Why Leon Draisaitl Can (And Should) Be Let Go

After a decent 2015-16 campaign where he scored 19-32-51 in 72 games, Leon Draisaitl had something of a coming out season in 2016-17. He played much of his time on a line with Connor McDavid, amassing 29-48-77 in 82 games. Draisaitl’s upside was seen in flashes in 15-16, but he became much more of a known quantity this past season.

Because he was in the last year of his ELC, talk surrounding his possible extension followed Draisaitl from game to game, and through the playoffs. In his first appearance in the NHL playoffs (he was a Memorial Cup tournament finalist with the Kelowna Rockets), Drai was the Oilers leading scorer, tallying 6-10-16 in 13 playoff games. He became the first Oiler in about a million years to score 5 points in a single playoff game, and the second-youngest in franchise history to score a playoff hat trick.

Draisaitl’s playoff performance aside, he had a really good year. Playing with Connor McDavid certainly helped, as a healthy McDavid (who played all 82 games) was a significant difference-maker for the team.

Because he had 2 fairly good seasons (though it’s reasonable to speculate that he’ll probably regress to the mean somewhere in between those two performances), any contract negotiations for Draisaitl are going to rely heavily on a couple factors. First, he’s the second highest scorer on the team over those 2 seasons (while only missing 10 games) and was a significant contributor in the playoffs. Outside of McDavid, he’s definitely the Oilers best forward and should be compensated as such.

The problem with this is simple: The Oilers have $52.28m locked up in 12 guys for 2018-19 (plus the $1.33m they’re paying Benoit Pouliot to take bad penalties in Buffalo), and that doesn’t include whatever extensions will be signed with Slepyshev, Caggiula, Benning, Nurse, Brossoit and the newly-acquired Ryan Strome. The Oilers will most likely not let Pat Maroon go to free agency, unless he falls off a cliff this season, so there will be another significant increase in cap hit. (It’s obviously not certain that the Oilers will re-sign him, and perhaps the raises for the 2018 RFA class won’t cripple the team, but there is some cause for concern).  An important thing to remember is that Andrej Sekera is hurt, and any longer-term absence than what’s already been projected could end up costing the team especially if they are in the playoff picture in the new year.

The Kris Russell deal ($4m x 4y) is not really an issue in 2017-18, but once the rest of the roster is extended (or shored up, or whatever), that cap hit is going to feel a lot bigger than it actually is. Without having any wiggle room on the blue line (and still needing to add someone unless Mark Fayne somehow falls back into favour with the coaching staff), Russell’s cap hit will cause problems, especially if the Oilers agree to something in the neighbourhood of $8m a year. (For the math-impaired, that would put the Oilers on the hook for $60.28m for 13 skaters. That’s a lot.)

Another thing that may or may not be an actual consideration is that the team may not want Draisaitl to be its highest paid player in 2017-18. At only 21 years old, he’s got a lot to prove, and with all the hullaballoo made over the signing of the aforementioned Russell (along with Milan Lucic’s $6m AAV boat anchor contract), it’s entirely possible that the organization just isn’t willing to make Draisaitl its highest paid player, even if only for a year.

Draisaitl’s camp is reportedly asking somewhere north of $8.5m AAV over a long term (8 years is the best guess), and that feels like an awful lot of money for a guy who hasn’t yet proven that he can drive his own line long-term. In order to make that work, sacrifices will need to be made and it’s not certain that losing someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (or even Patrick Maroon) won’t hurt the team down the road.

So what’s a team with a little bit of upcoming cap trouble to do?

Hope that someone offer sheets Draisaitl for a lot of money, and let go.

Goodbye Drai…..?

Because of the NHL’s RFA Compensation rules, the Oilers would probably come out on top if a team with tons of cap space and the picks for compensation like, say, New Jersey, offered Leon Draisaitl something like $56m over 7 years.

How, you ask? First, the rules:

  • Teams have to use their own draft picks for the compensation.
  • Teams have a week to match the offer or take the draft pick(s).
  • AAV – dividing the total compensation offered by the lesser of the length of the contract or by 5. Ie. a seven-year, $49 million deal has an AAV of $9.8 million ($49 divide by 5) but a salary cap hit of $7 million … A five-year, $35 million deal would have a $7 million AAV and cap hit … A big difference in draft pick compensation.

So an OS of $56m/7 years works out for Drai as he’d be two years into free agency with that deal. The cap hit on the offer sheet would actually be $11.2m (over 5 years, instead of over the term of the deal), so the Oilers would end up with 4 first round picks that would presumably be higher picks than their own.

Allowing a team like the Devils to sign Draisaitl to an offer sheet would hurt the Oilers in the short term (2017-18), but would probably be better in the long term, as it would clear up a bunch of cap space to re-sign guys like Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, and even Ryan Strome.

While most teams (and fans) tend to overvalue first-round draft picks, they can be useful to package in trades so you can acquire someone like Griffin Reinhart. It’s also good to have lots of first round picks so that when you inevitably trade some of them away one-for-one, you’ll still have something to show for that draft year. If need be, Peter Chiarelli could call Ray Shero and say “Hey Ray, remember when I did you that solid in 2016? Can you help me out?”

Or you keep the picks and use them to make your team better immediately. Besides, it’s fair to assume that Kaiden Guhle, Kaeden Korczak, Kaeden Taphorn and a Kaden to be named later will all look good in Oilers silks.

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