Oilers aren’t waiting to lock up stars

The Edmonton Oilers, it’s been made abundantly clear, do not believe in the concept of the bridge contract. Not for their kids. Not for their blue-chippers.

The Edmonton Oilers, it’s been made abundantly clear, do not believe in the concept of the bridge contract.

Not for their kids. Not for their blue-chippers.

What’s good for P.K. Subban or Logan Couture or Nazem Kadri, no sir, that’s not good enough for the Mightly Oil, and maybe they’re right.

Maybe their young players are that damn good. And good on ’em for believing in the drafted products of years of losing.

But let’s face it, as soon as Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall signed monster long-term deals just before the lockout, it was more than obvious that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, no matter how problematic his shoulder issues may be, was going to get the same treatment when his turn came, no questions asked.

As will Nail Yakupov, presumably, after this year. If none of Eberle, Hall or RNH had to wait for the expiry of their entry level contracts before getting a massive extension, you can bet Yakupov, as a former No. 1 pick, won’t be interested in the team suddenly taking a hard line with him.

See, with the Oilers, it’s not exactly about rewarding these young players for what they actually do or have done. In fact, it’s interesting that not one of the four won the Calder Trophy in their freshman season, while RNH was the only one who even made the NHL all-rookie team in his freshman year.

But Edmonton now has $18 million of cap space tied up in Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov, presumably, will make it $24 million tied up in four players.

So if none are all-stars or award winners at this point, why the need for the big contracts?

Two things. First, the Oilers and much of the hockey world sees big potential in all of them. Second, it’s important in Edmonton to send out a strong message that these players aren’t going anywhere, that with a new arena on the way the team is making investments in players.

So, instead of getting into a fight like the Habs did with Subban, or holding the line and forcing any of these players to accept bridge contracts like Kadri, the Oilers have basically doubled-down on all these players before they even had to.

We’ll see how many of the three already signed will turn out to be worth the money. Hockey history and common sense says not all three will turn out to be wise investments. Once Ottawa thought it was brilliant masterstroke to tie up Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley with big contracts, and within a short time Heatley wanted out and Spezza had some significant ups and downs.

It could also be that one of Eberle, Hall or RNH will turn out to be a great deal at a $6 million annual cap hit. Or two of them.

But right now, the message Oiler fans want to hear is that these players are all stars-in-waiting, and the franchise is making sure they stay put.

Whether it actually makes sense is rather beside the point. Whether RNH has actually done enough to earn a seven-year, $42 million contract — he hasn’t — isn’t a debate people in Edmonton want to have.

They want to believe all this losing has been for a reason, and that Nugent-Hopkins will be the No. 1 centre that powers this team to a championship.

Damien Cox

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