It would be unfair to characterize the negotiations between the Avalanche and star restricted free agent winger Mikko Rantanen as at a standstill right now because. … they haven’t even started yet.
Sources close to the situation tell Colorado Hockey Now that, surprisingly, there has been no contact between Avalanche management and Rantanen’s agent, Mike Liut, since an informal talk at the NHL draft in Vancouver in late June. With Avalanche training camp about a month away, the clock is starting to tick louder on the situation between one of its best players and the team on a new contract.
The Avs have made no offers yet to Rantanen, formally or informally, on a new deal. The Avalanche retain the rights to the 22-year-old all-star right wing, who posted a career-high 87 points for the team this past season and is coming off his entry-level contract.
There is really no chance Rantanen could play for any other NHL team this coming season, even though other teams are free to make him an “offer sheet” – a situation whereby the Avs would have to either match the offer in its entirety or accept a number of draft picks as compensation. The Avs still have nearly $16.5 million in cap space under the current NHL salary cap of $81.5 million, with no other unsigned roster players besides Rantanen. So, matching any offer sheet wouldn’t be a problem for Avs management.
Still, the fact that no negotiations have yet to take place between Liut and Avs management, to this point, can be labeled as something of a surprise. There are a bunch of quality unsigned restricted free agents around the league – with names such as Patrik Laine, Charlie McAvoy, Brayden Point, Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner, Zach Werenski and Kyle Connor still out there – but it is believed most or all of those RFAs have at least had some kind of negotiations with their teams by now.
Rantanen almost certainly would command, at minimum, $8.5 million per year on a new contract, based on “comparables” with players of his age and statistical output. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, 23, has an $8.5 million cap hit and had 105 points for the Oilers last season, so there’s a comparable the Avs would likely use with Rantanen (and Liut, the former Hartford Whalers goalie, is Draisaitl’s agent). Sebastian Aho, who had similar scoring numbers with Carolina last season as Rantanen, just signed a five-year deal worth about $8.4 million per.
Here’s one often overlooked fact about Rantanen’s history with the Avs, however: In 2015-16, he played nine games with the team before being sent down to San Antonio of the AHL. If he’d have played 10 games with the Avs that season, he would have started the first of his three-year entry-level contract deal. Instead, his ELC year “slid” a year – meaning the Avs didn’t have to start worrying about his RFA status for, in essence, four seasons instead of three.
Had the Avs played him that 10th game in 2015-16, they would have had to pay him his “second contract” money starting with the 2018-19 season – not this coming one. Rantanen would have made at least $5 million to $7 million on a deal that would have started in 2018-19 – and maybe the Avs now regret not playing him that 10th game in 2015-16 as a result. They’d have locked Rantanen into a deal for less money, in the long run potentially, had they done that.
Now, the price of poker likely starts at $8.5 million per season to keep Rantanen. Rantanen’s camp can also say “we lost $5 million per year four years ago because of that one game – now you want to play hardball on the AAV?”
Look, I think things will still work out fine between Rantanen and the Avs. Both sides need each other. Common sense dictates something will get done before the start of the season.
But the clock, suddenly, is ticking a bit louder.