Leon Draisaitl’s big contract a fair price for Oilers to pay

Sportsnet's Mark Spector joined Sportsnet Today to discuss the breaking news that the Edmonton Oilers resigned Leon Draisaitl, that the Oilers finally have their Malkin/Crosby type of duo and how the Toronto Maple Leafs could be affected by the deal.

When general managers sign players to these maximum-term deals, with eight years of hockey ahead for both team and player, whether or not we quibble over the money, the conversation boils down to one thing.

Age.

With the Edmonton Oilers signing Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68-million deal, just over two months ahead of his 22nd birthday, we can all discuss whether an annual average value of $8.5 million is commensurate with his impact as a player. What can’t be debated, however, is that the Oilers have bought the eight best seasons of Draisaitl’s career.

If he can manage 77 points as a 21-year-old as he did last season — then dominate the Anaheim Ducks as a second-line centre in the playoffs — then the next eight years of the big German looks like a fair bargain for the Edmonton Oilers.

“I think I have much more upside. I know that,” Draisiatl told 630 CHED’s Oilers Now moments after the deal was announced on Wednesday. “Now [he’s] just trying to be the player that I want to be eventually. A guy the whole organization can depend on, who goes out and tries to play his best every night.”

This isn’t Milan Lucic signing a seven-year deal at age 28, where we rightfully wonder about the back half of the contract. This is first Connor McDavid, and now Draisaitl, locked up throughout their absolute prime years — already the most productive duo in the National Hockey League only last season.

Pittsburgh has won Cups with their $18.2-million duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while Chicago has done the same with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who combine to make $21 million.

Now both Edmonton’s game plan and salary structure will revolve around the $21 million shared by McDavid and Draisaitl when McDavid’s second contract activates on July 1, 2018. The difference is, on that date McDavid will be 21 and Draisiatl 22 — and we repeat, they’ve already had a regular season with more points than any other duo in the NHL.

“These two contracts they’re the biggest pillars of our organization,” Chiarelli told Prime Time Sports, admitting that Draisaitl’s playoff performance changed the equation. “It did, frankly. That playoff style of hockey is a heavy, heavy style. I’ve seen a lot of real good players take two, three, four years before they figure it out. Leon excelled at it. He handled some big bodies, defended against some big bodies, and excelled.”

Ambivalent towards whether he plays the wing or centre, Draisaitl is the new Joe Pavelski for Oilers head coach Todd McLellan: Centre, wing, top line, second line, it doesn’t matter. The fact Draisaitl is so flexible will only make this Oilers team harder to defend over the next decade.

“That’s something that I’ve always wanted to be, a guy who can play any position — other than goalie. I feel comfortable on the left side, the right, whatever it is,” he said. “The real work starts now. I have much more to give, and I can take another few steps in the direction that I want to be. Also, the team is heading in the right direction.

“For me, [signing long-term] was pretty easy,” he added. “I just wanted to be with this group for as long as possible. I really do think we have something special coming up here in Edmonton.”

“He’s a natural centre. Big, strong, good on faceoffs, heavy player,” Chiarelli said. “But based on what he’s done on the wing now, the way he can shoot the puck … you could say he’s almost a natural winger now too.

“Yes, it’s a lot of money, but part of the reason he’s getting it is because he can excel on the wing and in the middle.”

Is this a good deal for the Oilers?

In a word: Sure.

There is little reason to predict a decline in play from Draisaitl, and plenty of signs that would point towards a solid No. 2 forward behind McDavid for years to come. When teams put a blanket on McDavid in the 2017 playoffs, Draisaitl moved to his own line and had 16 points in 13 games.

No other NHL player had 16 points who played 16 games or less in last year’s playoffs, and that was Draisiatl’s first post-season.

When you get stars you have to pay them like stars. Toronto is next in that queue.

Compared to the problems that have plagued the Maple Leafs and Oilers over the past many years, this newest problem is a nice to have, isn’t it?

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