So far this season, a couple of players from the Oilers' 2011 draft class have been particularly impressive - Martin Gernat leads both the Edmonton Oil Kings and all WHL defensemen in scoring with fifteen points in twelve games, and Tobias Rieder is up over a point per game with twelve points in nine games to lead the Kitchener Rangers in scoring (and plus minus) - but the only player that the Oilers have signed from the draft class is first overall draft choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. And at least for now, from the team's perspective, things should stay that way.
As many of you no doubt already know, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement will no longer be in force at the end of this season. With a new CBA coming into effect, I think it makes a lot of sense to wait until the new rules are established before signing these players to entry-level contracts. That's because I think that the majority of those involved will be working to get the best deal that they can for themselves, and while current players have a seat at the negotiating table, future players don't.
With a hard salary cap already in place (and I can't imagine the players will have the backbone to attempt to rid themselves of that), negotiations are much simpler. The three major issues affecting the players in terms of compensation are (1) the percentage of hockey-related revenues that they will be entitled to, (2) what counts as hockey-related revenue, and (3) how that money will be distributed among the players. It seems to me that the players will be very willing to sacrifice some of (3) to make gains on points (1) and (2).
For the owners, setting aside lower player costs, it seems to me that (1) funneling talent to larger media markets and (2) maintaining some degree of parity are important goals. As such, the framework for a deal seems obvious:
(1) The players will want to keep their percentage of revenue at its current level, or at least have only a small decrease.
(2) In exchange, the players would be willing to lower the salary floor. This doesn't reduce the amount of money that the players as a whole get, but does shift the burden for payment onto the richer teams, which will hopefully result in less debt for the struggling franchises and fewer sales under duress. That should help to prop up the sale price of franchises, which is a long-term win for all of the owners.
(3) The players would be okay with that so long as the age of unrestricted free agency remains about the same in order to let the best "prime" players move to the bigger markets (and bigger money). This is good for the rich teams, and good for the players.
(4) But in order to maintain parity, someone needs to draw the short straw in this distribution. Those would be future players. This can be done by making entry-level contracts longer. A simple tweak might see a similar three-year entry-level structure in place plus four consecutive one-year team options at the previous year's salary plus 10%. That would help the poorer teams to stay competitive on a much lower budget, and wouldn't have much impact on existing players (you could even exempt them, and phase out restricted free agency.
Now, obviously this is just me spit-balling, but I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this come to fruition. If it does, teams are obviously better off to wait before signing their 2011 draftees because they might be able to get much better terms a year from now. Agents, on the other hand, should be trying to get their clients new contracts as soon as possible.