Every NHL franchise has good and bad contracts on its roster. In Edmonton, some people think the deal Darnell Nurse just signed, one that will kick in at the start of the 2022-23 season, is an example of a bad one. It’s not necessarily the actual dollar figure that makes a contract a good value, but the production and usage of that player in comparison to what he’s being paid.
For example, the Oilers have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both making big money. McDavid’s $12.5 million per season is the highest salary contract in the NHL, but it’s argued by some to also be the league’s best deal based on how good he is. Draisait’s $8.5 million per season was considered high at the time the deal was signed, but has turned out to be a bargain based on the player he’s become.
With all that in mind, it would be too easy for me to say McDavid and Draisaitl. Let’s take a look at some of the other names on the roster and examine if there are any contracts that could prove to be great values for the team this season?
No. 5: Tyson Barrie
Say what you want about Barrie — and a lot of people say a lot of negative things about his game — he’s consistently good at what he’s good at. He’s a point-producing machine who can run a power play and play with skilled players. Even if he is somewhat one dimensional, there’s value in what he brings.
His $4.5 million deal for the next three years is team-friendly. It’s not much more than the $3.75 million he signed for a single season last year and fans were pleased as punch to have him on the roster at that number. He led the NHL among defensemen in points and there’s no reason he can’t do so again with the same deployment and improved pieces on the power play.
If he can raise his defensive game, be a bit more reliable at both ends and get the analytics supporters on his side, his contract could be a massive win for Edmonton and fans who follow using all sorts of different metrics will learn to appreciate this deal.
No.4: Kailer Yamamoto
The deal isn’t done yet, but when it is, Yamamoto should fall in around the $2 million mark for this coming season. When that happens, expect Yamamoto to get back to being more the player he was in 2019-20 than he was in 2020-21. It’s not that the winger was bad last season, he simply couldn’t find a way to score.
There’s going to be a mandate for him to shoot more in 2021-22 and should he listen, he’ll be another dangerous part of the Oilers top six. The key for Yamamoto will be getting off to a hot start. He did some effective things even when he wasn’t scoring, but the Oilers are a deeper team this year with prospects like Tyler Benson aching for an opportunity. Yamamoto’s leash won’t be as long, which I believe will get him in the right frame of mind to score early and often.
No. 3: Ryan McLeod
McLeod got a cup of coffee in the NHL last season and he didn’t do much outside of prove that he’s ready to be a more regular NHL player. A center with speed to burn, he posted one assist in 10 games, but there was a lot to like about his game as he created chances and gave the Oilers a quicker third line with the potential to do more damage.
If he gets regular minutes, he could be a player that really clicks and starts to create. He’s now a consistent point producer at the AHL level — 28 points in 28 games for Bakersfield in 2020-21 — and he just needs to find his game. At $834K for this coming campaign, we could be looking back at his season in May and calling him a big part of the Oilers future.
No. 2: Jesse Puljujarvi
If Puljujarvi takes the next logical step that many believe he can and will, this player could do some serious damage offensively for the Oilers this season. And, on a $1.175 million deal, that’s a big win for GM Ken Holland and coach Dave Tippett who could really use his skill, speed and size in their top six consistently.
One of the best things about this player taking a big step is that he’s on a deal that still gives the Oilers a lot of control over what his next contract looks like. He could score 60 points and he’s still not going to hit a huge home run unless both parties decide to go longer term and buy out some of his unrestricted free agency years on an extension.
No. 1: Evan Bouchard
Even if Bouchard starts the season out in the Oilers third pair on the right side of their defense corps, it shouldn’t take long for him to move up. Yes, Barrie’s signing potentially creates a bit of a roadblock for bigger minutes, but if Bouchard is the go-to option that gives the Oilers a dangerous second-unit power play, the coaching staff will take advantage of it.
Tippett has already said he expects Bouchard to quickly move up the roster and many insiders who follow the Oilers closely believe Bouchard could be a 40-50 point defenseman if deployed in the right situations next season. No one knows what will happen until it happens, but he’s certainly the player on this list who has the opportunity to take the biggest step forward.
The Oilers didn’t just make some additional room for Barrie this season by moving Ethan Bear, Edmonton is counting on Bouchard being a difference maker.
A little love should go out to Warren Foegle who signed what could be a team-friendly three-year deal at $2.75 million per season, and to Mike Smith, who if he has anything close to the kind of season he did last year, will still look like a bargain at $2 million per season.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”