Avs avoid breaking the bank with Rantanen’s six-year deal

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The Colorado Avalanche locked down the last big RFA of this offseason on Saturday night, and their deal with Mikko Rantanen looks like a pretty big win for everyone.

… Except maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs, who would probably love it if people had less fuel to criticize the $10.893 million cap hit that Mitch Marner‘s deal will carry.

The Avalanche gave Rantanen the same six-year term, only the AAV for the talented winger will be a manageable $9.25M, according to reporters including A.J. Haefele of DNVR Sports and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. On first impact, this seems like a mostly-great deal for the Avalanche, although Rantanen made out well himself, getting a nice $55.5M payday, and the term that comes with such a pact:

Now, it’s fair to argue a little bit about how difficult it is to zero in on Rantanen’s exact value for a simple reason: he’s spent a ton of his career on the same line with Nathan MacKinnon, who has flourished to the point that he’s become one of the best players in the NHL. Of course, Rantanen and MacKinnon clearly have a symbiotic relationship, much like how Patrick Kane reached even higher levels when paired with Artemi Panarin. Consider that, since Rantanen came into the league in 2015-16, he’s spent 1,632:31 even-strength time with MacKinnon, and only 552:54 without MacKinnon, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Rantanen generated 84 points in 2017-18 and 87 in 2018-19, skyrocketing up the ranks of the NHL’s best forwards. Yet, one wonders how much he would excel without MacKinnon (and, to some extent, vice versa). That’s relevant since, at a $9.25M clip, the Avalanche might get to the point where they ask each star to carry their own lines.

But those very minor quibbles are easy to get over, because Rantanen’s clearly fantastic.

You could also sell the package as Rantanen plus MacKinnon at his absurd rate of $6.3M per year, a luxury that the Avalanche will enjoy for four more seasons. There’s really no argument that a combined cap hit of $15.5M is a mega-steal for such a dynamic duo, and with Gabriel Landeskog also being a bargain ($5.57M AAV through 2020-21), the Avalanche have a high-end top line that doesn’t just compare in impact to Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak; both trios should also make other teams jealous because of the sheer value involved.

[MORE: The Avalanche’s two and four-year windows to best take advantage of all of their value.]

Other teams have every reason to envy the Avalanche’s overall bang-for-the-buck, especially since they’re not paying a ton for starting goalie Philipp Grubauer ($3.33M AAV for two more seasons), and they also will enjoy more entry-level years from the likes of Bowen Byram and Cale Makar.

Yes, the Avalanche will eventually need to start paying up, or letting people go — that happens to any hopeful contender, really. Yet, by avoiding giving too much to Rantanen, they’re expanding their window to continue climbing the ranks.

Rantanen being 22 and MacKinnon still just being 24 makes it that much scarier for their opponents, and may end up leaving other NHL owners asking their GMs,” Why can’t you be more like Joe Sakic?”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.