Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carry the two best-value contracts on the Edmonton Oilers. Despite their massive cap hits, McDavid and Draisaitl arguably deserve more than they are currently earning based on their production and escalating player salaries around the NHL.
However, Edmonton’s dynamic duo are not the only players providing value. With less than $1 million of available cap space, the Oilers have received a boost from several players in contract years. Here are the Oilers’ three best contracts in 2019-20.
Zack Kassian ($1.95 million)
There were reports that Zack Kassian had requested a trade early in the 2018-19 season after he was unable to find a regular spot in the Oilers’ lineup. However, Kassian eventually earned an opportunity to play on the top line with McDavid and Draisaitl and never looked back. Kassian has shown the ability to play with elite players going back to his brief time with Henrik and Daniel Sedin on the Vancouver Canucks.
Kassian skates very well for a big man and has underrated puck skills and scoring touch around the net. The 29-year-old winger can also deliver thunderous hits and likes to get under the skin of the opposition. Kassian, who has never put up more than 29 points in a single season, has put up 28 points in just 44 games in 2019-20. Additionally, he is just three goals away from surpassing his carer-high 15 markers that he scored last season.
Although the salary cap is expected to increase by $2 million for next season, the Oilers need to have a couple affordable contracts on their top two lines. I would be comfortable giving Kassian a three-year contract worth $9 million, but that might be on the low end if he goes to free agency. He was one of the team’s best players during the 2017 playoffs, and if they make it back this season, he will surely have an impact.
Darnell Nurse ($3.2 million)
Darnell Nurse missed the start of training camp in 2018-19 due to a contract dispute. Nurse signed a two-year contract worth $6.4 million shortly thereafter once Josh Morrissey, a player with a similar draft pedigree and offensive production, inked his deal with the Winnipeg Jets. I think then-general manager (GM) Peter Chiarelli should have pushed for the maximum contract length, because an eight-year extension will surely cost more this summer.
Nurse recorded career highs in goals (10), assists (31) and points (41) in 2018-19. With Oscar Klefbom injured for 21 games, Nurse also featured on the Oilers’ top power play unit. This season, he’s on pace for 35 points, despite receiving virtually no time with the man advantage. The 24-year-old displays solid shutdown ability and can skate the puck out of danger and start an offensive rush.
Nurse, who is playing in his fifth NHL season, has established himself as a top-pairing option for the Oilers. He can contribute at both ends of the ice, plays a physical game and always sticks up for his teammates. There’s a real chance that he could double his salary on his next contract, but GM Ken Holland will likely try to keep that number closer to $6 million.
Ethan Bear ($720,000)
After spending the majority of his first two professional seasons in the AHL, Ethan Bear earned a roster spot with the Oilers out of training camp. Bear, who is in the final season of his entry-level deal, has been a pleasant surprise for an Oilers team that desperately needed a top-four defenceman to fall into their lap.
The 22-year-old can retrieve pucks under pressure and start the breakout with quick and short passes up to the forwards. Bear also has a wicked one-timer from the top of the circle, but still seems hesitant to use his shot as often in the NHL. As he gains more confidence, Bear needs to make that a staple of his game.
With roughly $57.8 million on the books in 2020-21 (including buyouts and retained salary), Holland must navigate Bear’s second contract carefully. If he plays in all of the remaining 33 games this season, Bear will have 100 games of NHL experience when his entry-level contract expires. Holland could sign him to a two-year bridge deal in the $2 million range, or try to extend him long-term for more than $4 million per season.
Signing Oscar Klefbom to a seven-year contract extension in 2015 after playing in just 77 NHL games paid off for the organization. So, if Holland believes in Bear’s upward trajectory, then it makes sense to lock him up the next eight seasons. By the time Bear reaches his prime, the salary cap could exceed $90 million, which would make his contract an absolute bargain.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.