The first thing about Connor McDavid’s contract extension that becomes clear is this: If you thought he was going to leave some money on the table for Edmonton Oilers management to spend on the rest of the team, that really didn’t happen.
The maximum he could have earned is an annual average value (AAV) of $15 million. And as one agent pointed out, if they ended up at an AAV of $13.25 million, you can bet the original ask was somewhere north of that.
The hope from Oilers fans — and likely their front office — was that McDavid would set an example of foregoing some salary so that the team around him could be that much more Stanley Cup worthy. General manager Peter Chiarelli would then take that esprit de corps and present it to Leon Draisaitl, who would take a tad less in accordance with the example set by McDavid.
Years ago in Boston, they called that the Ray Bourque ceiling. In Vancouver, the Sedins’ humble approach to being compensated set the bar that much lower in Vancouver. Privately however, many of their teammates disliked the practice. And inside the walls of the NHL Players’ Association, taking less salary for any reason is frowned upon, much less when one bad deal (in their eyes) begets the next.
Now it’s time to sign Draisaitl, and why wouldn’t he shoot for the moon as well?
We can all see why Chiarelli would sign McDavid to the maximum eight-year term. The Oilers now have the soon-to-be (if he’s not already) best player in the game for the entirety of his prime. They have cost certainty, and also a degree of revenue certainty, when you consider what it’s worth to a team to have McDavid sporting their jersey on and off the ice for most of the next decade.
But does Draisaitl meet the same economic benefits to the team? Do the same parameters apply to the second-line centre as they do to the first?
Or as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman lays out in his latest story, is McDavid-Draisaitl to be looked at as an entry for cap purposes, the way we look at Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago, or Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh?
The fact McDavid signed for maximum term is not necessarily the fault of the McDavid camp, with agent Jeff Jackson from the Orr Hockey Group representing McDavid on what would be the highest AAV deal in hockey history. In fact, it’s the one place where the McDavid camp was team-friendly.
Conventional wisdom on the part of player agents had McDavid signing a shorter deal, perhaps only five years for, say, at around 15 per cent of the Oilers cap. Then, when the cap has risen for five years, do a fresh deal at a slightly larger percentage.
But the Oilers, for obvious reasons, wanted to sign McDavid for the maximum eight-year term. The downside for the team is the AAV goes up with that extended term, but the upside for the team is, as the salary cap rises, McDavid’s percentage of the Oilers overall payroll decreases.
“So what if the cap goes up?” an agent said Wednesday. “He’s got $106 million. He’s got the good deal, and you don’t worry about the rest. In fact, he wants the cap to go up so they can pay other guys.”
So, if Chiarelli considers it a good business practice to go maximum term and pay more in the short term for his best player, does he think the same way when it comes to his second best player?
Neither Chiarelli nor Draisaitl’s agent Mike Liut would comment, but industry comparables continually pair Draisaitl’s second contract — which will go into effect this coming season — alongside the one signed by St. Louis sniper Vladimir Tarasenko when he inked his second deal.
Two seasons ago Tarasenko signed an eight-year, $60-million deal for an AAV of $7.5 million. Tarasenko was coming off of a 37-goal, 73-point season, and would turn 24 years old early in the first season of that deal.
Draisaitl celebrates his 22nd birthday on Oct. 27 — so he is two years younger than Tarasenko — and had 77 points in the final year of his entry-level contract. He also had an impressive 16 points in 13 playoff games last spring for Edmonton.
Tarasenko’s AAV ate up 10.5 per cent of the cap maximum when it began in 2015-16. For 2017-18 it will still represent 10 per cent of the $75-million ceiling.
Using the 10.5 per cent template, Draisiatl’s AAV this coming season would be $7.875 million. That, however, is much lower than what is believed Liut and Draisaitl are asking for.
In fairness, Draisaitl is a centre while Tarasenko is a winger. And although Tarasenko is one of the league’s elite goal-scorers, Draisaitl is a play-making centre that makes his linemates better. Also worthy of consideration, in the season in which Draisaitl turned 21 he had 77 points, while in Tarasenko’s equivalent year he played 38 games and had just 19 points.
Of course, Draisaitl spent most of that season on McDavid’s right wing, a luxury Tarasenko never had.
In the end, Chiarelli, Liut, Draisaitl and their advisors truly know what the numbers are, so all we can do is guess.
We’ll predict an eight-year term for Draisiatl with an AAV in the area of $9.2 million. It’s rich, but having McDavid and Draisaitl locked up throughout their prime is going to be expensive.