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Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

The case for giving Leon Draisaitl a short-term bridge contract

With negotiations between the Edmonton Oilers and Leon Draisaitl the team’s most important remaining task this summer, one potential outcome has received less attention than it probably should: a short-term compromise deal between the two camps, commonly known as a bridge contract.

In some ways, it would be a shock if the Oilers and Draisaitl didn’t eventually come to terms on a long-term pact, but in others a shorter deal makes sense. At the risk of over-generalizing, there are two primary reasons an NHL team might prefer a bridge deal to a long-term pact with an emerging young star, and both have some relevance to this negotiation.

Competitiveness of the team

There’s a reason the long-term deal for a young star is a no-brainer for many teams. It’s that those teams aren’t very good.

Most of the league’s best young stars were taken early in the entry draft, and the early picks in the entry draft universally go to teams that were terrible the year before. Thus, the players looking to get paid on their second contracts disproportionately play for teams that are awful. Oilers fans have come to know this firsthand.

That matters because those teams aren’t competitive in the here and now, but hope to be in the future. So it makes sense to spread out the cap hit for young players, to pay them more when the team has no realistic shot at winning and less when the team does.

Consider a hypothetical example, Player X. We’ve charted out his actual value on a one-year deal in each season, what he would be paid on a bridge deal followed by a long-term contract, and finally what he would be paid signing a long-term deal immediately:

In each case, Player X is worth $49 million over the next seven seasons. What matters here is distribution.

In terms of actual value, we see our initial RFA being worth comparatively little. He isn’t yet at the peak of his powers, and he has no arbitration rights. His value increases as he develops and gains access to arbitration, and then spikes as he enters unrestricted free agency in his prime years.

A bridge approach creates savings early on vs. the long-term deal. Over those first two seasons, the team saves $2.5 million each year, which can then be used to employ other skaters. This is why teams like Chicago and Tampa Bay have employed bridge deals in recent years: They are trying to win now, so it makes sense to save money wherever possible, even if it costs more down the road.

The long-term deal, on the other hand, creates savings later. Over the last five years, the team will save $1.0 million annually vs. what it would have saved with a bridge deal. For mediocre teams, this makes sense: pay a little more now when money isn’t so tight, and save down the road in the years where a championship is a reasonable possibility.

Bringing this back to Draisaitl and the Oilers, it’s easy to argue either side. If Edmonton thinks it can win a Cup in the next two seasons, having Draisaitl on a bridge contract will make that easier. But, as the Oilers plan to be contenders for the next decade, it will come with a cost down the road.

Certainty on the player

There is another important factor to consider, though. In that last example, we knew exactly what Player X was going to be worth over each of the next seven seasons. The truth, though, is that NHL teams don’t have that luxury. They can make projections, but it’s difficult to see. Always in motion, is the future.

If there’s a reason to think that a player might be overvalued in the present, it’s an argument in favour of the bridge contract, because those supposed savings that come with a long-term deal are less likely to be realized. On the other hand, if there’s reason to think that a player is undervalued in the present, the long-term deal gets more attractive, since the actual savings may be well above what has been projected.

When we look at Draisaitl, is it more likely that he’s being over or undervalued right now?

My colleague Jason Gregor’s latest piece is a pretty good place to go and get an idea. When we look at his list of 70+ point players before age 21, we find three forwards who scored between 75-80 points once on their entry-level contract: Paul Stastny, Anze Kopitar and Jordan Eberle. It’s noteworthy that in two of the three cases, that season is still a career high; in the third (Kopitar, the most successful) it’s the second-best total of his career.

More important is the presence of McDavid. Gregor is rightly skeptical of placing too much value on the WOWY statistic – it’s important to take a Bayesian approach to WOWY, which doesn’t treat the with and without portions as absolutes but rather probabilistically – but there’s no question that playing with the NHL’s best player is a good thing. In a world where the Oilers don’t have McDavid, there’s no question in my mind that Draisaitl’s numbers are less impressive.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason to think that Draisaitl is undervalued at present. He didn’t play for a bad team, didn’t have the coach cut into his minutes, wasn’t handed subpar linemates, wasn’t asked to carry a heavy defensive load and didn’t play on a bad power play. When I look at the season he just had, I don’t see any artificial limiting factor that might have prevented him from scoring. He was placed in a pretty optimal situation.

My view is that Draisaitl is a very good player, one who will likely be a crucial long-term contributor for the Oilers. But the more I think about it, the more a bridge contract seems like a good idea for the club. The team is competitive now, there’s some reason to think Draisaitl’s numbers are inflated (and no reason I can see to think that they were depressed last season) and as a result the usual benefits of a long-term deal don’t seem to apply here. Add in that Draisaitl is in a weaker than normal bargaining position (he has five, rather than four, more years of team control) and a bridge deal followed by a long-term contract seems a prudent course.

  • yazzer

    You don’t see a limiting factor that affected his scoring? The only time he was in an ‘optimal’ situation was when he was on McDavid’s line. The rest of the time, he was playing with a revolving door of rookies and bottom sixers, never long enough to develop chemistry with any of them, playing 3C behind RNH. If his numbers were inflated due to McDavid, they were sure as heck deflated by the above. (Not counting the power play, where he excelled no matter who was on the ice.)

    • Peachy

      You don’t pay 8M / year to guys who need to be placed in optimal situations to be effective. You pay that kind of dough to guys who can drive goal differential on their own, and elevate relative plugs to effective nhl’ers.

      So far he hasn’t been able to do the latter, though he will improve for a couple more years. There’s good reason to be skeptical.

      • yazzer

        McDavid played with ‘plugs’ like Eberle and Lucic until Christmas but was not on pace for 100 points until they moved Drai to his line. Guess we shouldn’t pay him 12.5 either by your logic.

  • Consultant

    How about 4 years at 5.5? He’s then still be a RFA… Keep him hungry.
    That would save 1.5 to 2 million during the first three McDavid 12.5 years…
    Or 8 years at 6.8 million, stick to your guns Chia, plenty of time.

  • ubermiguel

    “It’s noteworthy that in two of the three cases, that season is still a career high; in the third (Kopitar, the most successful) it’s the second-best total of his career.” This is exactly why many people (myself included) aren’t 100% certain what Draisaitl is worth yet, it’s quite possible we have just seen his career high in points. A bridge contract is a good compromise. It doesn’t have to be 4 years, it could be 2 or 3; if he can repeat this year’s success then he gets a big raise much sooner.

  • TKB2677

    My concern with a bridge deal is this. Say you sign him for a couple of seasons at whatever 4.5 mill for discussion. Great you saved some money for 2 season. You better freaking win in those 2 years because if he goes PK Subban and explodes like many of us think he can, the Oilers are screwed. Habs could have probably locked up Subban for 6 mill over 8 yrs but they chose a bridge deal, he goes on to win the Norris and have to sign him to 9 mill.

    When I look at Leon, I see a ton of existing contracts that are direct a comparable.
    Tarasenko – 7.5
    Gaudreau – 6.75
    Kuznetsov who just signed an 8 yr, 7.8 mill deal. He’s 25 yrs old so they bought UFA years. If you go look at his last 2 seasons, he’s scored 136 pts playing all center. Leon is 21 and in his last 2 seasons has 128 pts playing center and wing. Even if Leon signs an 8 yr deal, he will only be 29 so he will have 1 more big contract left where as Kuznetsov probably won’t. So if you are his agent, how can you argue the Kuznetsov contract and say he is worth more. I don’t see how you can.
    So if you bridge him and then he explodes. Instead of having him for say 7.8 for 7 or 8 years, you are paying him 10 in 2 years.

      • Serious Gord

        If he blossoms (even further) to become the best centre in the league not named mcdavid then a bridge deal will be a disaster – likely necessitating a massive sell-off of other players to make room or a trade of drai.

        • Rusty

          if he blossoms to the best center in the league not named Mcdavid…the oilers would have the best 2 centers in the league, if you need to dump some 3 and 4th liners and replace with rookies or cheaper options your still in good shape…this is a “good team” problem to have. If you have the best 2 centres in the league, stable D and talbot in net = contender.

    • Anton CP

      Both Tarasenko and Gaudreau were the team leading scorers so their importance to their own team are quite different comparable. Kuznetsov is the future of Capitals once Ovi and Backstrom start to slow down.

      Here’s a question for those who are worried about that Draisaitl value will have a huge boost once his second contract expired if he signed the bridge deal, will Draisaitl be scoring 80+ points for consistently for the next 2 years and also will he wins any major awards? The last person who signed a bridge deal then got his value increased by 1000% from before and after bridge deal was Subban but in that 2 years which Subban production increased by 50% and also won a major trophy in Norris. It is simple, if Draisaitl can prove that he is 10m talent then pay him 10m per, he just has to show that he is worth the money. Otherwise, no reason to pay him anything beyond the standard ideal 7.5m per.

        • Anton CP

          Only 2 types of GM would offer sheet Draisaitl for more than 7.5m: a brain dead or a GM full of spite. Both types will be very unqualified to be the GM of NHL. The last three offer sheets with long terms (5 years or more) were Shea Weber then…well…KLowe’s both Tomas Vanek and Dustin Penner offer sheets. So within the last 10 years that only one offer sheet was a (very) long term contract that is 14 years for 110m total. It is very unlikely for anyone to offer any long term offer sheets and I seriously doubt that Chiarelli won’t be ready to match it if such scenario occurs. Don’t forget if Draisaitl is indeed turned out to be a 9m+ player that it will cost a lot for any teams willing to offer sheet to Draisaitl, 4 first round picks will hurt any teams to just for one player that is not the top 5 in the league.

  • Tombstone

    How about a case for it is none of your damn business what kind of contract Leon signs. Come on what is this the 20th Leon contract article written in the last 2 weeks. Pathetic! 😴😴😴

    • ed from edmonton

      There isn’t a whole lot of other topics to talk about so we will this topic get looked at from every possible angle until something actually happens. Short term deal vs long term deal? Willis does a good of pros and cons of each. I am a big LD fan and think if the Oil can pursue the long term deal as the first option. After the disappointing results of the RNH and Ebs long term deals I understand why some would be reluctant.

  • Tombstone

    I said it before there is no way Leon takes anything less then $2-3 million than McDavid. He was the only player moved up and down the line up and also from C to RW to boost production and was way better in the playoffs than McDavid. It’s going to cost the Oilers $9.5-10.5 million/yr to sign Draisaitl.

    • ricardo2000

      I think Drai will be a monster when he gets all of his Man Muscle, with a comfortable coaching scheme, and players he can skate with, even in his dreams. Next year will be about firming the lineup to maximize the Oils MASSIVE star potential.

  • madjam

    I am expecting Leon to blow the roof off over last years figures , being as it will be his 4th and 5th years in league next two years-generally their top two years of scoring potential . He has always shown that monsterous leap around 3rd year throughout his young playing career as well . A two year bridge contract could backfire , and he stands a reasonable chance to be at or near the max at that time , which would not bold well for the Oilers . Cost certainty is best served now for a long term commitment .

    • madjam

      Cost certainty , sooner than later , might allow Oilers to entertain a more /better surrounding caste (intermittent or longer term) even this year if the figure is not to overwhelming . Maybe someone like a Jagr might be holding out for Oilers having enough space for him to come here – unlikely as that might be from an Oiler perspective .

  • MessyEH!

    They should have signed Dr Drai 1st. Likely could have signed a 5m x 8 year deal as an extension last summer.

    Hell it wasn’t to king ago someone thought Samwise Gangee was worth that much.

  • nuge2drai

    Sign him to a bridge deal. If he performs on his own line, sign him to 8×8.

    If he doesn’t produce on his own, sign him to a 8×6 extension.

    It would almost be impossible for Drai to earn a contract extension worth more than 8 mil a year annually. He would have to finish top 5 in scoring during the bridge contract.

    I don’t see it happening and if he does, than pay the man.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I’d like to see another year or two of him before I’m convinced he will be a reliable 70-80 point guy…remember there was a time this past year that people thought he should go down to the minors as they said he was tired and underperforming. What’s wrong with 2 years at 6.5 to 7 million…we go up or down from there depending on his performance.

    • Rusty

      i do not remember any point last season where “people” were saying Draisaitl should go to the minors. if these people were in your living room and not reputable bloggers, journalist or analysts then i think you may be blowing a bit of smoke here.

  • Heschultzhescores

    If he thinks he’s a 90-100 point guy, give him a 2 million bonus if he gets there…but don’t overpay him hoping he gets there. That’s win win.

  • godot10

    1) McDavid reset the salary scale. Comparables signed before McDavid are no longer really valid.
    2) If one bridges Draisaitl, then one will be extending him after there has been a definite reset of the salary scale with Tavares, Seguin, Matthews, Johanssen, and Eichel all signing new contracts based on the new McDavid high water mark.
    3) So instead of getting Draisaitl for 8 x $8.5 (which is fair value) now, one will be paying him 8 x $11 million in two years after all those other contracts are signed.

    • RJ

      We are supposed to pretend that McDavid didn’t change the pay scale.

      The other thing is that we are supposed to pretend he didn’t prove himself because it’s apparently easy to play with McDavid (even though Hall, Eberle and Lucic couldn’t manage it).

    • Rusty

      i totally agree. This is excellent critical thinking and future anticipation. Oilers fans may chew on draisaitl at 8 million locked up for 8 years for a few years but the contract will likely look pretty reasonable after the aformentioned extensions get signed. Fans need to stop thinking about how stars need to have reasonable contracts so supporting players can fit in the mix. Pay the stars. the supporting players can take reasonable contracts to play with the stars and win championships. Patrick Maroon should not be looking for 6 million his next contract. he should get 3-4 million with the opportunity to play on the wing with the best or one of the best centers in the league and play on a contender.

  • JimmyV1965

    I’m not sure straight point totals are a good way to measure these guys. The scoring rates were so different. Statsny finished 30th in scoring, Kopitar was 23rd, Eberle was 16th and Drai was 7th. At some point you have to watch the guy play and make a decision based on that.

  • BobbyCanuck

    There is a lot more physical risk to a player now day’s, especially given the NHL’s propensity to ignore the Rules of the Game as the season wears on, and in the play-offs. The threat of a career ending injury is always a possibility.

    Dria should look at the security of a max. years deal vs. a shorter max $$ deal. A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. Personally speaking, that is why many people pay into a pension plan, and
    have life/disability insurance…

    Dria is at that stage in his life where most men consider themselves 8 feet tall and bulletproof, hopefully his parents, or someone with no skin in his earnings can tell him about the benefits of long term job security being worth more than annual earnings

  • ScottV

    Oilers need to be careful waiving a 2nd bruised banana under Drai’s nose, any more than they have to – in dealing with his contract.

    This guy works on his game and I don’t even think he knows how good he could be.

    “In my view Draisaitl is a very good player” Holy understatement…..

    This guy is the big c man we need operating in top 2c – with McDavid. The perfect compliment for each other and to match effectively against the opposition.

    Motivate this guy and we may very well end up with the two best centermen in the world, for a decade. And – there may not be all that much difference between them – in terms of overall effectiveness. Drai – does it different than McD, but we need to stop under estimating this guys ability to play this game – to use others around him, with incredible vision of the entire ice and world class passing. Get it back to him when it makes sense and he can shoot to score.

    The way Drai gets treated – in the shadow of McD by the Oilers, some pundits and the fan base, I’m sure he must wish that he was the center piece on another team.

    I’ve been concerned about Drai ever since the OIlers had their agenda to send him to the AHL in his second year. He showed up in great shape, determined to crack the roster, was one of the best forwards in pre-season despite being placed in rotations designed to fit the pre-determined AHL agenda and it really pissed him off.

    I wouldn’t piss off either of the future two best c men in the world. It really is a shame that we’re messing around with Nuge in the middle and keeping Drai from quickly asserting himself as a world class – elegant – big man in the middle c man.

    It’s way beyond things like points and comparisons to guys like Eberle for crying out loud.

    • ed from edmonton

      I totally agree that many are under-rating LD, but I think that this due to “once bitten twice shy” by the same people who raved about the RNH deal. I also dream of McD/LD duo being the 2nd coming of what we saw with Gretz and Mess.

      PS wrt his demotion to the AHL. He had a very meh camp nd pre-season, maybe the demotion did piss him off and he needed that motivation.

      • ScottV

        I think you can get away with some short term screwing with Drai, but – that’s already occured.

        Exposing him to Eakins and playing the swarm – in a toxic environment was the first screwing.

        He doesn’t need negative motivation. He responded of his own accord when he showed up to camp in his second year. He came to play and they did everything to put the clampers on it, so – they could play the pre-determined AHL card.

        He responded to the negative motivation – but it ate up some political capital.

        Playing 3rd rotation behind Nuge for quite some time, was another screwing. Anyone – who really knows c men, could tell that wasn’t flying. They didn’t do that to McD – but – Drai – yeah, we can get away with that.

        Anyway – yeah – we could have they second coming of Gretz and Mess – and I think even better. Just dont screw Drai too much more….

  • madjam

    We have not signed Leon as yet , and it has cost us a lot already even if Connor does not have his contract kick into next year . Eberle gone for less than equitable return , and Pouliot bought out costing us more and zero replacement . Hopkins may be caste out next for less than equitable return like Eberle was depending on what Leon signs for . We have several others the next year which could demand quite a raise depending on how they fair this up coming season . The crunch appears to already be here with a contract for Leon . Too bad Chia did not for see Leon having such a great season , and try to sign him up like Connor – a year in advance C’est la vie ?

  • TKB2677

    I want Leon to explode offensively so the Oilers have a 1-2 punch down the middle that is as good or better than the Pens. All I was saying is if you can sign Leon to a longer term deal in the range of 7.5 mill, I do it all day long. As I said, there are existing contracts that have set the market for him. Kuznetsov being the latest at 7.8 mill for an 8 yr deal when he plays the same position, actually played center MORE than Leon and scored a few more points than Leon over the last 2 seasons. So if I am the Oilers, that is what I give him and I don’t see how Leon can possibly expect more than that. The numbers don’t back up he deserves more.

    If the Oilers are able to do that, his contract will be a bargin in a year or 2. If they bridge him, they will have to sign him to probably 10 which would be a disaster. So in my opinion, it would be foolish to bridge him because I believe it will end up costing the Oilers more money in the long run. Kane and Toews make 21 mill combined. If the Oilers can get McDavid and Leon signed long term for at or less than 21 mill combined, that is a HUGE win. If they bridge him, that combined number in a couple of years will be way, way past 21 mill.

    • Rock11

      But if, and it is a massive if, you bridge him for 3 years and save 2-3 million a year on those years and can win a cup during one of those years then is the extra amount on the next contract not worth it. This is the argument. Yes if he is the player we all think and hope he is then it will cost you more long term. Flags fly forever though and if the short term savings win you a championship then you make that trade off every time and suffer the long term consequences with a smile.