What Auston Matthews extension could mean for Connor McDavid and the Oilers

The NHL’s best player, Connor McDavid, recently sat down with Sportnet’s Mark Spector and talked about his recent successes and failures as the captain of the Oilers. As he prepares for his ninth season in the league, McDavid and the Oilers have yet to play in the Stanley Cup Final, somewhere the franchise hasn’t been since 2006.

Interestingly, the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner will soon turn 27, and after scoring 153 points in 2022-23, his future remains uncertain. Despite his commitment to the Oilers today and for the remaining years of his current deal, there are no guarantees he will stick around if the team fails to win before 2026. 

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Edmonton Oilers must win now and not think about the future

One of the most fascinating quotes from the interview involved his desire to win with the current lineup and how much he enjoys living in Edmonton. However, a handful of other “factors” will determine his future when his current deal expires. 

Considering Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) just cashed in for an annual salary worth $13.25 million, the hockey world will be glued to the news when McDavid begins negotiating his next deal. Interestingly, his teammate Leon Draisailt will need a new contract before he does and would request more money than Matthews, setting a new bar for McDavid to rise above.

Even though the NHL promises the salary cap will continue to increase, two of the game’s best players will command more than $13 million, which could handcuff the Oilers into building a legit contender. Additionally, other players will still be on the payroll at that time, like Darnell Nurse, whose contract expires in 2029-30 and is paid $9.5 million annually. Surprisingly, Edmonton pays Draisailt less ($8.5 million) than Nurse, and he’s won a scoring title and two league MVP awards since signing his deal in 2017. 

Expensive contracts will haunt Oilers by 2025-26

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Oct 12, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal by forward Connor McDavid (97) against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, the only players scheduled to still be on the books in 2025-26, McDavid’s last year of his current deal, are Jack Campbell ($5 million), Stuart Skinner ($2.6 million), Brett Kulak ($2.75 million), Mattias Ekholm ($6 million), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($5.1 million), Evander Kane ($5.1 million), and Zach Hyman ($5.5 million). Realistically, this team should win today and possibly tomorrow, but if Edmonton doesn’t capture a Stanley Cup by 2025-26, it will be in significant financial trouble. 

Despite the mega deals they would owe Draisaitl and McDavid, the team would need to re-sign Kane, Ekholm, Kulak, and Skinner or find suitable replacements. Of course, the team will continue to build through the draft, but those young players will eventually need contracts, and if they turn into All-Stars or award winners, their new deals will cost the Oilers.

Ultimately, fans will pay close attention to how the next four years play out in Toronto since Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander have big contracts but have no playoff successes to justify their salaries. Furthermore, everyone in Edmonton will hold their breaths and hope that Draisaitl and McDavid find it in their heart to take a “hometown discount” to keep the band together and chase the Stanley Cup together. 

However, right now, the Oilers boost the most lethal power play on the planet but are mediocre when playing at even strength. After signing a former All-Star netminder (Campbell) to a hefty contract, he has to have a bounce-back season or would become trade bait or buy-out candidate in no time. Additionally, the team is banking on their other goalie (Skinner), who is about to play his second season, to lead them to the Promise Land while hoping their roster players, who are a year older, can keep piling up the points without significant setbacks. 

Of course, McDavid is saying all the right things today, especially after the team went out and hired his former agent (Jeff Jackson) to be their new CEO in hopes of keeping him in town for the next decade. However, the young captain still has a lot to learn about winning and losing in the NHL, and although the Oilers believe they are Stanley Cup contenders based on their current lineup, the team does have a boatload of question marks outside their two best players.