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Offseason Worklist: Ryan Strome’s Contract

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Is he worth the Qualifying Offer?

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s here, It’s finally here. The weather is nice, the sun is shining, this is exactly how it’s supposed to be at this time of year. When that merciless and never-ending winter started, I was really hoping it was going to end before the Oilers shot at a cup disappeard, unfortunately, it happened well after. Both parties are to blame on that one.

Because the Oilers are done, we have plenty of time to assess the Restricted Free-Agent categories well before we need to even think about what’s going on in the Unrestricted Free Agent market. A while back, I did Darnell Nurse and examined what his next contract should look like. In that piece, I used his comparables, his production, and his contract status to come to my conclusion. Today, I look at Ryan Strome.

Ryan Strome is far different than Darnell Nurse. He’s a year older, he’s well established with no reason to expect a huge boost, and he’s a forward. Beyond that, there is a major way that he’s going to have a very different status in his deal: He has a large Qualifying Offer.

Qualifying offers are calculated based on this total salary in the final year of their contract prior to hitting free agency. The team has until July 1st to offer a qualifying offer or else the player is deemed UFA. So with Ryan Strome, it seems as though it’s pretty simple — He made 3 Million last year (Despite only having a 2.5M cap hit), so the Oilers have to offer him three million, or he can walk for nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong, Ryan Strome is a fine player. He’s never going to be worth a Jordan Eberle, he’s a little slower than most like, but he does what should be expected of him, and should continue being that player for the next 4-5 years. I just don’t really think that 3M cap hit is in the best interest of a team with so little cap space.

There was a good Oilers Nation piece that went through a lot of the other options when it comes to Ryan Stome. I definitely agree with the assertion there, that 3M is a little steep for a 35ish point player, but I do think getting him to go for term over that cash would be a little hard to do given that this would have to be done prior to July 1st. It was a really good piece, and it covered the comparables quite well, but I felt it was missing what may be the best way to ensure team control while negotiating a more reasonable cap hit.

Team Elected Salary Arbitration. Team Elected Arbitration works in a similar was to player elected arbitration in that, it is elected by the side that doesn’t want to pay what the other side is offering, but also doesn’t want to cut ties with the other side. Arbitration is never fun for the player, and when it’s team elected, it’s even more insulting. It’s basically like saying “You are not worth your qualifying offer, and haven’t lived up to your contract”. It’s decided in a meeting between the player and the team, each side makes their case with stats and comparables, and then an NHL appointed arbitrator (The NHLPA must approve of this individual), awards the amount. The side who did not elect the arbitration picks whether it’s a one year, or two year deal.

Lots of players file for arbitration every year, although most don’t actually make it to that meeting. Neither side really wants to go through the process because it can be so damaging to the relationship. Teams telling the players why they’re not worth what they’re asking is the kind of thing that can cause trade requests. I think we can all agree, that the last thing this team needs is players demanding to be shipped out.

The real advantage of electing for arbitration, is that it sets a deadline to get a contract done. When a player does it, it takes away all of the risk that he’s going to enter the season still as an RFA. He’ll either have a deal, or he’ll be released as a UFA if the team decides that he’s not worth what the arbitrator has decided. It doesn’t happen often, the last time I can remember a team walking away was the Blackhawks with Antti Niemi. That was also a much different situation because the Sharks first offersheeted Niklas Hjalmarsson so that when the Blackhawks matched, they wouldn’t be able to fit Niemi under the cap and would have to release him. Then the Sharks went in and signed Niemi as a UFA. I’m not sure about their target, but that was very creative of them to scoop up their man without having to make a trade.

Back to Ryan Strome. In his case, he’s just not worth that 3M. It’s all fine and dandy to try and work out a longer term deal to entice him to stay, but there isn’t a lot of reason for him to accept that. Either he doesn’t get the 3M QO and might get similar somewhere else as a UFA, or he does get the QO and happily signs it. The Only way to avoid this is with the Team Elected arbitration. Even under team elected arbitration, the minimum a player can receive is 85% of his initial calculated qualifying offer. In Ryan Strome’s case, that’s 2.55M. Pretty reasonable. If the Oilers elect to go this route, it gives them until the arbitration date to work out a longer deal at a lower cap hit, and ideally avoids actually going through arbitration.

The other advantage to arbitration is that it takes Offer Sheets off the table. If a team or player elects to go to arbitration, no other team can try and sign him prior to the meeting. What this means is that Strome and Edmonton would be mutually exclusive in trying to work out a contract.

This is the approach that I feel the Oilers should take. They obviously don’t want to lose him after giving up what they did to get him, but sunk cost fallacy is a pretty bad excuse to pay a player more than he should be paid. Team elected arbitration solves that problem. It might be extremely petty to risk a relationship with a player over 450k, but when it comes the the Oilers cap situation, it’s a necessary pettiness.

In the end, I’m expecting a 3 year contract between 2.55 and 2.7M per year. I also expect Ryan Strome to continue being Ryan Strome. Although the Oilers pro scouts didn’t seem to clue into that earlier this year, so who knows?