Avalanche Top 10 Player Contracts Ranked

Few people were surprised when Joe Sakic won the Jim Gregory Award for Best General Manager of the Year in the NHL. After all, his team, the Colorado Avalanche, had just won the Stanley Cup, had just finished with the best regular season record (119 points) in franchise history, and had been the betting line favorite to win the championship since before the season started.

Colorado’s dominance—the team went 16-4 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs—was in no small part thanks to the work done by the front office. Sakic, who has since been named president of hockey operations, and then assistant general manager Chris McFarland (since named general manager), made three key moves at the trade deadline that helped propel Colorado to its first championship in 21 years. The duo traded for forwards Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano to add scoring depth, and Josh Manson, to add size and physicality on the blue line. All three moves paid dividends.

Since winning the Cup, the Avalanche front office has focused on shoring up its championship roster, giving lucrative new contracts to Lehkonen, Manson, and Valeri Nichushkin. Those contracts are added to longer-term existing deals with team captain Gabriel Landeskog, forward Mikko Rantanen, and emerging superstar defenseman Cale Makar.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the contracts for the top ten rostered players, listed in order of the average annual value (AAV) of each contract, and make a subjective assessment on whether each deal is Very Team Friendly, Team Friendly, Fair, Player Friendly, or Very Player Friendly.

Mikko Rantanen

$9.25 million AAV
Through the 2024-25 Season

Mikko Rantanen has quietly established himself as one of the top forwards in the league. Quietly, because he’s done it alongside superstar center Nathan MacKinnon. On many other teams, Rantanen would be the top dog.

Rantanen’s contract, the most expensive one on the Avalanche roster heading into the 2022-23 season, ranks 28th in the league – that in itself is remarkable, that the Stanley Cup champions do not have a contract in the top 25. The native of Nousiainen, Finland tallied 1.23 points-per-game played (P/GP) last season, which was 14th best in the NHL, and second only to MacKinnon on the Avalanche. His average time on ice (TOI), 20:59, was also second only to MacKinnon among the club’s forwards.

Mikko Rantanen Colorado Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In franchise history, Rantanen’s 1.00 P/GP ranks 9th, while his plus/minus of plus-44 ranks 21st – former Avalanche great Peter Forsberg had an astounding plus-210 rating over 591 career games in Colorado. The next closest player, Alex Tanguay, had a rating of plus-130.

Since his first full year in the league, 2016-17, Rantanen’s 1.02 P/GP ranks 19th in the league, just ahead of Alex Ovechkin and Cale Makar, and just behind Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Scheifele. His 23 game-winning goals (GWG) over that period also have him just barely cracking the top 50.

On balance, Rantanen’s numbers might seem team friendly. But comparing his contract to deals recently signed by Johnny Gaudreau ($9.75 million AAV) and Matthew Tkachuk ($9.5 million AAV) puts Rantanen’s contract in perspective. Here’s how the three players stacked up in the regular season last year:

2021-11 Regular SeasonGoalsAssistsPointsP/PG+/-TOI
Mikko Rantanen3656921.23+3520:59
Johnny Gaudreau40751151.40+6418:34
Matthew Tkachuk42621041.27+5717:54

At 6-foot-4, Rantanen is the biggest of the group (Gaudreau is only 5-foot-9), and at 25 is a year older than Tkachuk, and three years younger than Gaudreau. He has also added a physicality to his game over the last few seasons that has increased his value. Still, given what the market seems to be saying, it appears that both Rantanen and the Avalanche are making out well.

Contract Verdict: Fair

Cale Makar

$9 million AAV
Through the 2026-27 Season

It’s hard to call any NHL player, especially a defenseman, a steal at $9 million a year, but that’s exactly what Cale Makar is. There are only eight defenders in the league making more than him, and it’s a who’s who of quality players, including Adam Fox and Roman Josi. But his name should be at the top of this list, or certainly no worse than second.

Makar led all defensemen in 2022 with 28 goals, was second (to Josi) in total points with 86, was second among defenseman (to his teammate Devon Toews) with a plus-minus rating of plus-48, and was fifth in TOI, averaging 25:40 per game. Makar also had six GWG, which led all defensemen. The team’s shot attempt differential with Makar on the ice—meaning the difference between the shots made against the Avalanche and the shots taken by the Avalanche—was a plus-336, which ranked sixth in the league.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lighting 2-1 in game six of the NHL Stanley Cup Final (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

But here’s the thing, Makar is only 23 years old and has played in only 178 regular season NHL games. Compare that with Roman Josi—a 32-year-old that has played in 760 NHL games—who finished second to Makar in the voting for the Norris Trophy this past season, and you wonder how much better Makar might get.

Over his three NHL seasons, Makar is averaging 1.01 P/GP, which puts him third among defensemen all-time, behind Hall-of-Famers Bobby Orr (1.39) and Paul Coffey (1.09). It also puts him within a tenth of a percentage of superstar forwards Alex Ovechkin (1.05 PPG) and Johnny Gaudreau (1.07)

When people call Makar a “generational talent,” it’s not an exaggeration. His salary ranks ninth on the list of defenders and 33rd overall. He should be one of the two highest-paid defenders and in the top ten overall in the league. That he’s locked up for five more years is just plain extraordinary.

Contract Verdict: Very Team Friendly

Gabriel Landeskog

$7 million AAV
Through the 2028-29 Season

Team captain Gabriel Landeskog was having a career year before a knee injury put him on the bench for the final six weeks and 23 games of the season. Prior to getting hurt, he led the team with 30 goals in 51 games, and was on a pace to score more than 40. It was also only the second time in his career that the Stockholm, Sweden native had eclipsed the 30-goal mark – in 2018-19, he tallied 34 goals.

Landeskog’s $7 million AAV is tied with six other players for the 76th most expensive contract in the league. His 1.16 P/GP ranked 24th in the league, and his 20:19 average TOI ranked 18th among forwards. His 5 GWG was tied for 46th in the league with 25 other players. Of those 25, only one other player, Evgeni Malkin, also played fewer than 60 games.

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche lifts the Stanley Cup (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Landeskog is also a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. He’s a 200-foot player, aggressive on the forecheck, quick on the back-check, and always having his teammates’ backs. He has also been a presence in the locker room throughout his captaincy, bringing an intangible value that few other players possess.

At $7 million, Landeskog is clearly playing under a hometown discount. But, at 29 years old (he’ll turn 30 this season), with seven years left on his contract, you have to believe it will balance out over time, and as he ages, his value will decline. For now, though, the Avalanche are getting more than they bargained for.

Contract Verdict: Team Friendly

Nathan MacKinnon

$6.3 million AAV
Through the 2022-23 Season

There is no contract in hockey more team-friendly than Nathan MacKinnon’s, as the superstar center’s $6.3 million annual salary ranks 103rd in the league. Here’s where he ranks in the league for each of these categories over the last five seasons:

Since 2017-18P/GP (Rank)GoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOI
(Forwards)
Nathan MacKinnon3rd (Tie)7th7th3rd4th7th

Bear in mind that MacKinnon missed time for injury and illness, and played in only 65 games this past season. That was the fewest games played among the league’s top-50 point scorers, among which he ranked 18th. The Halifax, Nova Scotia native was on pace to score 100 points for the first time in his career—he’s been close with 99 points 2018-19, and 97 points in 2017-18. His 1.02 P/GP for his career puts him just outside of the top 50 all-time.

Like Makar and Rantanen, MacKinnon is young. He’ll turn 27 just before the season starts, and will likely command a long-term contract in the neighborhood of $11 million AAV (or more) before the start of the 2023-24 season, and he’ll be worth every penny.

Contract Verdict: Very Team Friendly

Valeri Nichushkin

$6.125 million AAV
Through the 2029-30 Season

What a difference a change of environment can make. Valeri Nichushkin, drafted 10th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, languished in Texas. By the time he left, he had gone 73 consecutive regular season and 11 postseason games without scoring a single goal. It seemed as if his NHL career was finished.

Related: Avalanche’s Gamble on Nichushkin Is Paying Dividends

Sakic took a gamble on Nichushkin and signed him to a one-year $850,000 contract. The positive results were immediate. In his first season with Colorado, the Chelyabinsk, Russia native scored 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) and proved himself to be a valuable 200-foot player, using his size and speed to wreak havoc on the opposition and create opportunities with the puck at the same time.

And then in 2021-22, Nichushkin exploded.

Valeri NichushkinGames PlayedGoals/GameAssists/GameP/GPTOI
2019-21 (2 seasons)1200.190.210.4114:05
2021-22620.400.440.8419:02

Nichushkin more or less doubled his offensive production this last season, and was big in the clutch for Colorado, too. He scored five GWG this past regular season, and had 15 points, including nine goals in 20 playoff games.

Sakic and the Avalanche rewarded Nichushkin with an eight-year contract worth $49 million. Another relatively young player at 27 years old, he will have to repeat his performance from last season or come close to it to justify the pay raise. However, given how well regarded he was as a draftee, and his progression in Colorado, there is no reason to believe he won’t deliver. It’s also likely he would have received a contract of at least this value on the open market had the Avalanche not re-signed him.

Contract Verdict: Fair

Erik Johnson

$6 million AAV
Through the 2022-23 Season

It’s hard not to root for Erik Johnson, as the “Condor,” as he’s known to fans, is the longest-tenured player among Denver’s four major sports teams. Drafted first overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2006, he was traded to Colorado in 2011, signing a seven-year contract extension in 2015 with an AAV of $6 million.

Erik Johnson Colorado Avalanche
Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Johnson is a physical player and a leader on the team’s defense. But his declining minutes (17:17 TOI last season compared to his peak of 24:25), and his penchant for winding up on the injured reserve list (he’s averaged 57 games played per year in 11 full seasons in Denver), have made him something of a liability from a cap space perspective. The Bloomington, Minnesota native is in the last year of his contract with Colorado, and fans should expect this will be his final season in an Avalanche sweater.

Contract Verdict: Player Friendly

Samuel Girard

$5 million AAV
Through the 2026-27 Season

Colorado’s smooth skating, diminutive defenseman, Samuel Girard, is one of the most discussed names on the roster. Observers either fall in love with his plus-skating ability or feel he’s too small and too fragile to be a mainstay on Colorado’s blue line.

Girard’s offensive production over the last five years (his tour of duty in Colorado) has been respectable, as his 0.42 P/GP is tied for 73rd among defensemen. His plus/minus rating of plus-9 over that stretch is also tied for 110th in the league. While he does give his team 20:31 TOI per game, it’s far less than the team’s top two defenders, Makar (23:50) and Devon Toews (22:18).

The issue isn’t Girard’s game, it’s his contract, as his $5 million AAV ranks 57th among defenders, and the Avalanche are committed to it for five more seasons. Given his size, a liability for someone playing defense, his deal is going to prove problematic for Sakic and company moving forward.

Contract Verdict: Player Friendly

Artturi Lehkonen

$4.5 million AAV
Through the 2026-27 Season

Arguably the best of Colorado’s trade deadline moves, Artturi Lehkonen played a significant role in the club’s push to win the Stanley Cup, as his overtime winner against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final sent them to the Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was also the second straight year Lehkonen had an overtime goal to clinch a Conference Final championship. (He did it with the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 against the Vegas Golden Knights in 2021.)

Lehkonen’s $4.5 million AAV is tied for 236th in the league, and his 19 goals between the Canadiens and Avalanche last season were tied for 138th, while his total points ranked 204th. His salary based on regular season stats might seem more or less fair, or maybe a bit team friendly.

But it was Lehkonen’s postseason play this past year that tilted the contract all the way into the team-friendly column. The 27-year-old native of Piikkio, Finland rattled off eight goals and six assists in 20 postseason games, and those 14 points were good enough for 20th best in the league. There is a word of caution that the postseason numbers were orders of magnitude better than the prior season, in which he tallied only four points in 17 games. But with the team assembled around him, and his relatively young age, it’s not unreasonable to look at the most recent season as the benchmark.

Contract Verdict: Team Friendly

Josh Manson

$4.5 million AAV
Through the 2025-26 Season

The Avalanche did not acquire Josh Manson from the Anaheim Ducks for his scoring prowess. The defenseman has averaged about one point for every four games played throughout the course of his career, a number he played to during the 2021-22 regular season (0.24 P/GP). No, he was brought in for his size and physicality.

Manson’s 179 hits (combined between the Ducks and the Avalanche) were ranked first on Colorado and was tied for 43rd in the league. His 70 blocked shots (again, between the two clubs) ranked 5th on the team, and his 65 penalty minutes ranked fourth. In the playoffs, he ranked 5th in hits, 4th in blocked shots, and 3rd in penalty minutes among Avalanche players. In other words, Manson did what he was brought in to do.

Josh Manson Colorado Avalanche
Josh Manson, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Similar to Lehkonen and Nichushkin, Manson stepped up his game in the postseason. The 30-year-old native of Hinsdale, Illinois had three goals and five assists in 20 games for Colorado, including an overtime winner against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the second round of the playoffs. Prior to this season, he had zero goals and three assists in 22 postseason games.

Can Avalanche fans expect that kind of offensive production from Manson in the future? Probably not. But they can expect him to be an imposing presence on the blue line who can occasionally surprise with the odd goal or two.

Contract Verdict: Fair

Devon Toews

$4.1 million AAV
Through the 2023-24 Season

If not for MacKinnon’s contract, Devon Toews would likely own the most team-friendly contract on the roster. Paid at an AAV of $4.1 million, which ranks 77th among all defensemen (262nd in the league overall), he punches far above his weight. Over the course of his two full seasons with the Avalanche, here’s where he ranks in a few key metrics among all defenders in the league:

2020-22Goals (Rank)GWGAssistsPoints+/-TOIOn-Ice
EV GD*
Devon Toews10th5th14th11th1st9th1st
*Player on the ice, even strength goal differential

Toews is a beast, as he has established himself as a top-ten defender in the league but is paid far less. It’s also no secret that he makes Makar, already great, even better. At the Avalanche victory parade in Denver, Makar, who not only won the Norris Trophy, but the Conn Smythe for Most Valuable Player in the playoffs, took to the mic and said: “One guy that’s so underappreciated on our team and in the league, my D partner, Devon Toews.”

Contract Verdict: Very Team Friendly

While the Avalanche will need to pay real money to re-sign MacKinnon at the end of the current season and re-sign Toews at the end of the 2023-24 season, the club’s contracts are, on balance favorable, and position them to compete for the Stanley Cup for the next several years.

All statistics cited come from the NHL statistics database and/or Hockey-Reference.com


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