Joe Sakic’s trophy case is awfully full. The Hall of Famer not only won a pair of Stanley Cups during his playing days, but he added a Conn Smythe Trophy, Hart Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, as well as the Lady Byng Trophy. Sakic was also a three-time all-star, is a member of the Triple Gold Club and he’s even got a World Cup gold to his name. But Sakic might want to start thinking about where he can fit another piece hardware, because – and, yes, this comes at the risk of getting way ahead of ourselves – it sure seems as though the Avalanche GM is the early frontrunner for GM of the Year.
Consider the work Sakic has done this summer. Tasked with adding to the middle of his lineup, which was often considered the Colorado's greatest weakness last season, the Avalanche legend-turned-team architect has smashed that assignment out of the park. He retooled the wings by adding Andre Burakovsky and inking Joonas Donskoi. He addressed the depth down the middle by adding Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. And before the weekend, Sakic’s piece de resistance had been swinging a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs to land the ever-elusive second-line pivot Colorado was chasing, nabbing Nazem Kadri, as well as defenseman Calle Rosen, in a deal for free agent-to-be Tyson Barrie.
Of course, despite Sakic’s summer successes, the Avalanche’s off-season was missing its cherry on top. Saturday evening, however, Sakic put it ever-so-perfectly in place when he ended the contract impasse between Colorado and standout restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen, inking the 22-year-old to a six-year, $55.5-million extension.
Make no mistake, the signing has been a sticky wicket for the Avalanche this summer, who undoubtedly would have loved to have this pact out of the way with far more than a few days between now and the beginning of the campaign. But as the RFA deals have started to fall, one-by-one, over the past few weeks – first it was Ivan Provorov, then it was Mitch Marner, then Brock Boeser and Brayden Point and Matthew Tkachuk and, just yesterday, Patrik Laine – reports swirled that talks between the two sides were picking up, and those reports culminated with Saturday’s agreement. And now that it’s done, and assuming Rantanen’s paperwork is all in place to have him in the lineup on opening night, the timing doesn’t really matter all that much. The fact of the matter is that the deal is done.
It’s quite the deal for both sides, too. For Rantanen, there’s the pairing of long-term security and a healthy, heaping payday following his second of what has been consecutive 80-plus point campaigns. After breaking out with a 29-goal, 84-point output as a sophomore, Rantanen exploded out of the gates last season, cemented himself as one-third of one of the most lethal trios in the NHL and, for a time, held the league scoring lead before ending the season with 31 goals and 87 points in 74 games. And having the most prolific season of his young career at a time when top-tier RFAs seeking their second contracts are earning more than ever before was the perfect storm for Rantanen to land what is now the richest contract on the Avalanche’s books. At $9.25-million per season, his cap hit exceeds that of the next-highest paid player, perennial Hart contender Nathan MacKinnon, by nearly $3 million. Oh, and Rantanen will be paid $34 million in salary across the next three campaigns. Talk about cashing in.
Despite the hefty salary and Rantanen’s pay in comparison to his teammates, though, the Avalanche have to be happy with the terms of the pact for a few reasons. First and foremost, the six-year term locks Rantanen in right when Colorado’s window is beginning to open. The deal also ensures that the Avalanche won’t have to contend with more than one major deal at a time in the not-too-distant future. If rookie Cale Makar is what everyone believes him to be, his entry-level deal will be up at the same time as Gabriel Landeskog’s contract, but MacKinnon’s deal doesn’t expire until 2023-24 and Rantanen’s pact is up two seasons after that. There’s spacing there. But maybe the best part about the contract for Colorado is that it comes in at $1.6 million less per season than the most obvious comparable for Rantanen: Marner's deal with Toronto.
After a long and drawn out negotiation, Marner and the Maple Leafs also landed on a six-year term, but Toronto forked over $10.89-million per season to the shifty winger and some were of the mind that would set the price tag for Rantanen. While, sure, Marner out-produced Rantanen last season, putting up a career-high 26 goals and 94 points, his two-season output actually lags behind Rantanen, who has scored 60 goals and 171 points in 155 games to Marner’s 48 goals and 163 points in 164 games. The argument could have been made Rantanen deserved the same. Obviously, if it was, Sakic wasn’t listening. And because of that, he and the Avalanche not only have additional spending space with which to work right now, but additional financial flexibility down the line, too.
The Rantanen signing doesn’t mean Sakic’s job is done, to be sure. There’s still going to be tweaking and tuning that goes on throughout the campaign, and most projections suggest the Avalanche GM will be among the list of buyers once deadline day rolls around. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, because with the Rantanen signing now complete, if Colorado’s on-ice success in any way mimics the off-ice performance they have had this off-season, the Avalanche are going to ensure that Sakic’s summer starts much later next year.
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