Despite appearances to the contrary, it actually isn’t that bad of a sign the Colorado Avalanche have yet to re-sign Mikko Rantanen.
Rantanen Remains Top Priority
Even with Andre Burakovsky just getting inked and the likes of Vladislav Kamenev and J.T. Compher remaining unsigned, Rantanen, a fellow restricted-free-agent forward, is obviously the team’s top priority. That should be no surprise, seeing as he scored a career-high 31 goals and 87 points last season.
In contrast, it could come as a shock that the Avs have gone this long without getting their prized free-agent forward’s name on paper. Here’s some re-assurance though, even amid arguments there might be a rift between the two parties: There are still plenty of unsigned, star RFAs on other teams. Hell, the Winnipeg Jets have two: Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor.
Furthermore, all it logically means is the Avalanche are looking to get the right deal done. That’s key, for a few reasons. For example, general manager Joe Sakic’s first instinct might be to give Rantanen however much he wants. After all, 22-year-old point-per-game players don’t grow on trees, right? I mean, it’s not like the Avalanche can’t afford to, with nearly $20 million in projected cap space right now.
Avalanche the Envy of the NHL
That’s why they can’t, though. The Avalanche are effectively the envy of every other team because of their cap situation or at least they should be. Not only can the Avs comfortably fit their marquee free agent under the salary cap, but they’ve also got the other two members of one of the best lines in hockey under contract already. Cost-effectively too.
Scoring-leader Nathan MacKinnon is set to earn an average of $6.3 million per season until 2023, which is one of the biggest steals in the league. Captain Gabriel Landeskog makes even less (justifiably so, of course), with an average salary of $5.6 million for each of the next two seasons. Sakic must still fight the urge to write Rantanen a blank check.
If Sakic ups the ante for Rantanen, he’s going to have to do similarly for Landeskog in two years’ time, as he’s going to want to get paid. Seeing as the Avalanche’s best player, MacKinnon, makes so little relatively speaking, it would throw the team’s entire pay structure out of whack.
Barrie vs. Makar
The Avalanche have got a good thing going, taking extreme measures when necessary to seemingly preserve what amounts to an oasis in a desert of cap-strapped teams. To illustrate the point, the Avalanche’s defense took a hit, when Sakic traded away an in-his-prime Tyson Barrie. The franchise’s scoring leader among defensemen, Barrie was a huge part of the team, but it became clear the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, who is making $6 million this coming season, will be looking for an unsustainable raise come next summer.
Reports indicate Barrie is eyeing $8 million per season. So, Sakic made a relatively radical decision, opting to ship him off to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nazem Kadri, fortifying his front lines instead. It wasn’t a bad move, especially seeing as the Avalanche have another right-handed, offensively capable defenseman in Cale Makar coming up through the ranks.
Hopes are high for Makar, who’s set to become a restricted free agent at the same that Landeskog’s current contract ends. It only underscores the importance of getting this Rantanen deal right for the Avalanche. Not only would the Avalanche have to re-sign two critical players during the same summer (not including incumbent starter Philipp Grubauer), but, if Sakic opens up the vaults for Rantanen after his entry-level deal, he’ll likely have to do the same for Makar.
Avalanche on Slippery Slope
It’s a slippery slope, where all this cap space the Avalanche have can disappear quickly, if Sakic doesn’t convince Rantanen to take a team-friendly deal. This young team that seems poised to contend for many years to come can be forced to disband before it even gets to that point.
On the plus side, the Avalanche can seemingly take their time, even with the risk of an offer sheet theoretically looming. In practice, following the Montreal Canadiens’ ill-advised, failed attempt to land Sebastian Aho from the Carolina Hurricanes, other GMs will likely think twice before extending one Rantanen’s way this summer.
Lightning rarely strikes twice during the same offseason, especially when opposing GMs have little to gain and their reputation around the league to lose. Thinking along those lines, it’s practically a foregone conclusion Sakic would match whatever offer sheet would hypothetically be sent Rantanen’s way.
To echo Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, it would just amount to a waste of time. Sakic would obviously prefer to take his, negotiating with Rantanen instead, to ensure the Avalanche stay competitive for as long as possible. There’s every reason to believe Sakic is in the midst of getting Rantanen on the same page as we speak. Rest assured, they’ll put pen to paper when the time is right.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.