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Leon Gets Paid

The Oilers have agreed to an 8-year, $68 Million dollar contract for Leon Draisaitl

Edmonton Oilers v San Jose Sharks - Game Six Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Leon Draisaitl just became the second Oiler to sign a long term mega deal with the Oilers this offseason. The 21 year-old German signed an 8-year, $68 Million contract (AAV of $8.5).

The good news is that if Connor wants to do some ridiculously expensive things, like buy half of a small island country, or whatever, he now has a buddy who can do those things with him.

The bad news is that $8.5 Million is a hell of a cap hit. Only Sidney Crosby, McDavid, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin have ever made more on a second contract (first after ELC).

To be fair to Draisaitl, my throwaway joke from two paragraphs ago isn’t the only good news. It’s good news that Draisaitl has signed, and is ready to be on the team from the start of the season. The Oilers really do need him if they’re going to live up to anywhere near their championship aspirations in 2017-18.

Draisaitl is a phenomenal hockey player. Since being called up from Bakersfield ten games into the 2015-16 season, he had produced the following stat line, including playoffs:

  • 167 Games Played
  • 54 Goals
  • 90 Assists
  • 144 Points

That’s a 71-point pace per 82 games, including more time as a center than as McDavid’s right winger.

Of course Draisaitl is coming off a season where he finished 8th in NHL scoring, while spending significant time on the wing of the league’s scoring leader, McDavid. And therein lies the reason for the skepticism on the part of Oilers fans for this contract.

Draisaitl is now being paid like a superstar, the kind of player who is the reason for the inflated point totals of his linemates. He’s not being paid to be Robin to McDavid’s Batman. Nor is he being paid like a player who centers his own line, and maybe cracks the top-20 in league scoring.

He is being paid like a player who will center his own line and see no drop off from his 2016-17 production on McDavid’s wing. Whether that’s a good bet or not remains to be seen.

That being said, just because $8.5 Million creates the expectation of elite play in 2017-18, doesn’t mean this contract will look like a albatross forever, if Draisaitl falls short of those lofty expectations. When this contract expires in 2026, and Draisaitl is 29, $8.5 Million may be the going rate for a run-of-the-mill top-line player.

Another reason for optimism is that Draisaitl does grade out pretty well by Goals Above Replacement, the fanciest of fancy stats, which take his linemates, among other things into account, while giving him credit for a litany of different things he does to provide value to the Oilers.

In 2016-17, Draisaitl was worth 15.6 Goals Above Replacement (GAR). In 2015-16 his GAR was 12.11 in 72 games, an 82-game pace of 13.8. If Draisaitl had been paid $8.5 Million for those two seasons, his cost per GAR would have been:

  • $615,924.03 per GAR in 2015-16
  • $544,871.80 per GAR in 2016-17

Compare that to Connor McDavid, who led the league in GAR last season with 24.6, and will make $12.5 Million per season once his second contract kicks in. If he had been paid $12.5 Million last season, he would have been paid $508,130.08 per GAR, which is better than Draisaitl’s value from either of his last two years, but not by a ridiculous margin.

Another comparison worth mentioning could be Kris Russell, who was also signed to a new contract by the Oilers this off-season. Russell was worth 3.6 GAR last season in 68 games played, an 82-game pace of 4.34. He will make $4.5 Million next season. If he produces 4.34 GAR for that amount of money, his cost per GAR will be $921,658.99.

That’s not meant to be a knock on Russell either (well, it kind of is), because there are tonnes of players around the league who contribute less for more money. If I were to go through the entire team, I assure you that some Oilers make more than $1 Million per GAR.

The point is that while I could compare Draisaitl’s contract to other, more team-friendly, deals, in an effort to make Chairelli look like an idiot for this one, the fact is that Draisaitl is a very good player. Players of his caliber are very hard to come by, and locking a player like him up for the entirety of his 20s is almost never a bad deal.

Maybe, due to the rising popularity in analytics, we will see a shift in how teams decide to spend their money. Star players will start to earn a higher share of the cap, while players outside the core will start making closer to league minimum. It’s not a ridiculous notion, and if that does become the norm, then this off-season by the Oilers will go down as a major trendsetter.