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WWYDW: What will Evan Bouchard’s next contract look like?
By Cam Lewis11 months ago
Evan Bouchard has a big opportunity in front of him.
The Oilers sent Tyson Barrie to the Nashville Predators as part of the return for Mattias Eklhom and now Bouchard is the quarterback on Edmonton’s top power-play unit.
General manager Ken Holland’s faith in Bouchard being able to handle a larger role ultimately made Barrie expendable. Will Holland also have enough faith in Bouchard to ink him to a long-term contract this summer when his entry-level contract comes to an end?
Let’s go through Bouchard’s career to date and what to expect for his next contract…
Evan Bouchard’s career thus far…
The Oilers selected Bouchard with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 draft following an incredibly disappointing season and he was immediately viewed as somebody who might be able to help turn things around in Edmonton. General manager Peter Chiarelli was desperate for somebody on the blueline who could move the puck effectively so Bouchard cracked the Oilers out of training camp and made his NHL debut two weeks before his 19th birthday.
Bouchard scored one goal and logged 12:21 per night over a seven-game cup of coffee with the Oilers before getting sent back to the OHL. He had a huge season for the London Knights, represented Canada at the World Juniors, and then joined the Bakersfield Condors in the spring and scored eight points in eight playoff games.
Though Bouchard’s 2018-19 season might have suggested he was ready for an NHL gig, the organization moved towards a more conservative approach with young talent when Ken Holland took over for Chiarelli. Head coach Dave Tippett rolled with Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear, and Matt Benning on the right side of the blueline during the 2019-20 season and Holland acquired veteran puck-moving defender Mike Green ahead of the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, Bouchard put together a strong season playing for Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson with the Condors. He scored 36 goals over 54 games for Bakersfield before the AHL season got shut down because of the pandemic.
The plan for Bouchard for the 2020-21 season if things were normal likely would have been for him to start in the AHL and push for a role on the big league club later in the season. The Oilers added a puck-moving defender in the off-season by signing Tyson Barrie to a one-year deal so there was no pressure to rush Bouchard.
Instead, Bouchard wound up spending the season split between playing in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second league, and watching the Oilers play from the stands. Going down to Bakersfield and coming back up at any point in the season would have required four weeks of isolating so the Oilers opted to keep Bouchard in Edmonton for the entirety of the shortened 2021 season. He played 14 games and scored five points.
The off-season saw some shuffling on Edmonton’s blueline. Adam Larsson left for the Seattle Kraken, Ethan Bear was traded for Warren Foegele, Caleb Jones was dealt for Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci was signed in free agency. Bouchard started off the 2021-22 season on the team’s third pairing but later settled into a role on the second pairing alongside Keith. He broke out with 43 points over 81 games while logging 19:48 per game on average.
Keith retired in the off-season and Woodcroft and Manson had a difficult time finding Bouchard a new partner. He started off the 2022-23 season playing with Ryan Murray and it was a disaster, he couldn’t find much chemistry alongside Brett Kulak, and Bouchard finally settled into playing third-pairing minutes with rookie Philip Broberg.
Bouchard’s role expanded when Holland traded Tyson Barrie to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Mattias Ekholm ahead of the trade deadline. Holland said that he was comfortable moving Barrie because it was time to give Bouchard an opportunity…
“Having Evan Bouchard, he’s 23 years of age, he was an offensive player in junior, and he’s paid his dues, it’s time to give Evan an opportunity. Having Evan and Tyson together gave us the luxury of being able to move one in order to bring in a player we needed.“
In four games since the Oilers acquired Ekholm, Bouchard has three points and the duo has outscored opponents 6-to-2 at even strength. It’s a small sample size, of course, but Bouchard has been playing some of his best hockey of the season with Ekholm on his left.
Contract comparables and what to expect…
Bouchard has an excellent opportunity to play a huge role on the Oilers down the stretch and into the playoffs and, if all goes well, he could line himself up for a major payday.
The three-year, entry-level contract that Bouchard inked with the Oilers a few weeks after they selected him No. 8 overall at the 2018 draft will come to an end following the 2022-23 season and he’ll become a restricted free agent for the first time in his career. Barring a trade for Erik Karlsson or a shocking offer sheet, Bouchard will be back on Edmonton’s blueline next season, but the question is whether he’s on a long-term contract or a bridge deal.
Signing Bouchard to a long-term contract this summer would be ideal for the Oilers because he’s going to be able to command more and more money as he continues to produce at the NHL level. Just recently the Oilers saw the reality of how expensive a post-bridge contract can be. Ken Holland have Darnell Nurse a two-year deal in February of 2020 and he commanded an eight-year, $74 million contract a year and a half later.
That being said, the team might not able to make a long-term contract work this summer because of their salary cap situation. Also, Bouchard himself might not want to lock himself into such a contract at this stage, especially after having a front-row seat to how things panned out for Nurse.
When looking back at defenders selected in the top half of the first round between the 2016, 2017, and 2018 drafts, only three players, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, and Quinn Hughes, signed long-term contracts immediately following their entry-level deal. Mikhail Sergachev and Charlie McAvoy signed three-year bridge contracts before ultimately signing long-term pacts and Rasmus Dahlin and Noah Dobson are currently on three-year bridge deals of their own.
Dobson is probably the best comparable out there for Bouchard. He was selected four spots after Bouchard at the 2018 draft and emerged as a top-four defender in the final season of his entry-level contract with 51 points over 80 games and 21:28 of ice time per game on average. The New York Islanders and Dobson agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal back in August.
What say you, Nation? What do you think Evan Bouchard’s next contract will look like? Should the Oilers sign him long-term? Or would a bridge deal be best for both sides given the current situation?
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