On Tuesday, Paul Stastny will officially become a free agent. Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2005, Stastny has spent his entire career in Denver. In his rookie season, he scored 78 points in 82 games and became the face of the franchise following the exit of Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic. The Avalanche organization rewarded Stastny with a 5-year, $33 million dollar contract. During those five years, Stastny has played very well, but not quite like a player who should be earning $6.6 million per season. Last season he put up 60 points in 71 games. For reference, five other players put up 60 points last season: Max Pacioretty, Marian Hossa, T.J. Oshie, Wayne Simmonds, and Jason Pominville. The largest cap hit of those five players was Pominville at $5.6 million. Obviously Stastny’s value goes beyond points, but even the advanced stats show that Pominville was more effective than Stastny last year.
Now Paul Stastny and the Colorado Avalanche organization are at an impasse. The Avs want Stastny to re-sign, but they’d like him to take a pay cut. Stastny wants to stay in Denver, but doesn’t seem willing to take that pay cut. Stastny’s agent and the Avs continue to talk, but Stastny’s representatives are also talking to other teams before July 1st. Up to 15 teams are reportedly interested in Stastny and my guess is that all 30 teams would love to have him. Let’s take a closer look at the situation:
Paul Stastny’s Side
When you’ve put up 50 points in every season since signing your big contract (excluding the lockout year); it’s tough to take a pay cut. When you play in every situation, are a respected defensive center, and known as one of the better face-off men in the league; it’s tough to take a pay cut. When you’re coming off your best season since 2009-2010 and an outstanding seven game playoff series; it’s tough to take a pay cut. When you know another team out there would be more than willing to sign you for the $6.6 million you made last season; it’s tough to take a pay cut. When you’re 28-years old and this might be the last big contract of your career; it’s tough to take a pay cut.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons as to why Stastny doesn’t feel like he needs to take less than the $6.6 million he’s made over the past five years. In sports, you’re worth as much as people are willing to pay you and there are plenty of teams who are willing to pay Stastny. Peter Stastny, Paul’s father and Joe Sakic’s mentor, stayed with one organization for most of his career. Sakic, Paul’s mentor, stayed with one organization for his entire career. I’m sure Paul has thought about that, but if you don’t feel like that organization in respecting you the way they should (and money in the sports is the ultimate sign of respect) then why should you stay?
It’s also possible that Stastny knows his role might diminish in Colorado. With Matt Duchene turning into a star, Ryan O’Reilly constantly improving, and the emergence of Nathan MacKinnon: Stastny might be seeing the writing on the wall. This didn’t come into play last year and might not be a problem next year, but how about two-three years down the line? As a competitor, Stastny obviously wants to contribute as much as he can, but if he starts getting bumped out of key situations, how much could he contribute? Personally, I don’t think Stastny has much to worry about as long as he continues to play at a high-level because Patrick Roy is always going to play the best guys in the right situations. But this might be something that Stastny has in the back of his mind.
And if that’s in the back of his mind, can you fault the guy for wanting to go elsewhere? Why play behind Duchene and MacKinnon when you can center Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul in Toronto or Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis in New York? Granted, this theory only makes sense if Stastny goes to a team where he is the #1 center, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The Colorado Avalanche Side
Matt Duchene just agreed to a 5-year, $30 million dollar contract, which is a cap hit of $6 million per season. Gabriel Landeskog just agreed to a 7-year, $39 million dollar contract, which is a cap hit of $5.5 million per season. Duchene and Landeskog are coming off better seasons and are better players. The Avs don’t want to pay Stastny more, at least not significantly more, than they’re paying those two. Case closed for the Avalanche side.
Alright, case re-opened. Nathan MacKinnon’s rookie contract will be up in two seasons. If he continues to put up the numbers he put up in his rookie year, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t, the Avs are going to have to pay him somewhere in the $5.5-6 million per season range, if not more. You also have to consider the fact that Semyon Varlamov is making $5.9 million per season, the Avs will have to pay Ryan O’Reilly at least $5.5 million if they don’t end up trading him and Tyson Barrie could cost a pretty penny sooner rather than later.
The Avs have to look at this both in the short term and long term. In the short term, paying Stastny $6.6 million instead of $6 million might not seem like such a huge deal, but in the long term, it could cost the Avs, especially when it comes to negotiations and re-negotiations with free agents.
I’m sure the Avs have looked at all the numbers. They looked at comparable players to Stastny and how much they were making. While it’s tough to ask Stastny to take a pay cut after the year he had, you also have to look at his career numbers and salary. Over the last five seasons, James Neal has scored 278 points. Stastny has scored 273 points. Neal is making $5 million per season. The Avs have done their research, they know how much Stastny is worth to them and they won’t overpay for his services.
It’s easy to see both sides of this situation. As fans, it’s not our money, so why not spend it on Stastny? But it is the Avs money and if they spend it on Stastny now, while we’d all celebrate him staying on the team, how long before we turn on him and declare him “overpaid” like we were doing when we were drafting Duchene, Landeskog, and MacKinnon in the top three, three out of five years? Personally, I’m on the Avs side here. As much as I’d like Stastny to stay, this is a business, and that’s how the Avs are approaching things. They can’t afford put their long term goals aside for short term happiness.