Future (Restricted) Free Agents: Leon Draisaitl

Cam Lewis
December 09 2016 09:00AM

With a three-point performance last night in Philadelphia, Leon Draisaitl upped his season total to 25 points, good for 15th in the league and second in the Pacific Division behind only teammate Connor McDavid. 

This is an excellent sign for the Oilers, obviously, because Draisaitl is producing like the player the organization hoped he would become when they drafted him with the third overall pick back in 2014. But with Draisaitl’s entry-level contract coming to an end this summer, the team is quickly going to have to determine whether or not he’s done enough to warrant a long-term contract.  

How good is he? 

Since entering the league in 2014, Draisaitl has scored 33 goals and 52 assists in 138 games, good for a 0.62 point-per-game pace. If you take away his rookie season in which he was only on the team because Craig MacTavish couldn’t be bothered to assemble a roster with actual NHL veteran depth, that number jumps to a very impressive 0.75 points-per-game.

This definitely looks like a player you’d want to lock up to a long-term contract. But slow down for a second. Draisaitl has produced at a very impressive clip, but he’s also spent his career playing with some incredibly talented forwards. Is he the one driving the team’s success when he’s on the ice? Or is he just the benefactor? 

Over the past two seasons, when adjusting for score and zone, the Oilers are taking 52.2 per cent of the total shot attempts when Draisaitl is on the ice. Unlike most high-level offensive producers, his +2.7 relative Corsi For percentage is the result of the team generating more shot attempts for and fewer against when he’s on the ice than when he isn’t. 

With other high-level producers, you usually see that positive relative shot attempt figure driven by simply Corsi For, as the team opens up the game and gives a little bit up defensively in order to produce offence. But in Draisaitl’s case, he isn’t giving up too much defensively while still managing to help the team generate shot attempts for, which is impressive for a player his age. 

Also, when breaking down Draisaitl’s with you and without you stats from the past couple seasons, you see a player who drives offence. Draisaitl had a good time playing with Taylor Hall last season, as the pair scored 2.80 goals per hour at even strength and put up a 51.6 Corsi For percentage when playing together. But apart, while Draisaitl isn’t scoring at the same rate, he boasts a 52.5 Corsi For percentage, suggesting he wasn’t just being dragged around by Hall. 

So, overall, we have a player who’s producing at a high level, has the shot attempt numbers to suggest it’s legitimate, and, based on splits with and without linemates, is clearly not just along for the ride. 

How much will he cost? 

If you want to figure out what a long-term contract for the former third overall pick will look like, you don’t have to look very far. Over the past year, three forwards from the 2013 draft were signed to long-term deals right after their entry-level contracts. How convenient! 

Aleksander Barkov, 2013’s second overall pick, was given a six-year extension in January with an annual cap hit of $5.9 million. Over the summer, Nathan MacKinnon and Sean Monahan, the first and sixth overall picks, were given seven-year deals worth $6.3 and $6.35 million respectively. 

How does Draisaitl stack up against those guys? 

  • Barkov scored 52 goals and 67 assists in 191 games (0.62 PPG) in his first three seasons. He also finished sixth in Selke Trophy voting last season. 
  • Monahan scored 80 goals and 79 assists in 237 games (0.67 PPG) in his first three seasons. 
  • MacKinnon scored 59 goals and 94 assists in 218 games (0.70 PPG) in his first three seasons. He also won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season. 

Like I mentioned earlier, Draisaitl has scored  33 goals and 52 assists in the first 135 games (0.62 PPG) of his career. And if you take away the putrid rookie season he had when he was unnecessarily thrown into the deep end with cinderblocks attached to his legs, Draisaitl is scoring at a 0.75 point-per-game pace. So if everything continues as it’s going right now, Draisaitl’s long-term contract would realistically land in a similar ballpark to the aforementioned top of the 2013 draft class. 

But that 37-game rookie season is important in this situation, so we can’t just ignore it. Even though Draisaitl played the nine NHL games necessary to cost the Oilers one year off of his entry-level deal, he didn’t reach the 40-game threshold for it to count as an accrued professional season. That means, unlike Barkov, Monahan, and MacKinnon who jumped in and stuck immediately, Draisaitl still has five more years of control after this one before he can hit unrestricted free agency. 

With the other three comparables, their teams were only eating through four years of control, whereas the Oilers have five more to work with. So while Draisaitl is producing at the same rate as those players who were locked up to similar long-term deals immediately after their entry-level contracts came to an end, he has slightly less leverage. 

It’s difficult to find a contract comparable for a player in Draisaitl’s exact situation. Teams don’t usually allow a player to stay in the NHL beyond the nine-game threshold and then send them down before the 40-game one rolls around. So while Draisaitl’s ELC is going to be finished, he’s essentially in the same situation in regards to UFA status as someone who spends one year in junior before after being drafted before breaking into the NHL. 

What should the Oilers do? 

This is where it gets a little bit difficult. 

Virtually every decision Peter Chiarelli and Co. make from here on out has to be done with Connor McDavid in mind. McDavid is producing at the pace everyone dreamed he would when the Oilers drew those magic numbers back a couple years ago, and is eligible for an extension this summer. He still has one more year left on his entry-level deal, but, starting in 2018-19, McDavid is going to be getting paid. 

So what do you do with Draisaitl? Sign him to a bridge contract at a reasonably manageable cap hit? Or do you just bite the bullet and sign the contract now, like the team did with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back in the summer of 2012? 

If he’s given a bridge deal, you’re taking the risk of him breaking out and commanding an even bigger annual salary on a long-term as he nears complete free agency. That’s what happened with P.K. Subban in Montreal. They could have signed him long-term, they didn’t, gave him a two-year bridge deal instead, and he went on to win the Norris Trophy and command a $9 million cap hit on his long-term contract. But on the other side of that, the Sabres gave Cody Hodgson a long-term deal after his entry-level contract expired, and then had to buy him out after two forgettable seasons. Closer to home, you could also argue pretty easily that neither Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins has lived up to those $6 million contracts  

Like I said, every decision has to be made with McDavid in mind. Not very long from now, McDavid is going to command a massive salary (which is why it’s so critical to win while he’s cheap, but that’s another story for another day). With that in mind, you really can’t risk a player like Draisaitl blowing up like Subban did and commanding a massive salary as they move closer to controlling their own destiny in free agency.

Besides, bridge deals aren’t particularly cheap for good players, either. Ryan Johansen’s three-year bridge deal pays him $4 million annually and Nikita Kucherov took one this summer worth $4.767 million annually. Even Tyler Toffoli’s absurdly team-friendly bridge deal cost the Kings $3.25 million annually over two years. 

There’s obviously appeal to the bridge deal because it forces a player not to get complacent in the short-term, it keeps things slightly cheaper than it would with a long-term deal, and it avoids the risk of the premature, underserved contract that ends up haunting the franchise for years. But Draisaitl isn’t the kind of player you want to jerk around with to save a couple million dollars in cap room over the next few seasons. This is a player who’s already producing at a high level, has underlying numbers to indicate he could do even better, and, even at his age, has a respectable all-around game. 

The best course of action for the Oilers here is to capitalize on that extra year of control they have. They should offer Draisaitl a long-term extension this summer, but since they'll only be eating two years of unrestricted free agency on a seven-year deal, they can realistically get him locked up at a lower annual salary than the three comparables from the 2013 draft. While there's a risk involved, based on what we've seen from Draisaitl so far in his career, there's a very fair chance that contract could end up being a bargain. 

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Nation Network utility infielder. Twitter: @cooom, Email: cameron@oilersnation.com
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#51 Harry2
December 09 2016, 11:26PM
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Chiarelli went long term with Klefbom and he'll go long term with Draisaitl. All Oiler fans should be ok with that. Im guessing very close to 6per X 8years.

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#52 toprightcorner
December 09 2016, 11:47PM
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Have to pass out the bridge deals as long as both Nuge and Ebs $4 mill overpays are on the books.

Chia had don bridges before and I can see a 3 year $4 mill bridge and then sign him for $8 mill

Bridges should be automatic, if you do an 8 year at $6 mill then after that you will liklely be paying $8 mill for 3 years or more.

8 years at $6 mill + 3 years at $8 mill equals -11 years $72 mill

3 years at 4 mill = 7 mill for 7 years is 11 years $61 mill.

Thats better cap management and extends the time they can have other higher cap hit players with Drai and McDavid and JP.

Goal is keep others as low as possible for next 3 years before you have to start dumping contracts.

I would so similar with McDavid. Give him 3 years at $6.5 and then give him 8 years at $10. He makes more in endorcements then salary. He is the guy that will give up a few mill in the first couple years for a cup run.

MLB has best system with arb rights after 3 years with controlled increases.

Stroman has ARb and they are estimating $3.5 mill, if he was free agent he would get $12 mill. It allows teams to remain competitive longer and truly utilizing strong drafting.

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#53 toprightcorner
December 09 2016, 11:53PM
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Strottie wrote:

Draisaitl at 6 million per seems like it could cause problems down the line, but it's honestly not all that bad.

With Draisaitl's bonus structure on his ELC, he made about 2.5 million last season and should do so again this year. In reality, he's only getting paid an additional 3.5 for his services. Considering that the board of governors is talking about the cap rising by millions (note: plural) and our near 8 million in cap space, we could afford all three of RNH, Eberle, and Draisaitl for the remainder of McDavid's ELC (Draisaitl getting 6M only adds like 1.5 million to our cap hit if the cap rises).

Given his chemistry with Connor, Draisaitl at 6 million over 7 years (ideally) is going to be a disgusting bargain.

However I'm dead certain that if RNH can't find his game in the back half of this season, he'll be the piece that moves in order to offload a brinks truck on McDavid. Maybe Chiarelli calls up Nashville in the offseason after the expansion draft and inquires about Ellis.

Most of that 8$ mill cap space goes to McDavid. You have Nurse, Davidson and JP coming up soon. MacT set the dumb precedent of $6 mill deals, Chia needs to set the precedent for 3 year bridge deals, then sign 8 year deals and you have 11 more years not just 8.

Draisaitl 3 years $12.5 mill Then do the same for Nurse, Davidson and JP. Bridge contracts keep the core together longer and a bigger window to compete for the cup.

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#54 toprightcorner
December 09 2016, 11:56PM
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Coach My PP wrote:

Oilers need to trade Eberle before starting negotiations with Draisaitl.

If Leon's agent uses Eberle's play and pay as an example-the Oilers will have to pay him around 9-10 a year.

doesn't matter who Eberle plays for, they will use comparisons for the league. Kucherov, Johanssen and Pearson are guys I would look at that took bridge deals.

If your trading a $6 mill guy, it would have to be Nuge, he has more value and you cant pay $6 mill for a 3C. Ebs is always a top 6 winger

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#55 toprightcorner
December 09 2016, 11:56PM
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Coach My PP wrote:

Oilers need to trade Eberle before starting negotiations with Draisaitl.

If Leon's agent uses Eberle's play and pay as an example-the Oilers will have to pay him around 9-10 a year.

doesn't matter who Eberle plays for, they will use comparisons for the league. Kucherov, Johanssen and Pearson are guys I would look at that took bridge deals.

If your trading a $6 mill guy, it would have to be Nuge, he has more value and you cant pay $6 mill for a 3C. Ebs is always a top 6 winger

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#56 toprightcorner
December 10 2016, 12:02AM
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Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean wrote:

Question, not trying to start a fight or anything. What do you guys think is the over/under on Connor resigning long term with the Oilers? and what would that cap hit be? 10mill, 12mill or more. Serious answers only

What I would try to do with McDavid is work out a high paying bridge deal. McD will always make more on endorsements than salary so he has luxury to take less salary and still fill the bank.

McDavid knows if he gets paid $12 mill, he knows he has no chance to have a team around him to win a cup during those 8 years of his prime.

I would offer McDavid $7 a year for 4 years and then give him a $11-$12 deal for 8 years after that.

Katz can give McD a 43 mill Rexall endorsement deal to make up the difference without affecting the cap.

That is best for Connor and the team.

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#57 Max Powers - Team HME Evans
December 10 2016, 09:25PM
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I think it's crazy doing anything but a bridge deal. Worse case scenario you end up having a Crosby/Malkin or a Toews/Kane scenario with two players making huge percentages of the cap. And we've all seen that formula works even if it's tough on the cap, as long as you have a good manager.

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