The Edmonton Oilers are quietly approaching a conundrum this off-season with the question of whether management led by general manager Peter Chiarelli should extend sophomore Leon Draisaitl this summer instead of next. With the CBA the Oilers are able to negotiate an extension one year out from the end of Draisaitl’s entry level contract (ELC) which pays him $875K per year. With Draisaitl entering the final year this summer it would make sense for the Oilers to lock Draisaitl up to a mid-range deal that’ll give the team some long-term cap flexibility.
The Oilers have already done this with defenseman Oscar Klefbom who signed a seven-year deal with a $4.1M cap hit. They’ve repeated the practice with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins before with $6M cap hits over similar off-setting terms so the deals don’t expire in the same season.
Aside from Klefbom the other three extensions were done under the former regime led by Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe. Chiarelli is his own man, but even so the practice of early extensions on restricted free agents (RFA) is a huge benefit to the organization, if negotiated correctly.
The big caveat for the Oilers is that Draisaitl had a horrendous rookie season in 2014-15. The Oilers burned a year of his ELC where he scored just 9 points in 37 games averaging 12:41 TOI. This year Draisaitl came out like a house on fire, although he’s cooled down recently, he’s produced 40 points in 46 games with a nice increase to 18:26 TOI. He’s even bumped a struggling Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the depth chart.
Draisaitl Is A Legit Top Six Scorer
The Oilers negotiating power comes in the fact Draisaitl has had one decent year overall with some hot and cold streaks. They’ll be heading towards a cap crisis in a few years especially when Connor McDavid is coming up for his extension and the Oilers will need to shell out well over $8.5M, possibly even over $10M to keep him.
With a healthy lineup Draisaitl would fit in nicely as the Oilers No.2 center between Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell. The obvious is that the wingers are bound to change with Purcell’s future with the team up in the air as we approach the Feb. 29th trade deadline. Now things can get a little creative but the fact of the matter is that Edmonton now has three legit top six centers in McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH. Something has to give.
However you spin it; Purcell being traded and moving Nail Yakupov into the top six, Draisaitl shifting to the wing to make room for RNH as the No.2 C, or Draisaitl hunkering into the No.2 C spot himself, Draisaitl is a legit top six scorer in the NHL. He’s going to need to be paid accordingly.
If this was a perfect world and everyone on the Oilers was healthy, this is what the depth chart would look like right now:
Oilers Incoming Cap Crisis
Similar to the depth chart and the Oilers sudden depth at center, something has to give with the Oilers cap situation. The trio of RNH (not listed, on IR), Eberle and Hall lead the way with $6M cap hits. That’s the max you’d want to go with Draisaitl (if you even go that high) and you can’t go too far below those numbers because then it sends a message to the player he’s not as valued as the other three.
So that means a deal below $5.0M is well below the asking price to re-sign the forward. A bridge deal could still happen, but if the team is going to rid itself of Purcell’s $4.5M contract, it should use that cap space towards a Draisaitl extension.
The Oilers top six regardless is expensive between the likes of Hall, Eberle, RNH, Draisaitl, McDavid and Pouliot combining for $23.8M (not counting cap bonuses for McDavid and Draisaitl which could add another $6M to that number). That number is going to increase once McDavid and Draisaitl get their extensions which could add at the very least another $13M between the two of them.
That means Edmonton is going to have to start getting some prospects that have faster development curves to flesh out the bottom six on ELC deals or get veterans on the cheap if they want to keep this team together. Sooner or later the inevitable is going to happen, one or two of these guys are going to have to go.
With Draisaitl on the verrge of completing his first full season in the NHL there is very little to go off of as a comparable. Statistically there are a few players that fit into the comparison starting with Ryan Johansen of the Nashville Predators. Johansen signed his $12M/3YR deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets when the was 21-years-old. Similar to Draisaitl has a big frame and is a quality playmaker with great speed. Columbus was hesitant to give Johansen big money and so he signed a mid-range bridge deal instead.
Another is Bryan Little who has two years left on his $23.5M/5YR deal with the Winnipeg Jets. A similiarity to Draisaitl is his versatility playing all three forward positions. If you’re looking at a veteran comparison for a top six center Tomas Plekanec recently signed a $12M/2YR extension with the Montreal Canadiens.
|Ryan Johansen||NSH||23||$4.0M||3 YR||52||10||31||41||17:48|
|Bryan Little||WPG||28||$4.7M||5 YR||54||17||24||41||19:42|
|Tomas Plekanec||MTL||33||$6.0M||2 YR||55||12||30||42||18:40|
|Matt Duchene||COL||25||$6.0M||5 YR||57||24||19||43||18:55|
|Nathan MacKinnon||COL||20||$3.7M||3 YR||57||19||25||44||19:11|
|Aleksander Barkov||FLA||20||$5.9M||6 YR||43||16||19||35||19:11|
The ones that draw closer to comparison however are; Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov. Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche was extended recently to the tune of $30M/5YRS. Duchene, 25, did a $7M/2YR bridge deal prior to his big contract after his ELC concluded. MacKinnon , 20, was also a high end draft choice (1st overall, 2013) and is also up for an extension. MacKinnon is completing his ELC this season and will be an RFA this summer. Barkov just recently re-signed with the Florida Panthers for $35.4M/6YRS.
So we know Draisaitl’s worth is between $4.0-$6.0M per season between 2-6 years. Would it make sense to get him re-signed to a $20M/4YR deal or even a $25M/5YR deal? The longer this goes, the more negotiating power falls into Draisaitl’s hands.