A long term deal, or a bridge contract? In answering that question for Draisaitl, the Oilers will have a few factors to consider. Throughout this series of posts I will look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of each, concluding with my preference (from the outside looking in) were I in Edmonton's position.
Given his age, we know from the outset this contract will be based on projection. Draisaitl is a young player, steadily improving (hopefully, for both the Oilers and Draisaitl himself). He's not playing at an MVP-level like McDavid
already, nor is he (likely) going to be paid like one. The advantage of a bridge contract, from an evaluation standpoint, is having the time to answer any lingering questions about Draisaitl's ability to carry a line by himself. We can debate the extent to which Draisaitl benefited from playing with McDavid, but I've yet to hear the argument that he didn't benefit. The Oilers are in an unusual situation with five RFA years for Draisaitl; gathering more information wouldn't hurt the Oilers prior to signing a longer term contract. The issue at hand is the cost of acquiring that
information, should the team decline to sign Draisaitl long term this summer. Part of the difficulty in evaluating this situation from the outside looking in is that we are working with incomplete information. Presumably, if Draisaitl were willing to sign Scheifele or Monahan's deal, the contract would already be done. Some speculation puts the number to sign long term around 9M AAV. For argument's sake, let's assume it would actually take 64M over 8 years (8M AAV) to get Draisaitl to sign long term this summer. Forwards in the NHL are largely paid on offensive production. If Draisaitl, at C during even strength behind McDavid, posts solid, but lesser, numbers the next two seasons, it's unlikely the Oilers would have to pay a significant premium (if any) when compared to the current long term cost*; they could potentially even sign him for less long term than it would cost today. If he produces notably more than expected in that role, and Edmonton has to pay him 9M, even 10M, vs. his cost today, maybe that is perfectly fine? Yes, they'd be paying somewhat more than if they'd have signed him long term this summer, but (a) they'd be more sure what Draisaitl is on his own, (b) they'd have gained a cap benefit in the short term (much more detail to follow on the cap benefits in Part 2b) and (c) if they get him signed for 8 years 2 years from now, they would have him under contract until 32, instead of until 30.
One oft-cited comparable is P.K. Subban, who signed a 2 year bridge deal (2.875M AAV) post ELC, followed by an 8 year long term deal with a huge raise (9M AAV). It's easy to quickly glance at the jump between Subban's deals and have some hesitation in bridging Draisaitl, but there are a number of different circumstances that limit the value of the comparison. I would argue that Subban was more "proven" at the time, in terms of being responsible individually for his on-ice success, limiting Montreal's risk had they signed him long term at the outset. Secondly, Subban was rumored to be willing to sign a five year deal worth 5.5M or so at the time of the bridge, a number many felt more than reasonable given Subban's established level of performance. Again, we don't know with certainty the cost of a long term deal, but the numbers floated are notably above his comparable group; very few people would be arguing against an eight year deal for Draisaitl were it carrying a 6.5M cap hit. The other, perhaps largest, issue with the comparison is that while uncertainty exists for Draisaitl over the course of a hypothetical two year bridge, we do know what happened with Subban. He won the Norris trophy in year one, followed by finishing t-6th in scoring amongst D in year two. Even if you expect Draisaitl to perform well, you probably doesn't expect him to have that level of two year performance if he's playing the majority of his time as a 2C behind McDavid on the depth chart.
In terms of player evaluation, more information is clearly better than less. The Oilers have some, but not as much as they'd ideally like, particularly in the lineup spot they presumably have in mind for Draisaitl. Spending two of their five remaining RFA years to evaluate him at that position does not seem to be a terrible idea, given the amount of money at stake. Having said that, we don't know how they plan to use Draisaitl. A two year bridge makes more sense if they plan on playing him at C than if they plan on having him play RW with McDavid, largely due to the projected reduction in offensive output at C vs. RW.
* Long term comparables will be discussed in more detail when we get to Part 3.
Next Up: The Draisaitl Contract: Part 2b - A Bridge Contract and Cap Management