Draisaitl extension talks a good sign for Oilers’ future

Edmonton Oilers' Leon Draisaitl waits to take a faceoff during the second period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, in Vancouver, on Monday, May 20, 2024. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

PLANTATION, Fla. — Some Stanley Cup thoughts from row 36, on the furthest this scribe has ever travelled to cover one hockey game, and come home again.

Here we go!

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When colleague Frank Seravalli reported this week that Leon Draisaitl’s camp has been in discussion with the Edmonton Oilers about a new deal, of course it was greeted in Edmonton with unilateral glee. It is exactly what every Oilers fan wants to hear, and although my sources haven’t entirely mirrored what the eternally plugged-in Seravalli said, here’s the thing:

It’s not about how fulsome the negotiations have been thus far, or whether we’re talking about an eight- or four-year extension. The simple fact that Draisaitl, 28, wishes to continue as an Oiler on a contract that will — whatever the length — carry him through the remaining prime years of his career, that is all folks in Edmonton need to hear.

Don’t kid yourself: when you’re Edmonton there will always be a bit of a small prairie town complex. All the talk of Draisaitl and Connor McDavid leaving the first chance they get, by and large Edmontonians don’t buy it.

There will, however, be a quiet “Phew…!” when Draisaitl commits. Hey, we’re only 300 km up the highway from Calgary, and the exodus there of players who aren’t the same level of the Oilers stars is very real, and somewhat depressing, locally.

Also, Draisaitl’s decision is believed to be a harbinger of McDavid’s signing as well. He, McDavid and their better halves are so close, it’s hard to see Draisaitl not getting a commitment from No. 97 before locking in with the Oilers.

So, I’ll stay with the prediction I’ve had since September: We believe Draisaitl signs a four-year deal, leaving room for one more contract at age 32 — when the cap soars even higher. And he should be the highest paid player in the NHL for a year — until McDavid signs.

This is the only market where the two can play together — no contending team could afford their combined cap hit — and after making it this far, you’d really have to stretch your imagination to come up with a team that gives Draisaitl a better place to win, and one that can also afford him.

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The Oilers romping through Game 4 was not something anyone predicted. But it was one of those games where I thought walking into the rink, there’s no chance the Panthers could match Edmonton’s emotion or desperation.

The ‘want’ to sweep pales in comparison to the absolute hatred a hockey player holds towards a career of hearing how they were swept in a Stanley Cup Final. It might be better to have not even gotten there at all, honestly, then to get there get smoked out in four straight games.

In Game 5, however, the playing field is level.

For the second game, the Panthers will have their parents, wives and children in attendance — because who would miss the game that your family member won the Cup? The Panthers rightfully dragged them up to Edmonton, and likely didn’t love the game they laid down in front of their loved ones.

They’ll play two hundred percent better at home Tuesday.

And of course, the Oilers have that built-in motivator of being one game from extinction. There is no stronger, more visceral driver in a hockey player’s heart than this.

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Does Edmonton truly believe they can do something that hasn’t been done since the 1942 Maple Leafs, with names like Dave “Sweeney” Shriner, Wilf “Bucko” McDonald, Rudolph “Bingo” Kampman and Walter “Turk” Broda? Those Leafs came all the way back from a 3-0 deficit to win a Cup.

Call ‘em crazy, but I think these Oilers have a very deep belief. Because belief is based on experience, and this team has enough examples this season to fall back on, when they were asked to dig deep and they delivered.

They can do this.

I’m not telling you they will. But I will say, if it happens, it would sure be something to see.

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The biggest advantage a team has in going this far deep in the playoffs is, you get to see your players perform at the peak of this sport’s intensity and skill levels. There is no harder place to play than a Stanley Cup Final, no series with more pressure, a better opponent, where a player’s mental acuity comes under a larger microscope.

Only the teams truly know whether or not their players are hurt or healthy, something the rest of us can only guess at. (And don’t believe what everyone says about injuries as soon as the series ends. It’s not always true – in either direction.)

For Philip Broberg to step into Rd. 3 and play the way he has the rest of the way makes it indelibly clear that he will be in Edmonton’s Top 6 next season. So will big righty Vincent Desharnais, unless someone makes him a UFA offer that exceeds his value.

So someone has to go,. And the way Brett Kulak’s game gets a little bit better every round, it sure shouldn’t be him.

Stuart Skinner is the real thing. In our eyes he is a Top 10 goalie in the NHL, and if you want to argue that, fine. But here’s what we won’t argue: Skinner is more than enough goalie to win Cups with.

Ryan McLeod is a centre by need, a winger by choice. He’s better on the wing, IMO, and if he doesn’t figure out to use that speed to engage more physically, he won’t see a raise on his next contract. Not in Edmonton, anyhow.

There are lots of fast guys in today’s game. Right now, he’s simply one of those.

Dylan Holloway can look the same at times, but he’s younger and has lots of growth ahead. But for a team that gets out-hit routinely, young burners like Holloway and  McLeod can’t pass up hits on the opponents’ top defencemen the way they have this spring. That much is clear, and ultimately, not that hard to change.

Then there’s Connor Brown and Mattias Janmark.

If they’re willing to return at $1 million each, has this Final not shown us their worth?

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