Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic Playing Poker with Contracts

Oct 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) talks to defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) before a face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Avalanche 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) talks to defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) before a face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Avalanche 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic is waiting to deadlines and beyond to sign key players Tyson Barrie and Nathan MacKinnon. This could leave them open to signing offer sheets from other teams.

Colorado Avalanche beat writer for the Denver Post, Mike Chambers, is doing his best to squash rampant rumors about trades. He spoke exclusively to GM Joe Sakic about many of the issues facing the team going into the 2016 NHL draft and free agency.

Central to those issues are the fate of upcoming restricted free agents, specifically Tyson Barrie. Barrie has been the center of trade rumors for several months — and even this site has entertained offers for the offensive defenseman:

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Presumably fresh off said exclusive interview, Chambers tweeted the following:

Tyson Barrie is coming off a two-year contract worth $5.2 million with an annual average value of $2.6 million. However, his salary for the 2015-16 season was $3.2 million, and that’s probably the figure his agent is going to want to work off of.

Reality of NHL Offer Sheets

In the NHL, a team can offer a contract to a restricted free agent on another team, which is called an offer sheet. The offer must be greater than the RFA’s current salary, and he must agree to the terms. The original team has seven days to exercise their Right of First Refusal and sign the player to terms matching the offer sheet. If they don’t match the offer sheet, the player signs with the offering team, and the original team gets draft picks in return.

For example, a team can make an offer sheet to Tyson Barrie for more than $3.2 million annually. If Barrie agrees, he signs the contract. The Avalanche have seven days to match that deal.

Now, there are restrictions in place. The offering team must have the appropriate draft picks available for the next draft for the offer sheet to be viable.

So, according to Barrie’s AAV, the Colorado Avalanche would be awarded a second round draft pick in 2017 if they chose not to match the offer sheet. All NHL teams except the Boston bruins, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers. Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks have that draft pick available.

In truth, offer sheets are rare. They happen at a rate of one a year usually, if that. That said, the last offer sheet that a player signed was in 2013 — that player, though, was then-Avalanche Ryan O’Reilly, ad said offer sheet set off a chain of events that led to O’Reilly’s eventual trade.

Fun fact: Joe Sakic signed an offer sheet in 1997 with the New York Rangers, which the Colorado Avalanche matched.

Current Colorado Avalanche RFAs

Currently the Colorado Avalanche franchise — including the AHL-affiliate San Antonio Rampage — have 13 restricted free agents. Most of those are players in the AHL, though.

However, the NHL team has five pending RFAs:

  • Nathan MacKinnon
  • Tyson Barrie
  • Mikhail Grigorenko
  • Calvin Pickard
  • Andreas Martinsen

Brandon Gormley is also on that list, though he finished the year with the Rampage.

According to Chambers’ article, Sakic plans to sign all of them, though Grigorenko wasn’t mentioned specifically. We’ll look at some of those proposed signings in a future post, but by far the biggest names on that list are Tyson Barrie and Nathan MacKinnon.

Yet for some reason Sakic is leaving their signing to last minute. He’s set to meet Barrie’s agent during the draft. Now, Barrie wouldn’t be eligible to sign an offer sheet until he officially becomes an RFA on July 1. If he and the team are set to go to salary arbitration, no offer sheets can be made.

Here’s what Sakic said about Barrie:

"“I’d like to do a long-term deal with Tyson. If that doesn’t work out, it’s expected he’ll go to arbitration. Either way, he’ll be here.”"

So, it sounds pretty certain that Sakic isn’t planning on trading Barrie nor even letting him get to the point of signing offer sheets.

That still leaves Nathan MacKinnon’s and Joe Sakic’s poker face.

Related Story: Possibilities for MacK's Contract

Nathan MacKinnon and Free Agency

We can all breathe a sigh of relief about Tyson Barrie not leaving the Colorado Avalanche. Then, we can inhale sharply about the Nathan MacKinnon news.

MacKinnon is going to hit restricted free agency.

According to Sakic, the team has been talking to MacKinnon’s agents, but “not much lately.” He expressed the belief that the talks would “heat up” in the summer, and the two sides would “have it done” by training camp.”

What’s more, both Sakic and Patrick Roy — who’s the VP of hockey ops — have stated that MacKinnon is definitively off the trade block.

Yet he’s going to be allowed to hit restricted free agency.

MacKinnon is coming off his entry-level contract. His contract had a cap hit of $925,000 but an AAV of $3.7 million because of performance and signing bonuses.

Now, my guess is that Nathan MacKinnon is going to be the one to break the Matt Duchene ceiling — meaning no player can make more than Duchene’s $6 million. Whether he does it with this contract or the next is the question.

However, it seems to me that teams could bully the Colorado Avalanche by making offer sheets to Nathan MacKinnon starting at figures that bust that ceiling wide open. Granted, they could end up having to give the Avalanche a first and third round pick in the 2017 draft — plus paying MacKinnon $7+ million — if Colorado refuses to match. Honestly, that would still be a pretty good return.

On the flip side, they could cash-strap the Avalanche with a deal like we saw with O’Reilly in which the second half of the contract was loaded, making that the negotiation figure. Since Colorado has said they’re not releasing MacKinnon, that would be the rationale for making him an offer sheet — to screw the team.

There’s no reason to think Sakic is naive about what offer sheets can bring about. Not only did Joe sign one himself as a player, he was the GM responsible for cleaning up the mess made by the O’Reilly offer sheet.

So, is Joe Sakic playing poker? Is he trying to see if teams will offer for an untouchable player just to screw over the Avalanche? Is he testing MacKinnon’s resolve to stay with the team? Is he trying to make a point about other negotiations — that the team has all the time in the world?

Next: MacKinnon Can Learn from Crosby

To be honest, I can’t read this move. The Colorado Avalanche have plenty of cap space — $18,749,407 — to offer both Barrie and MacKinnon raises while signing other players as well. It seems risky to me, though, to allow other teams to dictate how that money gets divvied up via an offer sheet.

However, Joe Sakic could be playing a deep game. Here’s to hoping he’s as good a poker player as he was a hockey player.