In just about 24 hours, barring any last-second pen-to-paper, Avs captain and top-line winger Gabe Landeskog, along with Vezina finalist goaltender Philipp Grubauer, will both officially become unrestricted free agents.
That’s a distressing, unsettling idea for many an Avalanche fan. But don’t panic on me now, my nervous Avs supporter. Not yet, at least.
The idea of losing long-time captain, media darling and communitarian, Gabe Landeskog, is heart-wrenching. And in a world where strong, reliable goaltending is oft hard to come by, the idea of losing your Vezina-caliber netminder is pretty gut-wrenching, as well.
But GM Joe Sakic is no addlebrain. Stubborn? Maybe. But you have to be as a general manager. You can’t accept your FAs’ first offer, especially in a world where the covid-crunched salary cap is putting backs against the wall.
The cap situation, mind you, is particularly unfortunate for the Avalanche, who, because of bonuses paid out to Cale Makar and Alex Newhook this past year, will be penalized this upcoming season due to salary cap overages.
Yes indeed, the Avs actually only have about $79.76 million to spend of the NHL’s $81.5 million cap ceiling after suffering a $1.74M penalty from the league. Currently, that means Colorado only has about $18.5M available. And when you subtract the contracts of Newhook (who is likely to be a full-timer next season), and take a guesstimate of the offers tendered to RFAs Tyson Jost and Conor Timmins (let’s say ~$5M combined), Joe Sakic and the Avalanche really only have about $13M to spend on Grubauer and Landeskog.
Sakic has made his offers, this much we know, and his two high-price tag cornerstones aren’t ready to accept.
“Both Philipp and Gabe, our captain, we’re hopeful we can come to terms and have them signed to be a part of us,” Sakic told the media this past weekend. “But I won’t comment on the negotiations; they’re still going on, we still have time.
“They’re both unrestricted free agents so they’ll probably, I’m assuming, see where they’re at in the marketplace and they have to make that decision.”
And it’s totally fair of them to go test the market. Grubauer is coming off a career year and this is his last chance at getting a big-money contract. You can’t blame the guy for wanting to pull the Brinks truck around. Same goes for Landeskog. He’s a top-line forward, has tallied over 500 points in his career and is nearly a point-per-game player in the postseason. He’s an incredible leader, who’s great in the community. There’s a lot of value packed in his 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame.
“We’ll see how that turns out,” Sakic said of those two testing the waters. “There are a lot of free agents who test the market and end up coming back to their team. Time will tell.”
Time will tell, indeed. And let’s hope this isn’t heading toward a nasty divorce in Denver. But again, Sakic is no addlebrained fellow. I doubt he lets them walk.
But log onto Twitter and you’ll read plenty of reported offers for the Avs captain, including rumors that Sakic’s best offer so far has been at an AAV of $5-6M/year, which is miles away from Landeskog is reportedly asking for to stay in the Mile High City. Is it true? I doubt it. Is Landeskog going to get $9 million per year. I highly doubt it. Could someone pay him that (looking at you, St. Louis)—yes.
And therein lies the anxiety. There is certainly some team out there that could be willing to pay the Avs captain the money that he wants. Same with Philipp Grubauer. But there are choices to be made, by both sides, like any negotiation.
For Gabe Landeskog, he’s going to need to take some sort of hometown discount to make it work in Denver. He’ll have to leave some money on the table, but with that, comes other forms of reward.
For Landeskog, if he stays in Denver, not only does it present his best chances for winning a Cup in the next couple of years—and finishing what he’s started—but he’d also remain a hero in the Denver circles. His chiseled face, chiseled atop Colorado sport’s own Mt. Rushmore. His No. 92 reserved in the rafters next to other Avalanche icons like 21, 19, 23, 77, 33 and 52.
And while these accolades—or a legacy—may lack monetary value, they’re assets nonetheless. It’s something that’s not included in the bureaucratic legal jargon of a contract.
Landeskog knows this. He doesn’t want to leave this on the table and trade it for an extra $500k a year. And my bet is he won’t. If I had to venture a guess as to what happens, it is this: Gabe Landeskog will certainly go test the market, which will certainly drive his price up from whatever the Avalanche have offered him. Landeskog will then circle back and he and Joe Sakic will meet somewhere in the middle. Is it $9M/year? No. I’d bet he falls right at a $7M average each season. That’s a great deal for your franchise captain. Put pen to paper.
When those chips fall, Grubauer will settle shortly after in the $5M range, if I had to guess. This is, of course, me being an absolute optimist about the situation. It truly could go either way for one or both guys, and like Joe said, time will tell.
You can’t blame a guy for looking out for himself and his family and seeking the big-money contract. I know a lot of you reading this would do the exact same thing. But the way I see it, Landeskog and Grubauer have a choice to make: take big money elsewhere, or take the hometown discount, and with that, leave a legacy.
Mind you, Joe Sakic is not innocent in all of this. No, he needs to avoid being the one to let his captain and top-tier netminder walk for nothing. Negotiations are not one-sided. He needs to open up his wallet a bit more.
This stalemate comes down to the value of money over legacy. And whichever way you look at it, something will be left on the table.