Nathan MacKinnon Will Break Colorado Avalanche Structure


We all know about the Colorado Avalanche structure. It’s the un-written, but often spoken, rule that says “no player shall make more money than Matt Duchene.” It’s what led to Ryan O’Reilly ending up in Buffalo. It’s what must change after this season thanks to Nathan MacKinnon.

Nathan MacKinnon’s rookie contract is up at the end of the year, and he’s due a hefty raise from his current $925K per season salary. If the Avs keep their current structure, it means that MacKinnon will make $6 million or less per season starting next year. But the Avs can’t keep their current structure, not with MacKinnon.

It’s early in the season, but the 20-year-old center has six points in the first four games and looks like the best player on the ice for the Avs. After a fantastic rookie year that saw him win the Calder trophy, he hit a sophomore slump last year and missed the final couple of months with a broken foot.

Nicknamed “Kiddo Mac,” the kid became a man in the off season. He added more size and strength to go along with his already blazing speed. He looks like a man on a mission on every single shift, no longer getting knocked off the puck or pulling up at the top of the circle and looking to make a play.

After spending the first two seasons playing on the wing, MacKinnon is back at center and thriving alongside linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay. They were the second line heading into the season, but anyone who has watched the first four games will tell you that they are the Avs top line.

Meanwhile, Duchene is struggling. He’s failed to register a point through the first four games and his been poor in his own end, especially in the Avs two losses. So far, he certainly doesn’t look like the Avs’ six million dollar man.

If MacKinnon keeps this up, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t, he deserves to be the highest paid player on the team. Duchene’s highest career point total is 70 and his highest +/- is +8. MacKinnon was a +20 in his rookie season to go along with 63 points. With the way he’s playing this year, as long as he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think that he won’t surpass his 63 points from two years ago or Duchene’s career best of 70.

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If that happens, the Avs can’t afford to play hardball with their 2013 #1 overall pick. MacKinnon seems like he wants to be in Denver more than O’Reilly, so maybe he’ll be more willing to “fall into line,” but Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic can’t insult the kid when it looks like he’ll be the #1 center moving forward and not Duchene.

The Avs currently have just under $9 million in cap space with MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie due raises. Barrie will be around $4.5 million (it could be less if he keeps playing the way he’s currently playing), giving the Avs another $4.5 million for MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Assuming Tanguay, who possibly takes a pay cut to finish his career in Denver, is re-signed for around $2.5 million, that gives the Avs very little room to make a big contract offer to Nate. Let’s not forget that Erik Johnson’s raise kicks in next season as well, giving the Avs even less room to work with.

They could free up $3.6 million if they’re able to trade Brad Stuart for a bag of pucks, but that still doesn’t give them enough to pay MacKinnon the money he’ll deserve.

Maybe MacKinnon takes a bridge contract, trusting management like Duchene did back in 2012 when he signed a two-year bridge deal before cashing in on his current contract, but he will certainly hold the leverage if his play keeps up.

Next: 7 Takeaways from Avs vs. Ducks

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