Forget Matthews and Marner, what will it cost Avalanche to sign RFA-to-be Rantanen?

Mikko Rantanen became the first player to 50 points this season and is on pace to eclipse the highest-scoring post-lockout season. The bad news for the Avalanche, though, is that Rantanen's dream season is coming as he heads towards restricted free agency.
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It’s the first major scoring milestone of the season and halfway to the elusive century mark, and this season, Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen became the first player to hit the 50-point plateau.

To say Rantanen would have been a sleeper choice as the first to 50 points would be a colossal understatement. And while it might not be akin to stating the Grand Canyon is no more than a ditch or Mt. Everest is nothing but a big hill, Rantanen was far from the odds-on favorite to be the first to 50 at a time when Edmonton Oilers’ phenom Connor McDavid is chasing down a third-straight Art Ross Trophy, the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning are led by a duo of Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a video-game roster complete with top-six talents Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

That’s not to diminish Rantanen’s achievement whatsoever. That he’s the first to 50 points is a testament to his skill, not to mention an indication of just how tremendous the Avalanche’s top trio has been this season. Paired with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, Rantanen has been one-third of the best line in hockey since the start of the season — and there’s an argument to be made that no three-man unit has been more effective throughout the entire calendar year.

Rantanen’s big year couldn’t be coming at a better time, either. Eligible to sign an extension in the summer, and no doubt a player that Colorado GM Joe Sakic at the very least touched base with during the off-season, Rantanen entered the campaign following his breakout 29-goal, 84-point season with one year remaining on his three-year, entry-level deal, and it sure seems as though the restricted free agent-to-be has put himself in perfect position to command a hefty payday.

Consider his output over his rookie and sophomore campaigns compared to other young RFAs who have signed second contracts in recent years. With 49 goals and 122 points in 156 games, which works out to .78 points per game, Rantanen was already in the same category as David Pastrnak, William Nylander, Johnny Gaudreau and Artemi Panarin. MacKinnon falls into that same category, as well. And given each and every one of those players is currently signed to a deal worth $6 million or more per season, it’s definitely safe to suggest that the floor of Rantanen’s deal has already been established. But here’s the thing: after this season, the comparables could change significantly, and it looks like the Leon Draisaitl comparison could reasonably become the new minimum for Rantanen.

At eight years and $8.5-million per season, Draisaitl’s current deal is a second contract that, since signed, hasn’t been matched or surpassed by any other RFA not named Jack Eichel. And while there are some prime candidates to do so in the coming off-season — Matthews, Marner and Patrik Laine, primarily — Rantanen has vaulted himself into that territory by virtue of the start he’s had.

When Draisaitl put pen to paper on that pact, he was coming off of his second full NHL campaign and a breakout year in which he recorded 29 goals and 77 points before an excellent six-goal, 16-point playoff. His complete output for the season was 93 points in 95 games across the regular and post-season. And thanks to his breakout year and newfound status as a fixture of the top-six, Draisaitl landed major money on his second deal after posting totals of 50 goals and 137 points in 191 games as an entry-level player. Now remember that and take into account what Rantanen is on pace to accomplish this season.

If he continues to score as he has, Rantanen will finish this season with 34 goals and 137 points (!!!). That would work out to 83 goals and 259 points in 238 games across his first three campaigns in the league. To put that into perspective, Connor McDavid scored 87 goals and 256 points in 209 games.

Of course, a number of variables are going to impact Rantanen’s final point total by the time this campaign closes. He could fall injured tomorrow, or the injury bug could bite linemates MacKinnon and Landeskog, who have been instrumental to Rantanen’s success. Rantanen could hit a cold streak that sees his accumulation of points slow, and maybe we should expect as much. After all, over the past 20 seasons, the player who was first to hit 50 points has slowed by an average of .26 points per game by the end of the campaign. Even that would still leave Rantanen with 111 points over the course of an 82-game season, though, and a total of 285 across his entry-level deal. At a per-game rate, that’s comparable to the output of McDavid, as hard as that may be to believe. Only two-tenths of a point would separate the two, and Rantanen — should he keep this up and remain the league’s leading scorer — would also have the one thing that only McDavid possessed among the more recent RFA signees: an Art Ross Trophy.

Will Rantanen sniff the $12.5-million annual salary that McDavid pulls down? There’s always a chance, but it’s about the same as a snowball surviving in the sunbelt. But with each passing game, and each passing day he spends atop the league’s scoring chart, Rantanen seems to be inching closer to commanding an eight-figure payday. The Avalanche will have some say in the matter, no doubt, and will hold all the power as Rantanen will be without arbitration rights, but there's been no indication that there will be any tension when it comes to the negotiation. That's not to mention that spending now might turn into savings down the road, particularly if Rantanen were to keep this up over the course of a bridge deal.

So, while the final number might not eclipse the $10-million mark, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to fathom a scenario in which Rantanen doesn’t join the Draisaitl Club in the not-too-distant future.

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