in a deal with Chicago. In exchange, the Avalanche sent defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm to the Blackhawks. Chicago also will retain $1 million of Saad’s $6 million salary for next season.

“We think he’s going to be a great fit,” Sakic said of Saad.

Colorado also signed restricted free agent forwards Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin to two-year contracts. Burakovsky got $9.8 million, and Nichushkin’s deal is worth $5 million.

On the contract front, Sakic’s already opened preliminary talks with Landeskog, who’s entering the last year of his deal. The discussions began during the restart in Edmonton, where the injury-marred Avalanche advanced to the Western Conference semifinals before being eliminated by Dallas in overtime of Game 7.

“We’d like to have something done during the year,” Sakic said. “But if it has to go through the year, we’re confident — we have a pretty good relationship with Gabe — that we’ll be able to figure something out by next year.

“Everybody is figuring out where the landscape is going to be here in the next few years.”

Makar’s soon due for a new deal, too, and his market value soared after a season that culminated with him winning the Calder Trophy. He had 12 goals and 38 assists in 57 regular season games. Makar, who turns 22 on Oct. 30, took it up another notch in the postseason with four goals and 11 assists.

Grubauer can become an unrestricted free agent following next season, according to CapFriendly. He went 18-12-4 as he dealt with ailments.

“Whatever we do this year, we wanted to make sure we were going to keep our flexibility to sign the guys we needed to sign from our own group,” Sakic said. “It’s a different situation. It’s going to be tougher for a lot of teams. You see it in the market place, in free agency. Other years a lot of guys that are still out there right now would be signed by now.”

Saad certainly likes what he sees in the up-and-coming Avalanche. They remind him of the two Stanley Cup teams he was on with the Blackhawks.

“Just the elite talent they have,” Saad said. “It’s one of those teams where they can not even be having their best night but they come through with just talent. … They have a good system. They have a lot of depth as well. All those lead into championship teams.

“Back when we were winning in Chicago, that was kind of a formula where you have that depth on any given night someone’s going to pull through.”

Among those who’ve already reached out to Saad include defenseman Erik Johnson, prolific scorer Nathan MacKinnon and Landeskog.

“Over the past few years, you play them and you know they’re always going to be a tough group,” said Saad, who had 21 goals and 12 assists in 58 games last season. “I couldn’t be more excited to join a great hockey team.”

As for replacing the physical presence of Zadorov, Sakic said it could be Conor Timmins or Bowen Byram, the fourth overall pick by the team in 2019.

Now, there’s also Toews in the mix.

“We’re always looking to improve. That’s never going to stop,” Sakic said. “We’d love to try and add there (defense) as well for depth purposes. We faced a lot of injuries in the playoffs, and we’d like to have reinforcements.”

NOTES: Colorado re-signed defenseman Ryan Graves to a three-year deal to avoid arbitration. … Sakic said the team sent an offer to restricted free agent forward Tyson Jost.

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