Should the Oilers Sign Key Players Before the New CBA?

Taylor Hall daydreaming about what it will be like to negotiate with the people who gave Nikolai Khabibulin that four-year deal.

With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire this September, players and teams are operating on shifting sand when it comes to getting players under contract. But that hasn't stopped teams from inking young stars to new long-term contracts. First it was the Carolina Hurricanes who signed Jeff Skinner to a six-year deal that will pay him an average of $5.725M per season, and then it was the Montreal Canadiens who signed Max Pacioretty to a six-year deal that will pay him an average of $4.5M per season. Unsurprisingly, the Oilers are thinking about doing the same with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. Is it a good idea?

As always, it depends on price. Tyler Dellow has rightly pointed out that there's more risk in signing Eberle to a big money deal than there is with Hall because Hall's boxcars could easily improve in the last year of his contract, while Eberle's are likely to track backwards a bit. That said, there's clearly a point at which the price makes sense for each guy.

Exactly what that price is will be tricky to figure out in the current climate. The salary cap may drop by as much as 25% as a result of the new CBA, and existing player contracts may or may not drop along with it. If the cap drops, but player salaries don't, that will have an enormous impact on what percentage of the team's cap spent on players with existing contracts. Take Skinner's contract as an example (assuming that there are no other changes in the calculation of the salary cap):

Skinner_medium

In the last scenario (which is admittedly unlikely), Skinner is significantly more expense than he is today.

There may also be a change in how UFA status is calculated and whether or not arbitration is available to restricted free agents. If team-friendly changes are put in place, that would have an enormous impact on the leverage of both players in negotiations. If the Oilers sign Hall and Eberle now, they may be forgoing a lot of incoming leverage. They may also be paying much more for seasons on the assumption that they're paying for UFA years, only to have those season turn into RFA years in a new CBA. Is it reasonable for the Oilers to sign these players for more than four years in their agents insist on treating subsequent years as UFA seasons? I would suggest that it probably isn't. Of course, it's quite possible that the agents will not be so intransigent, and will be willing to compromise, perhaps treating five years as RFA seasons instead of four.

This is also an issue with pending UFA Ladislav Smid. Do you lock him up now assuming that he'll be unrestricted, or do you wait to see whether or not the new CBA gives you a couple of extra RFA seasons. If you're Smid's agent, how much urgency do you have to get him signed now while you've still got some leverage? It's a very interesting situation.

The safe thing to do is wait until you know what the new CBA looks like, and I'd have no problem with Steve Tambellini if that's what he decides to do. But I'd also expect him to be in negotiations with these key players to see if there's a good deal to be had. I probably wouldn't have signed that Skinner contract (especially since Carolina probably doesn't intend to spend to the cap), but that doesn't mean a good deal for Hall, Eberle, or Smid won't be available.

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