Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Will Less Be More for Ethan Bear?

Contract talks between the Edmonton Oilers and Ethan Bear are ongoing. Both sides want a deal, and one will get done, as they are currently discussing different options. My sense is it will be either a one-, two- or three-year deal. Based off recent signings by restricted free agents with no arbitration rights, Victor Mete and Travis Dermott, a one-year deal for Bear will likely come in the range of $900K to $1.1 million.

This is the only time the Oilers, or any organization, has an advantage in negotiations over a player, because Bear has no arbitration rights. He had a very good year, and considering Dermott accepted his qualifying offer of $874,125, despite playing three NHL seasons, Bear might have no choice but to sign for one year and bet on himself having another solid season.

Dermott and Bear’s stats are quite similar.

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In three seasons Dermott has played 157 games with 9-32-41. He averaged 0.26 points/game and all of them came at even strength.
Bear has played 89 games with 6-19-25 points. He’s averaged 0.28 points/game with 21 of them coming at even strength.

Bear has played more minutes per game, however, averaging 21:18/game to Dermott’s 17:02/game. Minutes played is looked at in arbitration when comparing defenceman, so because Bear played more, I could see him getting a bit higher AAV than Dermott.

From my vantage point, the most interesting part of the negotiations is: Do the Oilers expect Bear to play as much in the next few seasons as he did last year?

Here is how the Oilers regular D-men were deployed last season. (NHL ranks are for D-men with minimum 20 GP.)

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Player GP 5×5 TOI NHL Rank EV TOI NHL Rank ALL TOI NHL Rank
Nurse 71 19:18 2nd 20:22 4th 23:27 23rd
Bear 71 18:25 18th 19:22 19th 21:58 52nd
Klefbom 62 17:54 32nd 19:18 22nd 25:25 5th
Larsson 49 17:23 57th 18:12 68th 19:50 102nd
Russell 55 14:06 179th 14:27 182nd 16:47 164th
Jones 43 13:37 188th 14:00 191st 14:08 211th
Benning 43 12:19 206th 12:35 220th 13:14 224th

Bear played a lot at 5×5 and EV, and much of that was due to Matt Benning only playing 12 minutes. Tyson Barrie was 21st in 5×5 min (18:07) and he was 26th at EV (19:13).

Bear, Barrie and Larsson were 18th, 21st and 57th in 5×5 TOI/game, last year. Barrie is going to play much more than Benning, and because of that Bear will see his 5×5 minutes go down. Barrie is going to take Klefbom’s spot on the first PP unit, while Larsson and Bear will be on the PK.

With Barrie on the team this year, Evan Bouchard coming and Caleb Jones and Philip Broberg able to play their off-sides, the Oilers right-side defence will be deeper moving forward than it was this past year. It is valid to question if Bear’s TOI will be close to 22 minutes/game again.

Playing fewer minutes doesn’t mean he has regressed, just that the competition around him has improved.

How will Dave Tippett deploy his blue line this year?

Bear had the most offensive zone starts among all Oilers blueliners, and I have to think that will drop with the arrival of Barrie. Last year Bear’s Ozone starts/60 was 9.03, while Larsson’s was 7.18 and Benning’s was 5.43. Benning had 7.47 Dzone starts/60 compared to Bear’s 7.11 and Larsson’s 9.36. I expect Larsson to lead among right D again in D-zone starts, but with Barrie coming on board Bear will lose some shifts that started in the offensive zone.

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The two big questions I have are:

1. Will Tippett keep Bear paired with Nurse all season, or will he switch the pairings as the season progresses?
2. Will the Oilers want to pay Bear on a three-year deal based on his TOI this past season, when it is very plausible he will play fewer minutes due the acquisition of Barrie?

What would a three-year contract look like?

Oct 18, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Ethan Bear (74) celebrates his second period goal against the Detroit Red Wings at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think we can compare signings from previous years, because the NHL is suddenly looking at a flat cap for the next few seasons. But here are some recently signed contracts and you can see all the details at PuckPedia. Their SCF% (Scoring Chance For), FF% (Fenwick For) and SF% (Shots For) via Naturalstattrick.

Vladislav Gavrikov: Three years with $2.8m AAV. All three years are RFA years.
He played 19:00/game, 17:26/game at EV and 16:43 at 5×5. In the playoffs he played more.
He produced 5-13-18, all at even strength, in 69 games. His 5×5 GF-GA was 45-44 with a 51.2 SCF%, 50.98FF% and 52.07 SF%.

MacKenzie Weegar: Three year at $3.25m AAV. Final two years were UFA years.
He played 20:07/game, 18:07/game at EV and 17:17/game at 5×5.
He produced 7-11-18, all at even strength in 45 games. His 5×5 GF-GA was 41-36, with a 53.72SCF%, 54.32FF% and a 54.52SF%.

Bear played 21:58/game, 19:22 at EV and 18:25 at 5×5.
He produced 5-16-21, 19 points at EV in 71 games. His GF-GA was 64-70 with a 50.61SCF%, 48.62FF% and a 49SF%.

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Bear and Gavrikov each have only played one NHL season, and are likely very close in comparison, while Weegar finished his third season. He looked really good in his 45 games.

I think if Bear signs for one year he likely lands a deal around $1m AAV. A three-year deal could be $2.8m-$3.3m and a two-year deal might come in around $2m.

I find his contract situation very intriguing, because of the flat cap, but also due to how the Oilers will deploy him in the coming years. With a better overall right side, Bear will likely play fewer minutes, but he might become more effective due experience and being more rested during games. He isn’t a big body like Nurse or Klefbom, and playing 22+ minutes can be more taxing on smaller players.

What deal do you think Bear signs?

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