Draisaitl Contract Critics Gone Silent
Leon Draisaitl’s eight-year, $68-million contract with the Edmonton Oilers created a stir when the deal was announced in August 2017. With the Oilers fresh off their first playoff appearance in 11 years, some observers felt $8.5 million per season was too much too soon, even for a player coming off a breakout 77-point performance, including a 16-point effort in the postseason.
That criticism carried over into last season when Draisaitl’s production slipped to 70 points as the Oilers missed the playoffs. More than a few people shared TSN’s Ray Ferraro’s assessment that he was overpaid. Indeed, Draisaitl’s contract was lumped in with Milan Lucic’s ($6 million annual average value) and Kris Russell’s ($4 million per) as examples of bad deals handed out by then-Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli.
Draisaitl had a lot to prove entering 2018-19. Despite yet another disappointing season for the Oilers, he’s among the few bright spots.
Skating alongside superstar center Connor McDavid, the duo has become one of the most potent scoring tandems in the league. As of March 9, Draisaitl (86 points) was sixth among the league’s scoring leaders (McDavid was third with 96) and second in goals with 41.
Draisaitl could become the first Oiler to score 50 goals in a season since Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri in 1986-87. He and McDavid could also become the first Oilers teammates to reach 100 points in a season since Jari Kurri and Jimmy Carson in 1988-89.
Suddenly, no one is saying Draisaitl is overpaid. If anything, his contract will likely become a baseline for several talented youngsters coming off entry-level contracts this summer, such as Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen, Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, and Toronto’s Mitch Marner,
Draisaitl’s critics will likely claim he’d be nothing without McDavid as his center. While having the best player in the league as a linemate certainly doesn’t hurt, Draisaitl has proven many times in his young NHL career that he’s capable of putting up points without being McDavid’s wingman.
It’s a testament to Draisaitl’s goal-scoring ability that he’s meshed so well with the Oilers’ captain. If it was easy, anybody could skate on McDavid’s line and put up 40 goals in a season. Clearly, no one else on the Oilers can.
The Draisaitl we’re seeing today is a maturing player coming into his own as a scoring star. Even with the Oilers struggling elsewhere throughout the lineup and with their playoff chances fading, he and McDavid still give their best in every game to keep those hopes alive.
Draisaitl is also displaying his versatility as a forward, capable of skating at left wing or at center. He’s learned to adjust his game to best fit his role. Considered primarily a playmaker, he’s become an effective sniper alongside McDavid.
At 23, Draisaitl is approaching his prime playing years. If this season is indicative of what to expect over the remaining six years of his contract, that $8.5-million per season will prove to be a bargain for Edmonton.
The Oilers still have plenty of issues to address throughout their roster, some of which remain exacerbated by bad contracts for fading veterans like Lucic and Russell.
Draisaitl’s contract, however, can no longer be lumped in amongst those hampering the Oilers’ efforts to improve their roster. He’s worth every penny.