With the news of Jeff Skinner’s contract extension (covered nicely here by Robin Brownlee), the focus of Oilers Nation has turned toward offering contract extensions to Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. Should the team extend both of those players this summer, or wait a little longer before getting serious about the possibility?
My vote: there’s no harm in a little patience.
Naturally, the desire to get both players under contract now is understandable. The whole point of the Oilers ugly sojourn through the NHL basement has been to collect high-end talent, and letting that high-end talent leave town before it has even really begun paying dividends would ruin the whole thing. It makes a lot of sense that many Oilers fans would like to see both players locked up, and the sooner the better.
There’s a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, one all but guaranteed to drive down the NHL’s salary cap. The last time around, the NHLPA agreed to a roll-back of player salaries, meaning that guys signed before the new deal were affordable. This time around, it seems likely that the union will accept a lower salary cap, but they have been adamant that a salary roll-back is not on the table. Donald Fehr has called the idea of a rollback a “non-starter” and when asked back in May about the possibility responded, “Do you want me out of this job?”
It stood out because Fehr’s public comments have largely been conciliatory.
A new deal won’t necessarily include a salary rollback. There are a number of ways around it – a limited amnesty clause, recalculating the cap hit on contracts signed before the new deal (while still paying the players full money), a cap that drops gradually over time rather than immediately following, etc. The point is that a rollback is not a certainty, and if it doesn’t come these deals signed under the old agreement are not going to be anywhere near as favourable financially as deals inked under whatever new deal is eventually hammered out.
There are other considerations. Jordan Eberle is coming off a fantastic season – a season that many (including myself) argue he probably won’t repeat. Even people more bullish on Eberle – Robin Brownlee and David Staples – expect him to drop below the 70 point mark next season. Of course, it doesn’t matter what anyone outside of the Oilers’ front office thinks, but if the Oilers peg Eberle’s chances of producing the same amount of points or fewer at greater than 50%, they could reason that the odds of having better leverage in contract discussions will be better in January or next summer than they are now.
There’s also the question of Taylor Hall’s off-season surgery. The Oilers hope is that Hall will be ready to go for the start of 2012-13, but it’s not clear that’s going to happen. Even if it does, he’s going to be entering into the season recovering from a major injury. The calculations here are much the same as they are in the case of Eberle: do the Oilers believe they have more leverage in negotiations now, or will they have more come January?
The new CBA is the biggest issue in deciding on the timing of new contracts, but it’s far from the only one. In the Oilers’ shoes, I think it makes sense to touch base with the agents for both players but try to hold off until midway through next season before really getting serious about finalizing a deal.