What We Learned: Oilers take huge gamble on Oscar Klefbom deal

What We Learned: Oilers take huge gamble on Oscar Klefbom deal

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it)

There is effectively no basis by which we can judge the Oscar Klefbom contract for the Edmonton Oilers.

No one as young as his 22 years — and he only turned 22 at the end of July — has ever signed a contract this long in the salary cap era, and probably longer than that.

The thing you would have to say about the deal, first, is that it's a gamble on both sides. Seven years is a long time to lock up a player, and the $4.167 million cap hit is nothing to sneeze at if Klefbom ends up being something less than what that price is worth. The Oilers must therefore be pretty confident that this is a judicious deal that, in the end, is probably going to save them money. This contract, by the way, doesn't kick in until 2016-17.

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On the other side, though, Klefbom might find a year or three from now that a $4.167 million AAV isn't as much as he's actually worth at 24 or 25, let alone 29. One supposes that he's simply betting the total value of the deal — a little more than $29 million — is about or perhaps a little more than what he'd be worth over the next seven years anyway.

More important for Klefbom, if “winning” is roughly as important to him as “making millions of dollars,” is that he locked himself into an Edmonton team that's probably going to get a lot better in the next few years, and at a low enough price point that if money gets tight he probably won't be one of those Chicago-esque casualties who ends up getting traded to Arizona for a conditional pick and cap space halfway through the deal.

Likewise, Edmonton gets what it clearly feels is a good young defenseman at a manageable price point for the next seven seasons, taking them up through Connor McDavid's age-25 season. And let's be honest: That's the measure by which we should be evaluating all Oilers-related transactions until such time as McDavid leaves the organization (which would be a horror show) or retires. By 25, McDavid will have been in the league seven years, and would only that summer become an unrestricted free agent, so basically Klefbom is all but guaranteed to play with him for the next seven years. That's gotta help.

But the question for the Oilers, though, is whether Klefbom is actually worth that money they've committed, and will continue to be, and right now there has to be serious concern as to whether that's the case.

For one thing, you have to look at what he's done, but we don't have a lot of information about him as a player at the NHL level just yet. He has just 77 games of NHL experience over the last two seasons, and only the 60 he played this past season are likely to be the reasonable ones to evaluate; his usage in the first 17, when he was 20 years old, was so limited as to be obfuscating to the overall point here.

Dallas Eakins and then Todd Nelson, perhaps reasonably, didn't seem too interested in giving him difficult assignments (he was, after all, only 21) and instead threw guys like Jeff Petry, Mark Fayne and Andrew Ference to the wolves. Klefbom and Justin Schultz had the easier go of things and, to their credit, outperformed their fellow Edmonton blue liners in a number of categories. One area where Klefbom was deficient, however, was in generating offense, as he posted just 0.11 goals per 60 at 5-on-5 (tied with Fayne for last among Edmonton's five defenders with at least 1,000 minutes), and only four primary assists at 5-on-5 all season despite the easier deployment, though the latter number was second on the team behind Schultz's seven.

Other than that, Klefbom posted positive relative numbers in terms of CF%, FF%, SF%, and both overall and high-quality scoring chances. Maybe you say it shouldn't be that hard to do that, given how he was used, and also that the Oilers were rotten in all these regards for the majority of the season, but still. He also was only marginally deficient in terms of relative goal-scoring (minus-0.14), but his on-ice save percentage was .882, which is something over which he really doesn't have that much control. Of the 129 defensemen league-wide to play at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on5 last season, that number was the worst by nearly 10 points (second-worst Thomas Hickey was looking at .8918 to Klefbom's .8222) He frankly should have been a lot worse off given that abysmal number.

So it's a reasonable bet, at least, that Klefbom can handle tougher assignments as a 22-year-old, and he's likely to get them from Todd McLellan, not only given this new deal but also given that you can't use Andrew Ference as the Oilers did last year and expect to be successful.

If you use War on Ice's Similarity Score feature, you get some good-looking comparables for Klefbom given his age. Andrej Sekera at 22, Erik Johnson at 21, Dmitry Kulikov at 19, Matt Niskanen at 21, etc. None of these guys are superstars but they're all defensemen who seem to be worth this kind of investment.

But at the same time, given the way the market for young defensemen has shifted in the last two years or so, I don't know if you can make that argument. The value of a $4-ish million young defenseman in this league is very different from what it feels like it should be, but you have to go on reality and not how things “ought” to be here.

This is a list of early- and mid-20s defensemen with contracts in the $4-5 million range, along with the year those contracts began, and their value in today's cap dollars.

NHL
NHL

I'm not sure you can reasonably put Klefbom in a group with even the four guys on the lower end of these cap hits (Vlasic, Brodin, Larsson, and Muzzin). At least not yet. Maybe by the time this coming season is over, and his contract is actually about to begin, you'll be able to make that argument. That might even feel likely. But it's not certain yet.

Again, this is Edmonton hedging its bets, saying they'd rather lock Klefbom in at this price point for basically the entirety of McDavid's RFA years, than gamble that he deserves a bigger raise even next summer. And for that reason the dollar value is judicious. The term? There's more reason to be dubious, but again, you'd rather err on the side of savings.

These Oilers aren't the poorly-run garbage fire of even a year ago, and you can bet a lot of hockey and statistical analysis went into making this decision. Still, it's a big enough bet that they either come out looking like geniuses or fools, with very little middle ground.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks' depth additions should be terrifying to the rest of the league at this point. Well, not so much Kevin Bieksa. But everyone else? Yeah.

Arizona Coyotes: Um, optimism for this season? The one coming up? Really?

Boston Bruins: The Bruins say they have a new system in place to generate more offense. Know what generates offense? Good defensemen. Know what the Bruins have like three of? Good defensemen.

Buffalo Sabres: Robin Lehner is the No. 1 goalie in Buffalo. Sorry. Sorry.

Calgary Flames: Turns out this Dougie Hamilton kid is pretty good. They should play him with Giordano, and Brodie with Wideman. They won't do it but they should.

Carolina Hurricanes: Wait, people expected the Hurricanes to make the playoffs last year? Come on.

Chicago: This is a very telling headline. What a garbage organization.

Colorado Avalanche: If the team is looking food after the first day of training camp, despite the fact that their roster isn't very good, there's no reason not to be excited about them.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are still on the lookout for blue line help via trade. Remember when they could have signed David Schlemko or Cody Franson for basically nothing? No me neither.

Dallas Stars: The Stars might actually have the best 3-on-3 group in the league. Especially if they go no-defense. Which they should. And so should everyone else.

Detroit Red Wings: Ahhh, super-prospect Anthony Mantha might not make this team. But he scored so many goals in his draft-plus-2 season!!!

Edmonton Oilers: Imagine if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is your No. 2 center. Man what a time to be an Oilers fan.

Florida Panthers: May we ever be blessed by Jaromir Jagr's shining presence in this league.

Los Angeles Kings: How many times do you think you could write this exact story per year just by replacing the player, team, and a few contract details? A billion?

Minnesota Wild: Lots of puzzle pieces to fit together in Minnesota, but having decent goaltending all season should have been the biggest concern. Now that they have it, they seem solidly middle-of-the-pack in the West.

Montreal Canadiens: This is a big deal. Hugest story of the preseason so far!

Nashville Predators: Well, yes, trading for literally any center in the league would indeed help the Predators' center problems.

New Jersey Devils: I'm gonna do it, Jiri! It's happening!

New York Islanders: I wonder if sending a kid back to a league he's going to dominate is actually going to help him learn anything about entitlement.

New York Rangers: Kevin Hayes in the middle of the ice doesn't seem that encouraging to me. He didn't play it much in college or at any point yet in his NHL career.

Ottawa Senators: “Bad.”

Philadelphia Flyers: Glad Ed Snider took time out from being the main bad guy on The Strain to not-help his team with these quotes.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens' power play is gonna score a billion goals.

San Jose Sharks: Oh yeah, remember Tomas Hertl? He weighs 216 now, almost all of it muscle. Uh oh.

St. Louis Blues: Look at all these people stepping on the logo! No respect!

Tampa Bay Lightning: Overpraising a guy for blocking a shot is bad in the regular season. In preseason practice? Good lord.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This D pairing is going to be so fun to watch. The rest of the team not so much, but Rielly/Gardiner? Yup.

Vancouver Canucks: Now all Jacob Markstrom has to do is supplant a highly-paid veteran goalie as the team's No. 1. Luckily that sort of thing never led to any problems in Vancouver at all.

Washington Capitals: “[Alex Ovechkin] averaged 47.5 goals during his 10 years in the NHL.” Good lord. That's one of those things you figure you know, but seeing it in print is just bananas anyway.

Winnipeg Jets: Man, the Winnipeg media is even shivving Alex Burmistrov when he comes back from the KHL? Tough crowd.

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Gold Star Award

Washington Capitals' Jay Beagle, reacts after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
Washington Capitals' Jay Beagle, reacts after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

Blessings to all undrafted free agents who make it to the NHL. You are great. (Pictured: Jay Beagle, undrafted free agent, once upon a time.)

Minus of the Weekend

Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough gets ready to answer questions during a media availability on the first day of NHL hockey training camp at the Compton Family Ice Center on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Thursday Sept. 17, 2015 (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough gets ready to answer questions during a media availability on the first day of NHL hockey training camp at the Compton Family Ice Center on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Thursday Sept. 17, 2015 (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Anyone who cheered for Patrick Kane at Chicago's training camp is a trash person who lives in a toilet.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User MacerV with an All-Hockey East trade that I want to happen.

To Anaheim:

James van Riemsdyk

To Toronto:
2016 1st (late 20s)
Brandon Montour
Kevin Roy

Signoff
He's like my father when he gets into the planter's punch.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)

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