An interesting trend is starting to occur in Edmonton. With news that both Zach Hyman and Gabriel Landeskog could possibly head towards NHL free agency, Oilers fans are starting to switch their preference as to which player the hockey club should target.
This is not to say that either player views Edmonton as an option: we don’t know that yet. This is also not to suggest that neither player will work things out with their respective teams: that’s certainly possible. Still, the Oilers are known to be interested in Hyman, Landeskog is an attractive piece if available, and the Oilers would immediately be a better team if they signed either one of them.
Both players are going to be asking for big money and term. Edmonton will have to overpay if they’re going to play this free agency game.
The Top Target Always Seemed to Be Hyman
For the longest time, Oilers fans drooled over the idea of adding Hyman to this roster. There’s a lot to like about the player and he’s an ideal fit on in a top-six role, specifically alongside Connor McDavid. Fans were aware that he’d cost a lot and a long-term deal could have its consequences down the road, but many were alright with the organization paying the higher price to add a player of his caliber.
Hyman is dogged on the puck. He’s a forechecking machine that has the speed and skill needed to score and a drive to make others around him better. He can kill penalties and give you power play minutes. He’s a 20-goal scorer in the Oilers lineup for at least the next three or four seasons. For some fans, and most importantly, he’s an analytics darling. With a goals-for percentage or expected goals for a percentage that has never dipped below 50 percent, that’s understandable.
Then the rumored contract numbers started to present themselves. Speculation was the Toronto Maple Leafs had turned down Hyman’s ask of $5 million per season for eight seasons. When the Leafs opened up the door for other teams to talk to Hyman’s agent, offers started coming in north of that almost immediately. Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic wrote:
An industry source confirmed Thursday evening that the Oilers are one of the teams Hyman’s camp is speaking with about the possible acquisition of the winger’s rights. This was first reported by the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran.
A second industry source believes the Oilers are willing to offer Hyman that average salary on a long-term deal, and maybe more, perhaps as long as seven years.source – Source: Oilers talking to Zach Hyman’s camp; what he might cost and how he could fit with Edmonton’ – Daniel Nugent-Bowman – The Athletic – 07/16/2021
Popular Opinion on Hyman Started to Change
While no one is denying that Hyman could be a great fit, the reality started to set in that the Oilers might actually have a shot at the forward. It then became apparent that Holland might be willing to invest big time and over multiple seasons. As it started to become more real, questions started to circulate about whether or not Edmonton would offer eight years if the team traded for Hyman’s rights first and then signed him.
The reality of Hyman on a seven or eight-year deal started backing people off. The analytics guys were still talking about how good an add he’d be, but they weren’t as vocal in the face of a seven or eight year contract for huge money. Hyman would be 36 or 37 years old when that contract expired. It would be more that possible the Oilers might look back on the contract in a few seasons and wonder how to get out of it.
The Focus Shifted Towards Landeskog
Interestingly, reports surfaced on Friday that Landeskog was miles apart in terms of contract numbers with the Colorado Avalanche. Andy Strickland reported that Landeskog could be in line for a salary that pays in the range of $9-$10 million on the open free agency market. The Avs were offering something in the range of $5-$6 million on an eight-year term.
While it’s not expected to cost the Avalanche, (or any other team) $9-$10 million, it could cost $7-$8 million over seven or eight seasons if a team wants him in free agency. In spite of all that, Landeksog became the new ‘must-have toy’ for Oilers fans.
I posted the question, “Who would you rather have in free agency: Zach Hyman or Gabriel Landeskog” on a number of social media pages. Overwhelmingly, the answer was Landeskog. Discarding some of the goofy suggestions fans threw in that had nothing to do with the question, within hours, the posts had 618 votes and 553 of them were for Landeskog. That equated to 89.5% of the vote.
Side-by-Side Numbers are Interesting When Salary Factored In
Zach Laing of Oilers Nation posted a chart comparing the two players. He called one side “Player A” and the other “Player B”. He listed the stats of each player to show just how similar they were for points and analytics contributions based on 5×5 play throughout their respective careers.
It didn’t take long to figure out that Hyman was Player A and Landeskog was Player B. It would probably cost the Oilers $2 million more per season to land Landeskog over Hyman but the majority of people who commented on the post said Landeskog was their choice, if they had the money to spend.
Also interesting, the majority of people voted for Player A (Hyman), with 63.5% of the vote, likely because of the cost difference.
Is The Answer Neither Player?
Considering the trend now seems to be that fans would prefer Landeskog over Hyman, but don’t want to spend the money it would take to get Landeskog over Hyman, is the better choice not to overspend on either player?
Cleary, there’s some concern among the fans that both players are going to be expensive. There’s logic behind assuming neither player will be as effective toward the ends of two very lengthy contract terms. Neither player is young, and there are other options available.
Then again, fans aren’t inside the head of Oilers general manager Ken Holland. After the trade he did to land Duncan Keith, it’s incredibly hard to predict what Holland will do.