Opinion

How Much Should Leon Draisaitl Get Paid?

As I’m sure most Oilers fans are already aware, Leon Draisaitl’s entry level contract is set to expire this summer. What does that mean? It means the man is about to get paid. The only thing left in question is how much the Oilers are willing to give him.

Draisaitl is coming off the best regular season of his young career, finishing eighth in league scoring with 77 points, including 29 goals and 48 assists. In his first playoff run, he racked up 16 points in 13 games to lead the Oilers in scoring.

While his production over the last two seasons has put him in some impressive company, many fans and pundits are not convinced that Draisaitl is the type of player that can carry his own line. This argument stems from the fact that much of Leon’s career has been spent on a line with star players, whether it be Taylor Hall or Connor McDavid.

Whether Draisaitl can drive a line or not should have a substantial impact on how much the Oilers are willing to pay him. Let’s investigate.

Can He Drive A Line?

In the 2015-16 season, Draisaitl spent the majority of his time on a line with Taylor Hall. During this time, the duo posted positive results in terms of on-ice goals-for and Corsi-for percentage.

In his limited time away from Hall, Draisaitl’s goals-for/60 and goals-for percentage both took a hit, while his Corsi-for percentage increased. This small sample shouldn’t be enough to form the basis of a conclusion yet, and while Leon’s offence did drop when away from Hall, he still held his own possession wise.

Through 2016-17, we start to see where the concern is stemming from. Draisaitl and McDavid had fantastic results when on the ice together, and McDavid continued to perform admirably away from Draisaitl. However, when we look at Leon’s time away from Connor, we see a significant drop in results over the course of a decent sized sample.

On one hand, McDavid is a fantastic play driver who tilts the ice in the favour of his team, so it makes sense that his teammates would have worse results when away from him. The concerning part is that Draisaitl’s numbers away from McDavid drop to a point where the ice is tilted significantly in the oppositions favour when Leon doesn’t have Connor on the ice.

The jury is still out on this one, folks. Using the good ol’ eye test, everything about Draisaitl points to him being perfectly capable of driving a line. At this point in his career, the numbers don’t exactly agree with my observation. I think it’s important to note that when we look at Draisaitl’s time away from Hall and McDavid over the last two seasons, we’re only dealing with a sample of about 700 5v5 minutes.

Next year may be the year where we see if Draisaitl can truly handle his own line. Until then, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to hand him a blank cheque.

Who Does He Compare To?

Above, we see a list of players that have scored at a similar rate to Draisaitl across their 20 and 21-year-old seasons since the 2004-05 lockout (minimum 100 games played), along with the cap hit of the first contract signed by each player post-ELC.

Given these parameters, we’re looking at a yearly cap hit ranging from 5.75 million to 6.8 million for players that have produced similarly to Draisaitl in their 20 and 21-year-old seasons, with and average cap hit of 6.16 million.

Leon’s production was subject to a substantial uptick in his 21-year-old season, which I’m sure his agent, Mike Liut, will try to use as leverage during negotiations. To account for this, here’s a list of players that scored similarly to Draisaitl strictly in their 21-year-old season, along with their cap hits.

In this case, cap hits range from 4.75 million to 6.6 million a year, with an average cap hit of 5.69 million. I assumed that the average cap hit would be higher when looking just at comparable 21-year-old seasons due to Draisaitl’s increased production from his age 20 to 21 season, which was a bit off on my part. I think this is most likely a result of several bargain contracts throwing off the average, namely the Tavares and Bergeron contracts.

When looking at production, it seems like we can reasonably expect a cap hit of at least 6 million for a player of Draisaitl’s calibre.

What’s The Bottom Line?

If I’m GM Pete Chiarelli, I’m hoping to use the contacts of Sean Monahan (6.375 million x seven), Nathan MacKinnon (6.3 million x seven), and Mark Scheifele (6.125 million x eight) as blueprints for Leon’s new deal.

All three are former high draft picks and talented young centres that have recently signed long-term contracts for reasonable cap hits. However, it seems likely that after Draisaitl’s regular season and playoff performance, his price tag may be closer to 7-plus million a year.

From the most recent edition of Elliotte Friedman’s fantastic column 30 Thoughts, Friedman mentions that Draisaitl shares the same agent as Vladimir Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year deal worth 7.5 million per year following his ELC. Friedman speculates that Draisaitl’s agent, Mike Liut, could be looking for something similar for Leon.

If Leon’s asking price really is north of 7 million a year, I think the Oilers are just going to have to bite the bullet. If they can lock him up for seven or eight years at around 7 million per, I think that’s what should be done in order to secure an important long-term building block for the franchise.

While there may still be some doubts as to whether he can push the river (shoutout to Lowetide) on his own, this is a player that I’m willing to take a leap of faith on. My gut tells me Leon is the perfect number two centre behind McDavid.

Even if Draisaitl can’t score 77 points a year without McDavid, we’re still looking at a fantastic complimentary player for Connor. Not everyone has the talent to post nearly a point per game, even if they do have the cushy gig of riding shotgun with the best player in the world.

The core of this Oilers team for the foreseeable future consists of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Klefbom. Those are the young guys you build around, and you do what you have to to lock them up.

You can find me on Twitter @SullivanJLarson

Data courtesy of CapFriendly, Hockey Reference and Puckalytics.

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