Avalanche and Landeskog Are in a Position Nobody Expected

I think it’s safe to say I don’t think any of us thought we would be here. The Colorado Avalanche and their captain Gabriel Landeskog coming to terms on a new contract keeping him in Denver seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Reports before the season started stated that talks for an extension, while early, were in progress and both sides said the same thing. Landeskog wanted to stay with the only team he’s known, while the Avs wanted that very same thing. Now, all of that appears to be in jeopardy.

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Before we go any further, it should be stated that even though reports claim the two sides are “very far apart,” it doesn’t mean all hope is lost in Landeskog and the Avs eventually come to an agreement. Negotiations can sometimes be tense despite both teams wanting the same thing.

Joe Sakic and the Avalanche have to navigate a convoluted flat cap that might force them not to offer Landeskog fair market value. At the same time, Landeskog is at the one point of a player’s career where they are in the most control of their future being an unrestricted free agent. It’s the best chance for him to cash in and get the maximum value for what he brings to the Avs.

Where Things Currently Stand

We don’t know the specifics of how far apart the two sides are. Still, negotiations between players and teams in any sport often start with players asking too much. At the same time, the team sometimes offers too little and if nobody has been insulted the conversations can continue with an eventual meeting in the middle. Concessions need to be made on both sides.

Reading the comments from Landeskog, it doesn’t appear he is at the level just yet of someone like Vladimir Tarasenko and his “anywhere but St. Louis” comments in demanding a trade out of Missouri. Landeskog seems to be in the disappointed phase by saying things like

“I can’t help but be honest with you that I’m a little bit disappointed that it’s gotten this far and it’s had to come to this point”

Gabriel Landeskog to Peter Baugh of The Athletic

Or,

“I’m still hopeful that we can agree on something and come to terms, but if it was up to me, I would have liked it to be done eight months ago, 10 months ago.”

Gabriel Landeskog to Peter Baugh of The Athletic

It makes sense why Landeskog would feel that way. For one, the Avalanche and Landeskog appeared to be getting ahead of this very moment by having early contract talks at the beginning of last season where some, including Landeskog, thought a deal was on the way of getting done. That would have been the best-case scenario for both sides. Get it over with, lock up your captain long-term and you stay out of the headlines with everyone around the league not only questioning if Landeskog is on his way out of Colorado but giving other teams hope they can sway him to their city.

Landeskog’s Time as a Colorado Avalanche

What Landeskog has meant to this franchise and city can’t be understated. Drafted second overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Landeskog was the beginning of a new era for Avalanche hockey. He was the next generation for the Avs and they thought so much of him and his ability they anointed him team captain with current captain Milan Hejduk’s blessing as the end of Hejduk’s career was in sight and the process of making Landeskog the youngest captain in NHL history at just 19. If not for Connor McDavid, Landeskog would still hold that distinction.

In his nine years as an Avalanche, Landeskog has seen it all. The good and the bad. The team claiming a No. 1 seed then losing in the first round to the Minnesota Wild on a Game 7 OT loss. Then there was fellow teammate Matt Duchene, who was expected to be part of the main core of the franchise for years to come, ask for a trade following the horrific season of 2016-2017. And we can’t forget Avalanche legend Patrick Roy quitting his head coaching position weeks before the season began and the team coming full circle to claim the Presidents’ Trophy just last year.

Let us not forget a recent moment that will live in Avalanche history when just one year after the Avs were at the bottom of the league standings. They were fighting for a playoff spot that came down to the last game of the season against the St. Louis Blues, who just so happened to be the other team fighting that Avs for that spot. It was winner take all and the Avalanche, despite leading the entire game, were doing everything to hang on for the victory. It was Landeskog who collected the puck against the boards in the defensive zone and lofted the puck into an empty Blues net. The roar of the crowd and the game of pile on that took place on the ice consisting of Avalanche players leaping off their feet and on top of Landeskog is something that will be right under the moment when Ray Bourque raised the Stanley Cup.

Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog
Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog celebrates his goal with teammates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley)

On a personal level for Landeskog, he was named best rookie in the league in winning the Calder Trophy his first season; he was named an NHL All-Star during the 2019-2020 season, and off the ice, he got married and started a family with his two children.

The one thing Landeskog still has to accomplish with the Avalanche is win a Stanley Cup.

He’s been a model player and citizen, staying out of the headlines for the wrong reasons and being in them for the right ones. Now he wants to be recognized for everything he’s done to this point.

Why Hasn’t a Deal Been Done Yet?

I have no doubt the Avalanche front office recognizes and appreciates all that Landeskog has done for this franchise, and they will do everything possible to agree with him on a contract they feel is fair. The struggle in doing so is thanks to the current state of the NHL salary cap, which will remain flat for next season. 

The moment every NHL free agent looks forward to after their age 27 season has come at the worst possible time. So will those players understand the financial situation of their respective team and play at a discount or demand what they feel is theirs. This is the landscape where Landeskog currently resides.

For the second straight season, the Avalanche are the preseason favorites to win the Stanley Cup, and it is widely accepted around the league that they have set themselves up to be competitive for several years to come. Landeskog is part of the reason why.

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It is also part of why many thought the negotiations between the Avs and Landeskog would go rather smoothly. Many expected a captain playing on one of the better teams in the league with unfinished business with that team would get a deal done as quickly and as easily as possible and get back to work. We don’t seem to be at that point.

That isn’t to say they can’t get there. It wasn’t long ago where the Avalanche and Mikko Rantanen were far apart and as the weeks went on and talks continued, a deal was finally agreed on. Avalanche fans are hoping recent history will repeat itself.

The Fans and Landeskog

We have gone this long in this article and not addressed that one aspect of all of this: the fans. Let it be known the Avalanche fans are as attached to their captain as any fan base can be attached to a captain. So if the worst-case scenario happens and Landeskog signs somewhere else, would the Avs fans feel like the front office did everything they could within the constraints of the cap in addition to contracts needed by other players? Or would they have the mindset that this was your captain, sign him at all costs, no excuses?

I’m sure there will be people on both sides of that argument, but willing to guess most people would take the side of the latter. But the fact remains the Avalanche has a lot of work to do in signing players and a finite amount of money to do it with.

Having said that, here’s a question rattling around in my head and I can’t bring myself to think it is true. With Nathan MacKinnon, a league superstar, and Cale Makar on the precipice of being one himself, are the Avalanche wanting to make the two of them the face of the franchise? Have the Avalanche turned their attention to making sure Makar is locked up with a long-term deal and have eyes on MacKinnon’s believed mammoth deal around the corner? Is Landeskog basically collateral damage? If they keep him on a team-friendly deal, then great. If he wants too much, they let him walk and feel like they are still in a good spot to compete at the highest level and for a Stanley Cup?

Gabriel Landeskog
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That’s a tough sell to the fanbase and a slap in the face of an all-time franchise player. But this is also business, and while Sakic and company have, for the most part, don’t things the right way and how a fanbase appreciates and expects, hard decisions are upon us. Not decisions like letting go of a locker room presence and fan-favorite Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, but decisions like whether or not to give the man they gave the ‘C’ to at 19 years old a sizable increase.

I don’t think Landeskog is being greedy and asking for the moon. He plays alongside MacKinnon, who said he would take less on his next contract. Hence, the Avs had money to sign other assets (which I don’t think any of us believe will happen) and Erik Johnson who recently waived his no-movement clause, so the team will be able to protect a defender more appealing to the Seattle Kraken than him.

Selfless comments and moves by two players who know how special this team is now and can be for the years ahead. Landeskog knows that too, but he wants what he thinks is fair to him and what he thinks deserves. With where the Avalanche are and where Landeskog is, will the middle be enough to end this? Time will tell.


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