Last night, the Oilers signed Ethan Bear to a two-year deal.
The contract was a little bit more tricky than usual in that Bear was a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. The Oilers could have offered him something much lower for one year, Bear would have little recourse but to sign it if he wanted to continue his NHL career. Holland upped the AAV a bit and got an additional year, so credit to him there. Bear is slated to make 1.5MM in actual dollars this year, while next season he’ll pull $2.5MM. Bundle it together and it’s $2MM AAV. He’ll be a restricted free agent when this deal ends, arbitration eligible.
Naturally, I’m thrilled that Ethan Bear is signed to a deal. I’m happier it’s a two year deal instead of just one. I’d have been happier if it were a three year deal, but I think the best play would be to have gone long (5+) here, and the reason for all of that is quite simple: the next contract is gonna be a big one. Unless Ethan Bear wakes up one morning and either forgets how to put on his skates or decides that he’d rather become a professional tenpins bowler, that next contract could easily start with a 6. Deep down I was kind of hoping that the Oilers would offer Bear something near Klefbom’s last contract, but the Oilers are already up against a wall this year with regards to cap space. So, a two year, $2MM AAV it is.
Bear spent nearly 22 minutes a game on the ice in 2019-20, his most common pairing at even strength was with Darnell Nurse. Bear spent over 85% of his time with Darnell Nurse while the pair was at even strength, and there’s good reason to believe he’ll be expected to do that again this season. With Darnell Nurse in line to becoming the top pair LD in Oscar Klefbom’s absence, there’s a good chance we’ll see even more of Ethan Bear per game in 2021 than we did last season. That’s a good thing, because the ice tilts more towards the opposition than it does when Nurse is away from Bear.
The closest comparable I could find to the Ethan Bear deal is Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak, though Cernak’s deal has a couple of bonuses tossed in for good measure. A month older than Bear, Cernak needed another pro season for arbitration (similar to Bear), he signed a 3 year deal for 2.95MM AAV Cernak averages 3 minutes less ice a night with comparable fancies, though those 3 minutes a night add up quick for Bear.
The Oilers bought one RFA year with Ethan Bear, the Lightning bought two with Cernak. Bear will be 25 on his next deal, Czernak 26, and both will likely be a significant chunk of change in an NHL world that still will quite likely have a flat cap.
Ethan Bear’s new contract is a good price for a deal that’s shorter than I would like, but it’s good knowing that the club has one of their top pieces on defense sewn up through the 2022 season. That’s something we can all agree on.