Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Locking up Bear

Ken Holland showed some faith in young defenceman Caleb Jones, inking him to a two-year contract extension worth $850,000 on Tuesday. 

It was a tidy piece of business for Holland as Jones has started to establish that he can be a bottom-pairing defender at the NHL level. If he improves over the next two seasons, that’s great for the Oilers as they have him on a discounted deal. If he just stays where he’s at right now, that’s fine too, as $850k for a sixth- or seventh-defenceman is perfectly fine value.

Another rookie defenceman who’s up for a new contract at the end of the season is Ethan Bear, who was drafted in the later rounds of the 2015 draft along with Jones. Bear has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the Oilers this season. He came into training camp competing for a roster spot, cracked the team, and ran with the extended opportunity that came from Adam Larsson’s injury in the team’s season opener.

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Bear has emerged as a legitimate top-four defenceman this season for the Oilers. He’s become the right-handed, minute-logging, puck-moving defenceman the team has coveted for years. With every good game he plays, Bear is establishing himself as a key part of the Oilers’ blueline moving forward.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday ACTUALLY ON WEDNESDAY EDITION I DON’T KNOW WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS question. What should Bear’s next deal be? Has he shown enough to get a long-term contract at this point?

When thinking about Bear’s next deal, we can look at two familiar cases: Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse. Though the situations are different because Klefbom and Nurse had the added benefit of being first-round picks, they represent the differences between diving into a long-term deal and going the bridge route.

First, we have Klefbom. Klefbom spent two years in Sweden after being drafted and then came over to North America to join the OKC Oil Barons in 2013-14. He also made his NHL debut that year, playing in 17 games with the Oilers. In 2014-15, he played nine games in the AHL, got called up to the NHL, and never turned back. Klefbom played 60 games for the Oilers that season, putting up 20 points while logging 22 minutes per game.

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77 games was enough of a sample size for Peter Chiarelli to ink Klefbom to a seven-year deal worth $4,167,000 annually. The deal has worked out incredibly well for Edmonton as they have their top defenceman locked up at a discount price.

Then we have Nurse. Nurse spent two seasons in the OHL after being drafted, seeing a two-game cup of coffee with the Oilers at the start of the 2014-15 season. Much like Klefbom, Nurse started the 2015-16 season in the AHL, playing nine games before getting the call-up and never turning back. He played with the Oilers between 2015-16 and 2017-18 on his entry-level deal but didn’t get a long-term contract when it expired.

Instead, Chiarelli signed Nurse to a two-year bridge deal worth $3,200,000 annually right before the beginning of the 2018-19 season. That deal will come to an end at the end of this season and Nurse will become a restricted free agent yet again. But now, he’s looking at commanding a deal worth around $6,000,000 annually as he only has two more years of team control before he can hit the open market.

Signing Nurse to a bridge deal, eating up only controllable RFA years in the process, saved the Oilers in the short-term, but it’ll now end up costing them more in the long-term. Meanwhile, the team gambled on Klefbom and now they have him locked up at a discount.

So, what should the Oilers do with Bear? A two-year bridge deal would save them cap space for 2020-21 and 2021-22, but it might end up costing them more in the future. He’s looked great for 48 games this season. It isn’t much of a sample size, but neither was the one Klefbom had before he was signed. If you can get Bear signed to something close to the same six-year deal worth $4,550,000 Rasmus Andersson signed in Calgary, do you do it?

What say you, Nation? Would you lock up Bear long-term now? Or should he be given a short-term bridge deal like his fellow 2015 draft mate, Caleb Jones? Has he done enough to warrant the risk? 

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