NHL

Chris MacFarland’s GM tenure off to an excellent start for Avalanche

Joe Sakic relinquished his role as Avalanche general manager on Monday, handing it to seven-year assistant Chris MacFarland.

How much Sakic, the reigning general manager of the year, still has a say on player personnel matters as president of hockey operations is unclear, but this front office has continued to make shrewd Stanley Cup-worthy moves since MacFarland took over.

Wednesday’s in-house free agent signings, coupled with what Sakic and MacFarland accomplished last week, far outweighed the inevitable free-agent departures for the Stanley Cup champions.

And bringing back Nazem Kadri as their second-line center is still in play.

“We’ve asked Naz’s agent to keep us in the loop on it,” MacFarland said late Wednesday afternoon, seven hours after the market opened and with Kadri still an unrestricted free agent. “Obviously, he’s a high-priority player, deservedly so … that’s the best I can say on that.”

Kadri might want to help keep the band together like a handful of others have chosen to do.

Two days after locking up power forward Valeri Nichushkin to an eight-year deal — preventing the big Russian from testing the free-agent market — MacFarland did the same with shutdown defenseman Josh Manson and depth forward Darren Helm, signing both Wednesday.

In the 11th hour before free agency began at 10 a.m., MacFarland made Manson and Helm unavailable to outsiders. Manson agreed to a four-year contract worth $18 million and Helm signed for one year and $1.25 million. An hour later, and under no urgent timeframe because of exclusive negotiating rights, MacFarland got restricted free-agent forward Artturi Lehkonen to sign a five-year, $22.5 million contract.

Lehkonen and the Avs were in no hurry to bind themselves with a contract, but MacFarland and company got the job done — a pattern this club established in 2017 after Colorado finished last in the league with 48 points.

The Avs, who also re-signed pending unrestricted free agents Andrew Cogliano and Jacob MacDonald and acquired goalie Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers last week, have done well working to keep their championship combination together. And they’re not done trying.

They might yet land Kadri soon.

“Never say never but we’ve got nothing on the front burner as we speak,” MacFarland said.

Six potential flight risks have been signed and only four were lost to other teams Wednesday. Goalie Darcy Kuemper went to Washington and forwards Andre Burakovsky, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Nico Sturm went to Seattle, Toronto and San Jose, respectively.

The only major newcomer thus far is Georgiev and the Avs still have approximately $5 million of cap space to potentially help bring back Kadri. Trading an existing player to free up cap space would likely have to happen to keep Kadri in Colorado at $7 million or more per year.

MacFarland’s first day of free agency as a general manager was undoubtedly a success based on the retention of Stanley Cup winners — particularly Manson and Lehkonen. They both were acquired ahead of the trade deadline in March and both played huge roles in Colorado’s Cup run.

The Avs gave up their top-two defensemen prospects for Manson and Lehkonen, but in review, they were great trades because both are locked in for at least four years. They will not go down as trade-deadline rentals.

“When we made the trade for Josh Manson we gave up some futures in terms of a good young prospect (Drew Helleson to Anaheim), and Lehkonen similar (Justin Barron to Montreal) and to be able to bring both those guys back (is great). It was important for us to bring those guys back for a variety of reasons,” MacFarland said. “No. 1, they’re good hockey players. They’re great people. And they helped make us better.

“So that was always part of the plan. Obviously, Josh had the UFA card, but I think Josh showed on the ice how important he was and he wanted to come back. So that was was really vital.”

MacFarland gets an “A” for his efforts this week. If he brings back Kadri, he might follow Sakic as GM of the year  by this time next year.

 

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