I was trying to save this until after the Stanley cup playoffs, but in lieu of the report in the Denver Post today, well now seems like as good a time as ever to talk about it.
Obviously Theodre does not facto into the Avalanche long-term plans. The Avs hooped he would bounce back to his normal form in a new, less-pressure situation, but they failed to realize being the heir apparent to Patrick Roy is what did him in in Montréal, so they thought bringing him in to be the heri apparent to Partick Roy in Colorado would produce different results. It didn't.
So the way I see it, the Avs have 3 options. We'll start with the one I think is the least likely and least wise.
Buyout Theodore and take the Cap hit all next season. The pros to this option is you get to cut your losses and move on. You still save money on the cap ($4M cap hit to buyout compared to a $5.3M cap hit to keep him on the roster). The cons are that you need to sign a vetren backup, which is going to eat up any savings that you may have. This in effect means this choice is about moving on. Not that this is a bad option, it's very safe.
Option 2: Buyout Theodore and prorate the cap hit to $2M for the next 2 years This ption would give the Avs the most options. It will give them even more cap space this summer, enough to sign a vetren netminder and another decent player for $1-2M. To me this seems to be the option that most Avs fans prefer. I don't blame them, as this is very attractive.
However, this option has it's flaws. As of right now, the Avs have exactly 5 players signed through the 08/09 season (2 seasons away) (Budaj, Hejduk, Stasny, Skrastins and the prospect Kumisky). All those young players that the Avs have (Wolski, Liles, Leopold, Clark, Arnason, Richardson, Finger) will be at least restricted free agents before Theodore's contract is up. Not to mention bringing in Free agents and vetrens to fill in some holes. How mad would we be 2 years down the road if prorating $2M in cap room was the reason we couldn't resign Wolski? Or what if we could get a top notch free-agent (Iginla's contract is up soon) with another $2M in cap room a year from now?
Another thing to look at is all the available money the Avs have. This year there's going to be a significant jump in the salary cap ($4-5M), plus Rob Blake and Joe Sakic's bonuses come off the books ($4.5M) Plus the contracts of Konowalchuck, Brisbois, and Turgeon are also off the books ($5.65M). That's close to $15M in cap money the Avs have this year to resign players, and sign free agents. Do we need the extra $2M? I would argue that to would be better to save that until next year, when we don't have all that money coming in.
Which brings us to the third, and in my opinion best, option for Theodore.
Keep him this season If we keep him for this season we get the vetren backup we would need if we bought him out. By all accounts he's a good locker room guy and he has worked well with Budaj. sure we have a crappy backup, but the Avs have enough worries in main positions to worry just yet about backup goalies, a warm body (even a $5.3M cap hit warm body) is fine for next year. This also allows us a little bit of a trading chip come trade deadline. Is there a team out there that could use a $5.3M expiring contract, in exchange for a good player who is signed for another year or two? we won't know until playoff time, but this is a possibility.
Another possibility is that we (And Theodore) uses next season as an audition. If he plays poorly, well then we have a poor backup goalie, like 1/2 the teams in the league. If he plays well (a BIG if) he becomes at least marginally valuable to a playoff team with shakey goaltending. You think Tampa Bay would like to roll the dice with a playoff run of Theo as opposed to their crappy goalies? even if all the Avs get is a 3rd round pick... it's a huge win.
Then after the season they get $5.3M off the books. meaning they can sign significant free agents in 2 straight seasons, a huge win. Another benefit is that they get to save that buyout, in case one fo the free agents they sign this summer doesn't quite panout (Say Forsberg stays injury-prone for example)
Yes, if Budaj goes down, the Avs are relying on Theo next season next season, but is that a gamble worth taking? Is there really a goalie out there this season, besides Giguere, that you would really feel comfterble with?
The good news is that none of the above options are terrible. The avs are in pretty good shape any way they go, but I think option three has the most benefits with very little risk