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A blueprint for the Avalanche and Nuggets in free agency

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)


That’s the noise Avalanche and Nuggets fans hope to avoid in the coming days, as both the NBA and NHL free-agency periods get underway. Instead, each team’s supporters are hoping to hear some buzz and eventually some news.

Both franchises should be active in the open market. Each boasts a young roster that advanced to the second round of the playoffs last season, so adding a piece or two seems like the logical path to take the next step and build upon that success.

But there are signs that won’t be the case. In fact, the men in charge of each team has tried hard to temper enthusiasm.

At his end-of-the-season press conference, Joe Sakic suggested the Avs would look into free agency, but wouldn’t be overly aggressive when the market opens on July 1.

“There are a few players that we want to talk to if they become available,” the general manager and executive vice president offered. “We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but keep in mind if it doesn’t work out for the players that we want to talk to, we’re not just going to spend on anybody.”

And recently, Tim Connelly let everyone know that the Nuggets are perfectly content to stand pat this offseason, meaning they won’t be scurrying to make a move when free agency begins Sunday night.

“There won’t be another team with the continuity and consistency that we’ll have this next season,” the president of basketball operations said in a recent interview.

Cue the crickets.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Avalanche not signing a high-priced free agent just for the sake of being active this offseason; that’d be foolish. But it’s naïve to think the team doesn’t need to add a piece or two.

As encouraging as the team’s postseason run was to watch, it doesn’t hide the fact that Colorado was the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. They clinched a playoff berth in game 81 of the regular season.

So it’s not as though they’re sitting atop some lofty perch, watching as other teams scramble to reach their level. Rather, they need to be clawing to get into the top half of the conference.

Thus far, the Avalanche offseason has seen them take a step backwards in terms of talent. This week, they sent center Carl Soderberg to Arizona in exchange for defenseman Kevin Connauton. Giving up a productive player for a journeyman looks like little more than a salary dump at this point.

However, the move did free up an additional $3.4 million in salary cap space, giving the Avalanche even more room to maneuver this offseason. They have a league-high $38.9 million to use this offseason.

Some of that will be used to retain their own restricted free agents, like Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov. But there will still be plenty of dough available.

Recent rumors have the Avs in play for Artemi Panarin, arguably the best player on the market. While it’s encouraging to at least be in those conversations, with Colorado reportedly even meeting with the star left winger, he seems headed for another destination.

While that’s disappointing, it might not be all bad news. With guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Rantanent up front, offense isn’t where the Avs need help. For years, their problems have been on the blue line. And that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon, especially with Tyson Barrie reportedly on the trading block.

So it would make much more sense for Colorado to pursue someone like Jake Gardiner or Tyler Myers. Investing in a defenseman would be the best way to bolster the roster.

It’s also hard to be critical of the Nuggets not wanting to upset the apple cart. They have a talented young core, some very good role players and a team chemistry that was impossible not to see on a nightly basis.

So it makes sense to continue to build around All-NBA center Nikola Jokic, as well as guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. It also seems prudent to retain power forward Paul Millsap, and continue to see how the backup backcourt duo of Malik Beasley and Monte Morris develops.

But it would be overly optimistic to not think the Nuggets have flaws. It was painfully evident in the Game 7 loss to the Trail Blazers that Denver needs another scoring threat. And it was easy to see throughout the postseason that Will Barton wasn’t the player who could fill that role.

His disastrous playoffs – where he got benched three games into the opening round series against the Spurs, was booed off his home floor after a dreadful shooting night and posted a pair of eye-popping plus/minus numbers – weren’t an outlier; that’s who Barton is as a player. So Denver can’t fool themselves into thinking they’ll get a different result next time around.

In addition, they can’t fall into the trap that Michael Porter Jr. is the answer if and when Barton falters again. As tantalizing as the forward’s talents are, the reality is that he’s never played in an NBA game and is coming off of major back surgery; anything the Nuggets get from him in 2019-20 should be considered a bonus.

Thus, Denver needs to buy themselves an insurance policy at small forward. They need to make sure they have a reliable option who can fill that spot when it matters most.

Of all the options available on the free-agent market, Trevor Ariza makes the most sense for the Nuggets. The oft-traveled guard/forward will turn 34 on Sunday, so he’s certainly not a long-term answer. But he’s a player who has appeared in big games and hit big shots when it mattered most. He also can play clamp-down defense.

That’s exactly what Denver needs. If Barton and/or Porter are playing well, the veteran can stay on the bench and mentor his young teammates. But if they falter, especially when the lights get bright, Ariza is someone head coach Michael Malone could call on when a steady hand is needed.

No one is asking the Avalanche or Nuggets to be the biggest “winners” of free agency; that’s unrealistic and often doesn’t lead to great results once the season begins. But there is a reasonable expectation that both franchises make strategic moves to get better.

If they do, the excitement of this past season will only be the beginning. If they don’t, the response from fans should be universal – crickets.