Although Evan Bouchard still has one more year on his entry-level contract (ELC), it would be smart of Ken Holland to consider locking up his emerging offensive defencemen to a long-term deal sooner rather than later.
Bouchard’s 2021-22 season
Bouchard’s 2021-22 season saw him as a regular player in the Edmonton Oilers lineup for the first time since he was drafted back in 2018. During this time, Bouchard was paired with Duncan Keith and was dependable, playing 81 out of 82 regular season games.
Not only could you count on him to be in the lineup, but you could count on him offensively, putting up an impressive 12 goals, and 31 assists for 43 points. His ability to make a clean breakout pass paired with his remarkable ability to thread his shots through bodies in front of the net are just some of his many talents.
The area of Bouchard’s game that seemed to be lacklustre at times was in his own zone. There were periods throughout the year when he seemed to make poor defensive reads that led to opportunities for the opposing team.
However, this seemed to subside once Jay Woodcroft took over as head coach of the Oilers in February and Bouchard’s play became more consistent, continuing into the playoffs, where he posted nine points in 16 games against the Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames, and Colorado Avalanche. Prior to the playoffs, Bouchard averaged almost 20 minutes a game on the second pairing and was holding his own, finishing the regular season with a plus-minus of 10.
Why Ken Holland should sign Bouchard early
Looking at the 2021–22 season stats, the Oilers are currently getting great value out of their up-and-coming defenceman.
With the continued progression in his development and the likelihood of more power play time in the 2022–23 season, Bouchard’s offensive numbers could surpass last year’s. This is nothing but good news for both him and the Oilers.
However, with a stronger season comes increased value, and a contract extension could be much more expensive than it would be if Holland signed him closer to the start of the 2022–23 season.
Bouchard is still two years away from being granted arbitration rights, which means Holland could sign him to a short-term bridge deal that would save the team money now.
The issue with this is that we could see a similar situation to the massive $9.25M average annual value deal Darnell Nurse signed because of the two bridge deals he signed in 2018 and 2020. This is why it does make sense to offer Bouchard a longer-term deal now before his value is high and have the team enjoy the cap savings when signing players like Xavier Bourgault, Reid Schaefer, and Philip Broberg in the following years.
Making the money work
Looking at the books, it won’t be as hard to sign Bouchard as you might think.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Oilers are projected to have around $13.7 million in cap room next year. They will be able to make more room by trading Tyson Barrie ($4.5M) and Warren Foegele ($2.5M).
I assume Holland will be signing Ryan McLeod before the start of this season which will eat up some of that money. Stuart Skinner and Jesse Puljujarvi will be restricted free agents at the end of this season, so some money would be spent there to retain their talents, but there will still be enough left to get a deal done.
Of course, signing a young and talented offensive defenceman to a longer-term deal involves some risk, but just because they are still developing as players and lack past experience in the NHL shouldn’t stop the team from considering it. Especially when it can lead to millions in cap savings later down the road.
Betting on Bouchard
The league has seen more of its younger stars earn longer contracts. Most recently, this includes the likes of Tage Thompson (7 x $7.14M) of the Buffalo Sabres and Tim Stutzle (8 x $8.35M) of the Ottawa Senators. Whether the Oilers follow suit and put together a contract for Bouchard remains to be known, but Bouchard would be worth the bet.
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