I received some information Tuesday evening from someone close to the Leon Draisaitl contract negotiations situation. According to what I was told, the Edmonton Oilers and the Draisaitl camp are at a contract negotiation impasse. The source did not specify what exactly is the nature of the impasse, and so I have asked for clarification. While waiting to hear back, I will suggest that the debate is over term and annual worth. Yes, I realize that’s like saying it’s easy to cut through butter with a knife. I will try to be more specific with my analysis.
During the 2016/2017 campaign, the 21 year-old center/right winger from Cologne, Germany contributed 29 goals and 48 assists for 77 points. He finished 8th in league scoring. During the NHL playoffs, Draisaitl was a dominant player, posting 16 points in only 13 games. What perhaps was more impressive about his playoff performance is he achieved much of what he did playing at center on his own line instead of being partnered with Connor McDavid.
Some contract signings this summer have done much to increase Draisaitl’s potential expectations when it comes to the offer of a long-term, high priced contract. For example, the Montreal Canadiens agreed to pay often-injured but great-when-healthy goalie Carey Price $10.5 million per season over the next eight years. Perhaps a more fitting comparable would be the contract the Washington Capitals gave to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov only managed 59 points in 16/17, but he did contribute 77 the previous season. The Caps paid him big this summer: $7.8 million per season; eight season deal. Kuznetsov, like Draisaitl, has only one 70 points+ season.
Draisaitl, who has been in the process of moving between two agents recently, might be having a time trying to understand the rationale behind how contracts are awarded. Kuznetsov’s deal seems like an overpayment, but the deal does nevertheless suggest to Leon’s people that he should not consider a penny under $7.8 million per season. Oilers management might not be ready to make that sort of commitment, as Draisaitl has only one truly successful season. In 2015/2016, Draisaitl contributed 51 points in 72 games, and he did not dominate the ice when Connor McDavid was injured. It’s is not exactly guaranteed that the 2016/2017 Draisaitl is the long-term player the Oilers will be getting if he is signed to an eight-year deal.
It’s quite possible the position of Oilers management at this time is to consider signing Draisaitl to a bridge deal for a couple of seasons if it is impossible for either side to agree on just how bright Draisaitl’s future is. Consider the top ten cap hits in the NHL this summer: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both at $10.5 million per season; Anze Kopitar at $10 million, Alex Ovechkin at $9.538 million, Evgeni Malkin at $9.5 million, PK Subban at $9 million per season, Sidney Crosby receives $8.7 million per, followed by Corey Perry at $8.625 million, and both Steven Stamkos and Henrik Lundqvist at $8.5 million. From these 10 players I will suggest that if Draisaitl turns out to full potential he will be a better hockey player than four players on the list. If you look further down the cap hit list, you will find several players who get paid more than $7.5 million per season that are not as good as Leon Draisaitl is right now; no more evidence necessary.
The debate is truly about how much are the Oilers willing to risk on Draisaitl being Malkin to McDavid’s Crosby. If Draisaitl is truly a top ten forward in the NHL and can get there without relying on McDavid, then he deserves a long-term deal that pays $8 million or more per season. Obviously the Oilers do not feel like they have enough information to feel comfortable accepting that Draisaitl is, for certain, a top 10 forward.
The other thing Oilers management must do is keep an eye on the budget. It is widely understood that center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has a cap hit that goes beyond what his contribution is. There are teams looking for centers that could give Nugent-Hopkins a more important opportunity than playing on the third line. But speak to an Oilers coach and you’ll realize quickly Nugent-Hopkins is highly regarded by them and seen as an important player on the roster. Next summer the Oilers have a handful of players who might want more money – Patrick Maroon, Ryan Strome, Anton Slepyshev, Drake Caggiula, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse. Without Draisaitl’s contract and under McDavid’s new $12.5 million deal, it will be hard if not impossible to keep everyone. One, or, two, or even three of these names might not be back this season, and management knows is. It is in the best interests of team management to attempt to settle some of these contract extensions now, this summer, so management has cost certainty to work with next summer. Maybe if Nugent-Hopkins finds his role on this team, it will be better to move Maroon and Nurse instead. These are hard discussions to have to make. The Oilers finally have a decent roster, and soon, they will be forced to give some of it away. I am certain Oilers management are trying to minimize the damage as much as possible.
The no-movement clauses given to players Milan Lucic, Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell add to the complicating situation in Edmonton. I would rather move out Lucic, Sekera and Russell next summer over Nugent-Hopkins, Maroon and Nurse. I don’t think the Oilers have a choice, and this is a pain Oilers GM and President of Hockey Operations could have avoided.
Having Draisaitl under a two-year bridge deal; perhaps at $5.5 million per season, would buy management time to keep this roster together and to challenge for cups immediately. The justification for the bridge deal would be that Draisaitl has yet to truly establish himself as a dominate player. I am guessing Draisaitl’s management feel he’s shown more than enough to deserve an almost-McDavid offer right now. Would a one-year deal be an insult to him, or a great idea as it gives him a chance to prove 2016/2017 was no fluke? Maybe Draisaitl’s price point per season goes from $8 million per season to $10 million on a long-term deal if he has a huge 2017/2018.
My source of this information did not indicate if there is a timeline around moving forward. Actually, it almost came off as both sides are not currently talking. I hope that’s not the truth. I am not sure which side I am siding with on this one, as I love the idea of Draisaitl being locked in long-term, but I don’t know if he’s worth $9 million per season yet. It’s clear no other NHL team is going to give him an offer sheet. It would have happened already if it was going to happen. But it is possible Draisaitl’s contract situation could interfere with training camp and the team moving into October and the regular season.
More updates on this situation as I get them.