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Analyzing The Mittelstadt Extension; Where The Avalanche Stand

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Avalanche Mittelstadt

Chris MacFarland had one restricted free agent to worry about this summer, and he got that business done on Tuesday. Now he heads into a difficult off-season with a much clearer idea of what room he has to work with to build the roster for the Avalanche next season. Okay, maybe not much clearer, but at least he’s got a better idea of where things stand.

Casey Mittelstadt, Colorado’s big acquisition at the trade deadline, signed a three-year contract that will see him carry a cap hit of $5.75 million through the 2026-27 season. According to PuckPedia, the third year will carry a nine team no-trade clause, but the first two seasons (both RFA years) don’t carry any trade protection.

Did the Avalanche overpay? Underpay? Get it just right? And with the Mittelstadt deal officially done, where does Colorado stand heading into the summer?

The Numbers

Prior to arriving in Colorado, Mittelstadt was the leading scorer on the Buffalo Sabres with 47 points in 62 games. The majority of that production came at even strength, and that carried over to the Avalanche. In 29 total games with Colorado, the 25 year old center picked up 19 points, 17 of which came at even strength. That sort of even strength production can’t be overlooked.

Dig a little deeper and you can see just how good Mittelstadt is during 5-on-5 play. With the Sabres, 2.28 points-per-60, and in his 18 regular season games with the Avalanche, he held strong at 2.23. Last season, he was at 2.26. In the playoffs, he led the team with nine even strength points and led all top six forwards with 2.13 points-per-60. Two straight years of consistently strong 5-on-5 production would seem to indicate that this is highly sustainable for him moving forward.

So what’s holding him back from making the jump to become a 70 point player? It’s pretty simple – powerplay production.

In Colorado, he just didn’t get that opportunity. I think there were two or three games during the regular season where he got a lot of powerplay time because of injuries that pumped up his averages, but for the most part, he was on the second powerplay unit, which doesn’t see the ice much. In the playoffs, he averaged just 46 seconds per-game on the man advantage. He got consistent powerplay time in Buffalo, but that powerplay was atrocious, finishing 29th in the NHL.

Will he see an increase in powerplay time with the Avalanche next season? That remains to be seen. He’s not the ideal net-front player, so it’s fair to assume Artturi Lehkonen will take that spot in Valeri Nichushkin’s absence. If Jonathan Drouin comes back, we know he’ll probably play in the bumper position. That doesn’t leave any room for Mittelstadt. We’ll have to see how the rest of the summer goes for Colorado, but his even-strength production would indicate another 55-60 point season is in the cards, at the very least.

The numbers in the chart detail where Mittelstadt excels, and that’s with his playmaking. I dug into this in the film room prior to him playing with the Avalanche, but his ability to find players in the soft areas of the ice is tremendous. Lehkonen was a great fit with him because he understands where to go on the ice, and that’s a combination I’d love to see again next season.

The Contract

Both the term and money stand out. The three-year deal locks Mittelstadt in behind Nathan MacKinnon as the 2C for what might be the remainder of this championship window. That’s not to say the window can’t be extended, but by the end of Mittelstadt’s contract, MacKinnon will be in his 30’s and you just never know how a player will age.

I would classify this as a good contract. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. In a perfect world, I think the Avalanche probably wanted to go a little longer on this deal, but that would have meant a larger cap hit. With the uncertainty around Landeskog and Nichushkin this summer, that cap hit might have been too big for them to handle next season, so they had to go with a shorter term. AFP Analytics had projected Mittelstadt to get a five-year deal at a little over $6 million per season.

It might have been unrealistic, but with the three-year term, I thought the AAV might have come in closer to 5 than 6. That didn’t happen, and that doesn’t mean it’s a bad deal, but it keeps it from being a steal, at least for now. If Mittelstadt gets more powerplay time, which could lead to more production, it has the potential to become a steal.

Mittelstadt had arbitration rights, and that likely played a role in this contract. Arbitration is rare in the NHL these days, but you still want to avoid it at all costs. The benefit of getting the deal done now is you avoid going to arbitration, and you know now where your team stands heading into free agency.

About that…

Where Colorado Stands

With this deal done, the Avalanche currently sit at $77,463,750 with 15 players on the payroll, leaving them $10,466,250 in cap room to work with. Those 15 players break down in the following way – nine forwards, four defensemen, and two goalies. One of those forwards included is Gabriel Landeskog, and there’s still uncertainty as to when he’ll return. LTIR to start the year is still very possible, but they’ll need to make room for him if/when he does return.

These numbers do not include Valeri Nichushkin, and that’s where things get even trickier. He’s suspended until at least Nov. 13. That’s the earliest date that he can return, but there’s no guarantee he gets reinstated right away. If he does get reinstated, his cap hit immediately comes back on the books, although it’s believe that it will be prorated from the date he returns.

I know everyone is sick of hearing about the Nichushkin and Landeskog situations, but they can’t be ignored and leave a cloud hovering over the entire off-season. The Avalanche could have $10 million in cap space right now, or they could have $17 million, or they could have as little as $4 million. We really don’t know, and that’s what makes this all so tricky. Colorado would love to get Drouin locked up before he hits the open market, but they’re running out of time here. It’s safe to assume Colorado will carry at least 21 players on the roster, so $10,466,250 for six more players isn’t a lot to work with.

Clear as day or clear as mud? At the very least, the team was able to get the Mittelstadt deal done prior to the start of free agency to give them a little more clarity moving forward.

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