Avalanche Have a Roller Coaster Day 1 of Free Agency

We knew heading into free agency that the Colorado Avalanche would not be a big player on the market. Most of what the team had left to accomplish was in-house; signing their free agents and keeping their strong roster intact as much as possible. The day could not have started any better. They locked up their captain for eight years. Hours later the Seattle Kraken stepped in and nabbed their starting goalie which sent Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic and company on the hunt for his successor as quickly as possible. What a day.

Avalanche and Landeskog Come to Terms

Gabriel Landeskog and management made it exciting. A relationship that for 10 years seemed as smooth sailing as any player and franchise connection could be seemed to sour as reports surfaced that the two sides were far apart in contract talks. As we got closer to the opening of free agency, it seemed certain the Avalanche captain would test the market.

Sakic said not so fast. In a late Tuesday night deal, minutes before the window to sign their UFAs to a max term of eight years was set to close, the Avalanche and Landeskog did just that and announced a new eight-year contract worth $56 million ($7 million average annual value). Had the clock struck midnight, the Avalanche would have been in the same position as every other team vying for Landeskog’s services and could only have offered him a seven-year deal.

Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog New York Islanders Jordan Eberle
Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog and former New York Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Luckily, they never got to that point and it seems right that Landeskog will continue to wear the burgundy and blue.

For a while, it seemed like a link had been drawn in the sand separating the two parties. Landeskog went so far as to say he was disappointed that a deal was not done prior to the season. He even had a brief discussion with the expansion team, Seattle Kraken, but those talks were short and many assumed the Kraken were not willing to pay Landeskog’s asking price of $9-$10 million per year.

Perhaps that was the eye-opener for the Landeskog camp. We know that the Avalanche continued discussions with Landeskog before he could have talked to another team, and he decided Denver was the best place for him, his family and his chances of winning a Stanley Cup.

Landeskog received a bump in pay from $5.57 million to $7 million. He also received the term he wanted, a full no-movement clause for the first four years and a limited no-movement clause for the final four years. To reach an agreement, the Avalanche likely had to give Landeskog the full eight-year term while Landeskog had to concede the modified no-movement clause for the final four years.

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

These terms should make both sides happy. Landeskog will be 36 when the deal expires and the Avalanche can feel better protected on the back end of it if his numbers start to slip and they want to move him. Right now, neither side is looking that far ahead. Both are celebrating that one of the best Avalanche captains in franchise history will stay with the club long term. If he stays with the team throughout his contract, he will have played 18 seasons for one club, which is rare.

Make no mistake, Landeskog would have tested the market and been a hot commodity, earning perhaps more than the $7 million from a team with more cap flexibility. But Sakic worked his magic and got the deal done. He wasn’t as successful with their free-agent goalie Philipp Grubauer.

If you read the tea leaves a couple of weeks ago, Landeskog had one foot out the door while Grubauer was staying put. The exact opposite happened. Grubauer left for the Kraken on a six-year, $35.4 million deal. The Avalanche and Grubauer were not far apart in negotiations, and talks were progressing steadily; management came in around $5 million per year while Grubauer wanted at least $6 million. Reports have also suggested that the two sides were close on the salary, but Graubauer wanted a six-year deal that the Avalanche were not willing to give him, and negotiations stalled. Seattle offered the additional year and $5.9 million per season, and he signed. 

Philipp Grubauer Colorado Avalanche
Former Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

This left Colorado without a starting goalie on a team expected to compete for the Stanley Cup. Sakic needed to act quickly as the free-agent pool was drying up fast. Although the organization has a decent prospect pool of goalies, they are all unproven and their backup, Pavel Francouz is coming off a season-long injury. Francouz has also never been considered an everyday goalie, so throwing him into the starting gig on a Cup-contending team would have been a big risk.

There were options on the market like Brandon Holtby, but he signed with the Dallas Stars. Linus Ullmark was available but signed with the Boston Bruins. It seemed like the only option left for the Avalanche was through a trade, and that is exactly what Sakic did, sending a 2022 first-round pick and defenseman Connor Timmins to the Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper.

It may seem like a steep price for Kuemper, but if the team raises the Stanley Cup or has a strong playoff push, the Avs will have given up a late first-round pick and a bottom-pairing defenseman on a team with an abundance of d-men. The Coyotes also retained $1 million of Kuemper’s contract, so the Avalanche will pay him $3.5 million this year, saving about $2 million if they had signed Grubauer in the $5.5 million range.

Darcy Kuemper Arizona Coyotes
Darcy Kuemper, former Arizona Coyote (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It was an exciting day. The Avalanche kept one of their most popular players in Denver while welcoming a new netminder and saying goodbye to the one they didn’t expect to leave. The Avalanche still have work to do as Tyson Jost is waiting for a new contract. Thanks to the Kuemper deal, they now have the money to bring in another depth player.

At the end of the day, the Avalanche are essentially the same team they were before free agency opened: a Cup-contending team. Can you ask for more than that?

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