Edmonton Journal

OILERS WILL PAY WHAT IT TAKES TO KEEP MCDAVID

Negotiatio­ns with Draisaitl, however, might take some cap manoeuveri­ng

- JIM MATHESON

With the playoffs a month away, you've got questions about players, management and the makeup of the team, which prompted one Oilers fan, Tes Boonerat, to jokingly wonder “does the team usually get theirs from Sephora, or do they get high-end stuff from a fancy downtown store and management? Thanks, Tes.”

So here we go.

Q: How confident are you that we re-sign at least one of Connor or Leon? (Jason Hoosen). A: About 97 per cent. True, Wayne Gretzky was sold to L.A. by Peter Pocklingto­n (a good but complicate­d owner; clearly not Peter's finest hour) but I just don't see Connor McDavid leaving under the Daryl Katz umbrella.

He's a legacy Oiler like Sidney Crosby is a legacy Penguin.

Katz will make Connor, whose contract ends after the 2025-26 season, the highest paid player in the league, up to the max of 20 per cent AAV on the team salary cap ceiling. That could be close to US$20 million a season as the cap goes up. Next season's cap is reportedly going up to $87.7 million. By 2026, maybe it's closing in on $100 million. Now, maybe McDavid takes a bit of a haircut to help them keep Leon Draisaitl, too, and they'll have Evan Bouchard on a rich new deal as well.

All we know is McDavid is currently vastly underpaid at $12.5 million; he's 33 points from 1,000 and only just turned 27.

Leon's situation, as we all know, is trickier. He only has one year left on his contract after the 2023-24 season before he becomes a UFA, so the clock is really ticking. He's the NHL's best bargain at $8.5 million (a Hart trophy, a scoring title, three 50-goal seasons). Kudos today for GM Peter Chiarelli for getting that contract done.

It's all quiet on the Draisaitl contract front today, nothing is leaking out, but there's two ways he can go if he wants to stay. He can sign a five-year deal like Auston Matthews did in Toronto, not knowing where the cap is going to go, leaving himself room for another contract at 33. Matthews's cap hit is $13.25 million and Leon would want at least that, maybe a tad more.

Or he can go eight years like fellow centre Nate MacKinnon's deal in Colorado. Nate took a hometown discount, at an AAV of $12.6 million, but the Colorado stud signed based on a current cap of $82.5 million. I don't think they'll get Draisaitl for a number under 13 and the Oilers will want to know that pretty soon.

One thing for sure: they can't let Draisaitl get into the 2024-25 season as a UFA. I think Leon sees himself as Malkin to Crosby and those two have been coupled for almost 20 years with the Penguins. He wants to win, here.

But the Oilers will want that commitment, and fairly quickly, because we all know he could get more in free agency somewhere else.

You don't think the Bruins would move heaven and earth to get Draisaitl?

Q: Who's the weakest link on the team? And why is it Ceci? (Jeff Wiens)

A: Every team seems to have one defenceman with a bullseye and that is Cody Ceci with many fans today. It once was Tom Poti here (skated well, not aggressive enough). Same story with Tom Gilbert (lots of points, not physical). Even good soldier Cory Cross was booed unmerciful­ly, and wrongly.

I do believe the Oilers are still a defenceman short, also a top-six forward after the trade deadline. They're a very good team going into the playoffs but not best-inclass and Ceci, while hard-working, has to be better.

He's perfectly fine for his cap hit ($3.25 million) if playing with Darnell Nurse, but really he's better suited as a 5-6 defenceman on this Cup contender than top four. People have looked at Ceci, eyes askance, since he was signed to replace Adam Larsson as a right shot, defensive defenceman. Ceci is closing in on 800 games, and he's only 30. But yeah, he's not Larsson, who is nastier and definitely a shutdown guy.

After they didn't get Chris

Tanev as a right-shot top-4 defenceman, yeah, the Flyers' Sean Walker, another UFA rightshot blueliner, would have helped. Clearly, Colorado went after him and gave up a first-rounder, and he had his first two-goal NHL game against the Oilers 10 days ago. The Oilers had a first-rounder, too, but they decided, maybe early on, the 2024 first-rounder instead should go in a package to get UFAs Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick (for two needed forward) holes from Anaheim.

Right now, the Oilers seem very undecided on where to play Ceci. Back with Nurse, who has been going with Vinny Desharnais for a good run now, or in a third pairing with Brett Kulak. That pairing isn't fine on paper at $6 million total for the team's bean counters. On the ice, they haven't been totally comfortabl­e as a pair but really this

5-6 equates to others on Cup contenders. Winnipeg has Dylan Samberg and Nate Schmidt; Florida, when healthy, has Niko Mikkola and Josh Mahura. The Bruins have Mason Lohrei and Andrew Peeke.

At the draft or later in the summer, there's a strong likelihood, for cap reasons, that either Ceci or Kulak will be traded. Kulak to open up a spot for left-shot ($862,000) Philip Broberg; Ceci because they'll need money for Desharnais's new deal, and maybe trade deadline add Troy Stecher (also UFA) could be re-signed for cheaper.

 ?? CHRIS TANOUYE/ FREESTYLE PHOTOGRAPH­Y/ GETTY IMAGES FILES ?? Connor McDavid, whose contract ends after the 2025-26 season, is seriously underpaid at $12.5 million, Jim Matheson says. The Oilers superstar forward is 33 points from 1,000 and only just turned 27 years old.
CHRIS TANOUYE/ FREESTYLE PHOTOGRAPH­Y/ GETTY IMAGES FILES Connor McDavid, whose contract ends after the 2025-26 season, is seriously underpaid at $12.5 million, Jim Matheson says. The Oilers superstar forward is 33 points from 1,000 and only just turned 27 years old.
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