The phrase “too much; too soon” is starting to come to mind.
Connor McDavid IS worth $12.5 million per season. At 20, he’s already the best player in the NHL. He’s a freak of nature. Running has Usain Bolt. Golf has Tiger Woods. Basketball has LeBron James. Baseball has that guy that throws stuff. Curling and football also have guys that throw stuff. My point is, generational talents are going to get paid all the money, because they are one in a billion.
Reading Eklund’s blog today discussing the potential for David Pastrnak to get traded, not because he’s bad, but because he’s 21 years old and he’s seeking a new contract that would pay him $6 or $7 million per season. There’s rumors everywhere that the Buffalo Sabres are going to willingly give young Jack Eichel almost-McDavid dollars in an extension. Eichel is good, but he’s not McDavid. Hell, I’m not sure he’s Auston Matthews-level good. Pastrnak in his teens didn’t show signs that he’d turn in to what he has.
Edmonton has this lingering contract situation with center/winger Leon Draisaitl. He, like Pastrnak, is only age 21. In terms of quality and prospect projection, Draisaitl has more in common with Eichel than Pastrnak, although Draisaitl and Eichel are very different types of players. Eichel is slick. He’s perhaps a fully-realized version of the unfortunately disappointing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He possesses a high level of compete and plays a smooth, nifty game.
There is something very Mark Messier about Leon Draisaitl. I remember watching Drai play during the Memorial Cup a few years ago, and saw him carry his entire team in a dominating, mighty way. He managed to do it again during the Oilers 2017 playoff run. Draisaitl commanded the ice at a level comparable to what McDavid does nightly. What makes McDavid a freak is that he plays like his game is constantly elevated. If there was a chart showing the evolution of hockey players, McDavid would be the highest form of being. Nobody expects that from “normal” hockey players, including Draisaitl.
Messier had this leadership thing where he’d go out (when motivated) and completely run over the opposition. An unstoppable force. He could turn it on and off, and usually he turned it on during important games and playoff time. Draisaitl is decent on a nightly basis, but when he’s motivated, he’s a force.
Look, no one is debating whether or not Draisaitl should get paid. However, this could be a situation where “too much; too soon” applies.
Draisaitl has had one great regular season, finishing in the Top 10 in scoring, and one great playoff, where he led all players in points per game average. We all realize he’s going to be a star in the NHL, and at least once, he’ll lift the Stanley Cup over his head. Especially if he sticks around in Edmonton.
I shudder at the thought of Oilers management being forced to trade this guy. They won’t. Draisaitl’s people haven’t said anything negative about Edmonton, and Oilers management have maintained Draisaitl will be back. Oilers fans are panicking a bit regarding the lack of new contract, although I believe part of the reason panic is setting in is that neither side in this negotiation is saying anything. It seems like they aren’t talking, and if they aren’t, it makes you wonder why.
A practical explanation exists: Eichel’s re-up is probably a decent comparable to what Draisaitl should receive, with market value being what it is. Perhaps one or both sides are waiting around to see just what a Jack Eichel is worth. The number could be as high as $10 million per season, btw. A terrifying thought if you are the Leafs who one day will need to sign Auston Matthews long-term, or the New York Islanders who need to re-sign John Tavares right away. If Eichel is a $10 million per season player, Tavares absolutely is a $10 million per season player, and I don’t think the Islanders have the money for it.
If Eichel is $10 million per season that probably makes the Draisaitl contract demand at $9 million per season on an eight-year deal. That’s more than Oilers management wants to pay, and it represents a huge risk if Draisaitl turns out more Nugent-Hopkins than Messier. Keep in mind Nuge looked better at the beginning of his career and his points totals have been going down, not up. It happens. Jordan Eberle is another example of a player who looked better at 21 than he does now.
When you give a player $72 million, you’re stuck with him, so you better make 100% sure he’s your guy. I am certain Oilers management adore what they’ve seen from Draisaitl. I remember getting a call from the draft floor from a member of the Oilers staff two hours before Draisaitl was taken, telling me the Oilers had him at the top of their list. They’ve always loved this guy, make no mistake.
Money is money, and that salary cap isn’t going up in any big way in the near future. I saw one financial projection that said the Canadian Dollar could be worth 70 cents American by this time next year. When the Canuck Buck drops, the league suffers in a big way financially. There’s already talk that the league could lockout the players when the CBA is up because there’s too many teams losing money. Unless Draisaitl helps you win cups, a $9 million contract is a boat anchor and Oilers management know it. He has to be as good as he seems.
I’m not trying to poop on the guy. If I was in his shoes, I’d want to be paid fairly. A team like the Islanders can get away with giving Tavares huge money because there’s only one of him on their team. The Oilers could have two monster contracts to contend with. The Chicago Blackhawks, the team with two players that equal a $21 million cap hit, have to trade away and replace a quarter of their roster every summer because of the financial chaos those big deals create. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are worth the money, but they do make the Chicago GM’s job harder.
The people handling Draisaitl need to understand one great season isn’t enough information to warrant one of the biggest contracts in the league. Perhaps what is fair here is a one-year bridge deal. Most bridge deals are longer, I realize, and a one-year deal means we all get to relive this contract nightmare next summer. I’d feel better about giving Drai $9 million per season if I knew he was one of the best ten centers in the NHL. Right now I HOPE he is.
Oilers fans know a lot about HOPE. You remember H.O.P.E. don’t you? None of those guys are still with the team, and there’s a message in that. We need less hope in Edmonton, and more results.