The Colorado Avalanche have been the unquestioned surprise story of the 2013-14 NHL season. Experts were well aware of the fire rookie coach Patrick Roy was expected to bring behind the bench, but few could have predicted how well the team would respond with their performance on the ice. As the NHL season crosses the halfway point, this fascinating team of young talent has a major question mark for its legendary front office of Roy and Joe Sakic.
The gray-hair issue keeping Super Joe up at night undoubtedly is the contract situation for pending unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny. The story seems too perfect—born in Quebec, Paul is the son of beloved Hall of Fame Peter Stastny of the Quebec Nordique franchise. Before being drafted by the modern Nordique franchise in 2005, the 28-year-old center famously led the University of Denver to a NCAA championship.
Stastny quickly emerged as a young forward to build around, posting point-per-game seasons in his first two years. The Avalanche moved quickly to lock him up, the two sides agreeing to a 5-year deal averaging $6.6 million. Despite the promising start, it is Stastny’s last two years that create the difficult decision facing Joe Sakic and his staff. That monetary figure is befitting a two-way forward averaging a point-per-game; but given Stastny’s slight regression the past two seasons, is resigning him the right thing to do for a franchise stocked with young talent such as first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon?
To help out the Avalanche brass, let’s analyze Stastny’s strengths and weaknesses. For starters, Paul is a tremendously skilled–and underrated–defensive forward. Playing on the second line for most of his career (behind Joe Sakic as a young player, and now Matt Duchene as one of the “older” veterans), Stastny routinely faces the opposing team’s best skill player and also serves as the top defensive center on the penalty kill for the Avalanche. Additionally, he is unquestionably their best face-off man (a skill that Duchene and MacKinnon need to improve), ranking in the top 20 centers in face-off wins this season. The intangibles Stastny brings to a team are his durability, solid defensive play, face-off winning percentage, and keen passing eye. He’s not a pure goal-scorer, but he greatly improves a top-six unit’s overall talent with consistently smart offensive play.
Stastny clearly represents a valuable asset that the Avalanche need to keep around as their young talent develops further. The team is just now getting back a few of their important top-six wingers from injury (Tanguay, Parenteau), and with 12 points in his last 10 games, Stastny has been a solid offensive contributor to fill the void. The strength of this Avalanche team is their forward depth, so keeping these lines cohesive is a central key to their playoff hopes. The elephant in the room of this contract negotiation will be the AAV of his next contract. Any Avs fan will admit that Stastny’s extension now makes him overpaid based strictly on point production. With the salary cap projected to rise, Stastny’s monetary value to a team desperate for a top-six center this off-season–of which there are many–might as well. It is not out of the question for a team to pay $7 million for a two-way play-making center in his prime (Toronto, Montreal, Columbus?).
The Avalanche front office seemed to draw a line in the sand of sorts by giving face of the franchise Matt Duchene a lengthy extension averaging $6 million, as well as captain Gabriel Landeskog an even longer deal averaging less than $6 million. They obviously have no issues with locking up their young talent (do you hear that, Ryan O’Reilly?), but in an affordable way that gives them enviable roster flexibility in the future. There is no crystal ball to see for certain what happens with Stastny and the Avalanche. Is he wanting to stay and keep developing a winning culture with the new regime in Denver, even if that means taking a pay cut from his last deal? Will another team envisioning Paul as their first-line center make him a Godfather offer? We probably won’t know until summer, but we can address the issue at hand now, before the trade deadline. The Avalanche need to resign Paul Stastny, and a four-or-five year deal averaging $5 million would be ideal for both sides.