This whole thing sucks.

For the first time many years, the Avalanche are entering the season with high expectations that are realistic and not built off the back of a flukey team that rode crazy good fortune into an early playoff exit.

Colorado was aggressive over the summer in addressing their most obvious needs and taking some chances on players who they believe can play bigger roles than they have so far.

The entire time they were busy upgrading and moving pieces around, however, there was a big shadow looming over the entire operation.

That shadow was the 6’4″ frame of Mikko Rantanen’s unsigned contract. With an unprecedented amount of talent available in the restricted free agent market, Rantanen’s situation was always destined to drag on into September. It’s just how these things work.

The Sebastian Aho offer sheet removed one of those RFAs and gave the forward group a comparable of sorts to work from. Naturally, the entire market ignored its existence and continued waiting for Mitch Marner.

Under Joe Sakic’s tenure as general manager, he has historically drawn his line in the sand and more or less not moved too far from it to get deals done. The club has also often used arbitration as a means of ensuring deals with his RFAs get done.

With no arbitration available for Rantanen, however, Colorado did what it usually does – waited.

There were signs of optimism that things were coming together in early September and well before training camp opened. It looked like Colorado might have been able to get their star right wing into the fold for a term and price that was palatable for both sides.

Then Marner signed his six-year deal worth $10.893 million per year and all optimism went out the window.

Waiting for Marner to set the ceiling of the market had cost the Avalanche. Rantanen’s camp, led by agent Mike Liut, immediately pivoted and used the contract as a comparable. Given Rantanen’s statistical similarities to Marner, it made sense from their side.

And it made fiscal sense from Colorado’s side to hold their ground and keep future contracts in mind.

Despite still having $15.6 million in cap space this year, Sakic knows what’s coming down the pipe. Sam Girard’s seven-year deal at five million per year kicks in next season. While it’s not a huge number, it’s an increase of four million from his ELC.

Gabe Landeskog’s contract is up in two years, meaning negotiations on a new deal begin about 12 seconds after Colorado’s upcoming season ends. The Anders Lee contract sets a reasonable benchmark for that so expect Landeskog to ask for a contract somewhere in the eight million range.

The Avalanche also face potential big-money extensions for Cale Makar (see Thomas Chabot’s eight-year extension as a potential comparable) and Philipp Grubauer (the goalie market is as volatile as goalies are so who knows what that looks like).

Part of Colorado’s summer was banking on big leaps from players like Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky. If one or both takes big leaps, they’re each in line for some kind of hefty raise next year (especially with Jost coming off his ELC).

Looking at all of that, Sakic and the Avalanche have preached fiscal responsibility. They know they have just four years remaining of Nathan MacKinnon’s insanely valuable contract before he cashes in and becomes one of the NHL’s richest contracts potentially ever.

All of this just means Colorado has to get it right with Rantanen. That’s why their approach is as cold and measured as it is. Logically, it makes sense…to a degree.

But lurking in the back of everyone’s minds is the one that got away, the player Colorado played hard ball with and eventually had to move before losing him for nothing.

And this is where the lessons learned from the Ryan O’Reilly debacle come into play. Yes, the situations are different where Rantanen is coming off two incredibly productive years instead of doubling his career production in year three.

But the point from the O’Reilly fiasco was one poor contract dispute can interrupt the best-laid plans. The Avalanche should have had a decade of O’Reilly, Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon.

Colorado’s stubbornness and O’Reilly’s demands created a working relationship that simply wasn’t meant to last and it dismantled a forward group that should have rivaled any other in the NHL.

The Avalanche stumbled in the wake of O’Reilly’s departure but finally found an identity. They are one of the NHL’s up and coming teams. They are entering a season with great expectations and widely recognized as one of the top up and coming squads.

Why in the world would you mess with that haggling over a million dollars a year with a star player?

I’m not saying the Avalanche need to completely give in here and give Rantanen whatever he wants but they have the weaker leg to stand on. The Avalanche needs Rantanen to fulfill their Stanley Cup dreams.

While this is going on, they have a serious problem with Altitude being dropped from three major cable companies. The local Denver market, by and large, may not be able to even tune into the Avalanche unless they find a deal before the start of the season.

Sound familiar?

For a season that was supposed to be about winning, the Avalanche are on the verge of starting the season with two major losses.

Why are they okay with this?


A.J. Haefele was born in Aurora, Colorado, raised in Katy, Texas and is the Colorado Avalanche beat reporter for DNVR. AJ helped launch the network back in 2015 and has filled roles as a team leader and Editor-In- Chief, along with co-hosting the DNVR draft podcasts along with his other duties. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Avalanche podcast.

  • They are “ok” with this because they are owned and run by the Kroenke Empire. Kroenke is “big business”. “Big business” is synonymous with the term “criminally insane”. That’s just my opinion, in the absence of a better hypothesis.

    • Talk about an intellectually weak argument. That’s like someone asks you why your significant other broke up with you and your response is “he/she’s insane.”

      They aren’t holding to this number simply on principal. They’re holding to it so that they don’t end up in a cap crunch and needing to move players on the last day of the offseason. They don’t know what the cap is going to do in the next 5 years, and there is a new CBA on the horizon as well. I think this whole thing will be solved by Rantanen himself coming into negotiation and saying “Screw all this, we’ll meet you halfway. Put me on the ice.” And Joe takes it. The holdout isn’t between Rantanen and Sakic, it’s between Rantanen’s agent and Sakic. Rantanen doesn’t care that much about the money, but he can’t take peanuts and screw up the market. That’s the inverse of what Marner did.

  • Sorry AJ but I don’t get the Altitude issue (mind you I live in Quebec city, Canada and watch every game on NHL Center Ice). Why Altitude isn’t available to Colorado residents using NHL Center Ice? The games can’t be blocked if Altitude is the sole broadcaster of Avalanche games, do you get my point?

    Also, the Rantanen situation seems pretty bad from here. I think Joe Sakic did an amazing job building this team, it would be a shame if this wouldn’t be resolved by the start of the season.

    • Altitude holds the in-market rights, regardless of whether they are using them or not. NHL Center Ice can’t violate that agreement.

  • Yep, the whole contract situation is a buzz kill on the Avs return to relevance. They are poised for greatness and the contract impasse could cause the team to implode. It is not worth it. Especially when most of us can’t relate to the Monopoly money they play with. Time to compromise people (That would be Joe, Mike and Mikko). Check the egos guys. Joe needs to pay Mikko, Mikko should be able to live on 8.5-10 million x 8 for the rest of his life. Mikko needs to think about the Avs salary cap too. If he is overpaid and the Avs have to move players down the road or are not able to resign Mack for example, it will hurt Mikko’s chance to put his name on the Cup multiple times. Hopefully Mikko is thinking about that little detail. That is what people remember and talk about, not how much money a guy made.

  • “Why are they okay with this?”

    You cannot honestly believe this is what the Avs want in either situation.

    That’s it, that’s my whole argument because if you disagree with that statement then I disagree with your logic and this becomes unflattering and there’s no need not to play nice even if we dont see eye-to-eye. That right there is the problem the Avs are having in both the aforementioned situations, nobody wants to play nice, they just want to play top dog.

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