The time for speculation is over. No more speculation about offer sheets. No more speculation about testing the free agent market at the earliest age possible. No more speculation about wanting to play in Toronto, New York, or wherever else. The Oilers now have their dynamic duo locked up at for eight more seasons.
Earlier in July, Connor McDavid was inked to an eight-year extension worth $100 million, which, starting in 2018-19, will give him the largest cap hit in NHL history at $12.5 million. Then, over a month later, the Oilers got restricted free agent Leon Draisaitl signed to an eight-year, $68 million contract. That’ll be $21 million combined starting in 2018-19.
We’ve already discussed McDavid’s record-breaking deal at length. $12.5 million annually seems like a lot for one player, but there’s honestly no way to quantify McDavid’s value to the team. A player can only make 20 per cent of the salary cap’s upper limit, and to be frank, McDavid is worth more than that. The fact he’s going to be here for at least eight more seasons after this one is incredible.
So let’s move along to the fresh news — Draisaitl’s contract.
It was speculated back in June that Draisaitl could command upwards of $9 million on his new contract. Then, after McDavid signed, there were reports that Draisaitl was seeking as much as $10 million. This manifested largely due to the idea that multiple teams with large amounts of cap room and a need for an elite centre could have thrown an offer sheet at the restricted free agent.
Back in December, I wrote on Draisaitl and his post-ELC contract. When looking at contracts of similar players like Sean Monahan, Alex Barkov, and Nathan MacKinnon, all of whom were high draft choices with similar levels of production at the time, it appeared Draisaitl was set for a deal in the ballpark of $6-6.5 million annually.
When it was all said and done, the Oilers invested $68 million over eight years in Draisaitl, which will give him the fifth-highest cap hit among centres next season. That’s tied with Steven Stamkos, and behind only Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby.
It’s a hefty chunk of cash, particularly because Draisaitl had five more years left of team control before he was going to be able to hit unrestricted free agency. In comparison, Ryan Johansen, who had one more year left of control, was signed in July to an eight-year, $64 million deal, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had two more years left of control, was given an eight-year, $62.4 million deal.
But after an incredible season, one that saw him finish eighth in the NHL in scoring with 77 points, capped off by a dominant performance in the playoffs in which he was pretty clearly the team’s best player, the demands rose.
It’s been pointed out that a lot of Draisaitl’s production has come when somebody else was the driving force. Back in his breakout sophomore season, it was when he was Taylor Hall’s centre. Last season, it was when he was on McDavid’s wing. Draisaitl’s numbers saw a major boost when with the captain, but it wasn’t like he was some hack while playing his own line. In fact, the Oilers were actually a more successful team in 2016-17 when Draisaitl manned that second line.
Back to the playoffs. This is when I think Draisaitl really established himself as an elite player in the NHL. I mean, obviously his 137 career points and 52.3 Corsi For percentage in 191 career NHL games play a big part in that, but Draisaitl was the team’s most dominant player in their playoff run this spring. While McDavid dealt with Joe Pavelski and Ryan Kesler, posting a good-but-not-great nine points in 13 games, Draisaitl went off for six goals and 10 assists in 13 games, proving very clearly he was more than just a wingman.
I’m not going to say that $8.5 million is some kind of hometown bargain. Because it isn’t. When you consider comparable players signed in the last couple of years and the amount of control Draisaitl had left before he could hit the open market, an $8.5 million cap hit is a lot of money.
But it isn’t unfair, either. Draisaitl will be 22 years old when the 2017-18 season begins. He’s a 6’1″ hulking, power forward centre who can produce at a high level offensively and is defensively responsible. He plays hard, has a great work ethic, and shows up when it matters most. That’s the blueprint of a player that fans, coaches, and general managers dream about having. As corny as it sounds, he’s the Messier to McDavid being Gretzky.
This is a tone-setting contract for the NHL now. When Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle inked their $6 million deals a few years ago, that became the standard post-ELC number. Now, when players like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jack Eichel begin to negotiate their second contracts, the $8.5 million Draisaitl commanded will be the new starting point.
Now, let’s get back to the big picture — Connor and Leon, the dynamic duo.
As I mentioned earlier, the Oilers have their two star players signed for eight more seasons. Starting in 2018-19 when McDavid’s extension kicks in, the duo will cost the Oilers $21 million against the cap.
That’s the exact same as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who each make $10.5 million annually. It’s more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who make $18.2 million combined, but it’s at a similar percentage of the salary cap when the deals were signed. A few years from now, it could end up looking like a bargain next to the trio in Toronto.
On one level, it’s going to be difficult to navigate through the salary cap with two players making so much money. No good teams are without cap issues.
The Blackhawks are well aware of this, as they annually need to go through a purge of solid players, constantly reshuffling their lineup and letting go of promising players as they begin to command more money. The Penguins do, too. They had to waive goodbye to multiple cogs from their back-to-back Cup championships this summer.
The key, of course, is to draft well and constantly cycle new, young players on cheap contracts onto the team. If the Oilers are going to crash and burn into cap hell, it isn’t going to be because of McDavid and Draisaitl making $21 million, it’s going to be because of generous contracts handed out to auxiliary players and trying to add too much through the free agent market.
But on another level, it’s great that the Oilers have two players good enough to command that type of money. And, of course, it’s amazing that both have committed to playing for the team for the better part of the next decade, and there’s no need for worry or speculation that one is going to leave in free agency.
The team can now build around the set-in-stone core of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl wearing an Oilers uniform for the next eight seasons. That’s a very, very good thing.