Draisaitl’s Next Deal: What would you do?

50 days from the start of the 2017–18 NHL season and the Oilers second best player remains unsigned. Leon Draisaitl completed the final year of his 3-year entry-level contract, becoming a restricted free agent on July 1st. 
45 days later, Oiler fans are starting to get a tiny bit worried.

Time to put on your Peter Chiarelli hat and decide, what would you do?

Bridge Him

A ‘bridge’ contract is a short term deal that is basically a ‘show me’ contract where the player receives a lower amount over a shorter term. A player would sign this type of deal if he believes he is still improving, the long-term contract offered by the club is inadequate, and/or the cap is likely to go up over the next few years. Additionally, a short-term deal would buy up years of restricted free agency, giving the player more leverage when negotiating his next contract. Under this option, Draisaitl would likely receive a lower annual amount, with the opportunity to make more money than that being offered now in his next contract. 
This option has risks for both the player and the club. The player gives up stability and essentially guaranteed income. The club risks the player outperforming their original contract offer, and being unable to afford the player’s increased contract demands in 2–3 years. The bridge contract is not unusual, even for players deemed to be cornerstones of their respective franchises: key examples include Nikita Kucherov and Mikael Granlund.

Nikita Kucherov: 66 Points in contract year, $4.77M/year for 3 years

Nikita Kucherov celebrates a goal with the Tampa Bay Lightning

How Yzerman was able to sign Kucherov for under $5M per year can only be described as witchcraft. Kucherov exploded for 85 points this year, and still has 2 years remaining. In 2018 Kucherov will be screaming a Jerry Maguire like “show me the money” and no doubt, the Lightning manager will comply.

Mikael Granlund: 69 Points in contract year, $5.75M/year for 3 years

Mikael Granlund goes around Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick to score for the Wild

Granlund is an interesting comparable; he was the highest scoring player on the second best team in the Western Conference last year. He also helped me finish second in my fantasy league, but that’s another story. How Granlund got paid more than Kucherov, I think, reflects an increase in the salary cap and a league-wide feeling of confidence with the expansion into Las Vegas.

Another reason Draisaitl could opt to sign a bridge deal is that after 4 years of NHL experience, he would earn the right to go to arbitration; a further bargaining chip his side could take into negotiations for his next NHL contract. If Draisatil were to sign a 3-year bridge contract, I think it would blow both of these contracts out of the water, coming in somewhere between $6.5M and $7M per year over 3 years.

Sign him Long Term

If the Oilers and Draisaitl decide to go the long-term route, common opinion is that the contract would fall somewhere between $7.5M and $8M per year for 8 years. The contract would ensure the Oilers have their #2 C (or #1 RW) locked up for the next 8 years, and would allow Draisaitl to become an unrestricted free agent when the contract expires. A win/win for both parties. The following contracts signed over the last year provide a gauge of what kind of long-term contract Draisaitl should expect to receive.

Ryan Johansen: 61 Points in contract year, $8M/year for 8 years

Ryan Joahansen

Ryan Johansen was drafted 4th overall in 2010 by the Blue Jackets, and then flipped to Nashville in 2016 for Seth Jones. Johansen helped the Preds reach the Stanley Cup final this past season before sitting out the final with a thigh injury. His career high of 71 points and strong resume as a power forward justifies this contract.

Vladimir Tarasenko: 74 points in contract year, $7.5M/year for 8 years

Vladimir Tarasenko scores against the Rangers

Tarasenko is an absolute sniper. Drafted 16th overall by St.Louis in 2010, Tarasenko has become one of the most electrifying players in the NHL. Chiarelli will surely be using his $7.5M contract as a comparable for Draisaitl’s next deal. Draisaitl’s agent can argue that Tarasenko is smaller, and a winger, with limited playoff success; but Tarasenko’s consistency in the league will be hard to ignore.

Johnny Gaudreau: 78 points in contract year, 6.75M/year for 6 years

Gaudreau celebrates a goal for the Calgary Flames

Oilers fans have seen enough of Johnny Gaudreau over the last 4 years to know he’s earning every penny of this contract. Selected 104th overall by the Flames in 2011, his small stature has not stopped him from becoming an NHL highlight reel. Draisaitl is sure to get more than $6.75M, but Chiarelli will use Gaudreau’s contract to keep things from getting crazy.

Where does Leon fit in?
Leon Draisatil scored 77 points in his contract year, one less than Gaudreau and only three more than Tarasenko. He has less NHL experience than these two players, but his strong performance in this years playoffs will help him in contract negotiations. Nonetheless, a long-term contract valued around $8M seems inevitable.
There are rumours that Draisaitl’s camp is asking for up to $10M per year — If that’s the case, and they wont’ budge, the Oilers cannot sign that contract. Chiarelli needs to prove he is as capable a GM as Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay and have Draisaitl prove his worth on a short-term bridge deal.
 
With all due respect to Draisaitl and his agent, using Connor McDavid’s $12.5M contract as a comparable is ridiculous. Connor McDavid is an outlier; any contract negotiations should be done against the contracts of the players listed above. Whether Chiarelli erred in waiting to sign Draisaitl until the McDavid deal was done is a moot point. If Draisaitl wants long-term security, he should take the $7.5M/8-year offer sitting on the table.

Trade Him

This last option, while the most unlikely, is worth at least considering. The Oilers are a much better team if Leon resigns, but paying two players over $10M a year would cripple this team in 4–5 years (see the Chicago Blackhawks). There are at least 2 trade possibilities that could see the Oilers take advantage of the Connor McDavid cup window without guaranteeing another dark decade of playoff-less hockey in Edmonton.

  1. Leon Draisaitl to Colorado for Matt Duchene and a 1st round pick
Matt Duchene scores a shootout goal against Jonathan Bernier

It’s no secret that Joe Sakic is actively shopping the 26-year old Duchene after he scored only 41 points last season. Duchene is a great buy-low candidate who scored a career high 70 points only 3 years ago. The whole Colorado team has been terrible the last two years so the kid deserves a mulligan.

Restocking the Oilers prospect cupboards won’t be so easy with the team projected to make the playoffs for the next 9 years of McDavid, so making trades with the league’s bottom feeders is the best way to ensure the club is able to dress a competitive line-up while staying under the salary cap. Even with Draisatil in their line-up, the Avalanche are a bottom 10 team next year, ensuring the Oilers select a great prospect at the draft. Would the Avs make this trade? Sakic is on thin ice with the organisation so he needs to make a big move to show the fans he is committed to winning. Trading Duchene may be his last move as the Colorado GM; this would make sure he went out with a bang.

2. Leon Draisaitl to Carolina for Justin Faulk and a 2nd round pick

Justin Faulk

There are very few defensemen in the NHL who have 20 goal, 50 point potential. Justin Faulk is one of them. A more experienced version of Oscar Klefbom who also has a cannon from the blue line. Like the Oilers, the Hurricanes have struggled mightily since 2006, and Faulk’s plus/minus reflects that.

The Hurricanes now seem poised to re-enter the playoffs this year, boasting a deep blue line with the likes of Slavin, Hanifin, Van Riemsdyk and Pesce. The Hurricanes can afford to lose Faulk if it means bringing in a number one centre to play with Swedish phenom Sebastian Aho. The price the oilers had to pay to pry Adam Larsson from New Jersey shows the premium NHL clubs place on defensemen, meaning the draft pick Carolina would package (if even at all) would likely be no higher than a second or third round pick. If this trade were to happen, Edmonton fans would be as outraged, if not more, than when Taylor Hall was traded away last summer. However, Justin Faulk has the ability to similarly make fans forgive Chiarelli for parting with the German Gretzky.

What I think

There is only a slim chance the Oilers trade Draisaitl, and there is no way he signs an offer sheet (which is why it wasn’t worth writing about). Draisaitl will be playing for the Oilers in October; the only question will be the term of the deal. I think the Oilers would be thrilled to sign Draisaitl to either of a Ryan Johansen $8M/8-year contract, or a Nikita Kucherov-esque $5M/3-year contract. Both options ensure the Oilers have a good chance at being back in the playoffs for the next three years, and competing for the club’s 6th Stanley Cup. 
In the end I think a long-term deal seems most likely; Draisaitl has expressed his love for the city of Edmonton, and has demonstrated his commitment to the club by working out in his Oilers kit over the summer. This extended negotiation is partially Draisaitl’s agent showing he is doing his best to maximise his client’s contract. When the dust settles, it seems highly likely that the Oilers will have their number 29 back in orange and blue before preseason games begin in September.

What do you think? Bridge Him? Sign him long term? Or Trade him?

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