While the Edmonton Oilers take this time away from hockey action to look at free agency, their current roster, and what comes next, should the NHL not resume regular season play, there is one player who may get the shaft. Fortunately for the Oilers, this player getting the shaft might help as the team tries to balance their long-term books.
Ethan Bear has been an unexpected standout for the Oilers this season. A rookie on defense, it wasn’t expected he would make the team out of camp in 2019. Not only did he do so, but he very quickly showed he wasn’t going back to the AHL.
Strong and consistent play, along with steady minutes meant the Oilers had found another young prospect on their blue line that was ready for the NHL game. Early in the season, some had talked about the Calder Trophy being in the conversation, and while that might not have lasted due to some outstanding play by other rookies, by the time the midway point of the season had come along, Bear was among the most trusted of players by new head coach Dave Tippett . Not only that, insiders were calling for the Oilers to immediately look at a long-term deal for the youngster.
Fast forward a couple months and the NHL hit pause. The unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 brought everything to a screeching halt, including Bear’s standout rookie season. While it’s bad for the NHL, the fans and Bear’s season totals, it might actually benefit the Oilers talks with Bear going forward.
Bear was on pace for 24 points. This isn’t a standout season, but it’s not bad. The key was the minutes he was playing and the situations in which he was getting those minutes. He was fourth on the Oilers roster in minutes-per-game at 21:58 and who knows what he might have done in the playoffs. Tippett certainly would have asked a lot of him. And, if how he played in the regular season is any indication, it’s safe to assume he’d have been just fine when it mattered most.
Of course, that might not happen.
What If The NHL Season Is Over?
There’s still hope the NHL resumes play and, at the very least, gets a set of playoffs in. If so, the Oilers will be in that conversation and Bear will play. But, what if there’s no finish to the 2019/20 campaign?
Regardless of the season or playoffs resuming, Bear still needs a contract. He’s a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season and he’s due for a big raise. If there is no season, there’s no real way to know how the rookie would have fared and there’s potentially little-to-no playoff experience from which to call upon during negotiations. Only the assumption he would have produced. With that in mind, the Oilers can negotiate based on the stats they have, not the stats they might have had.
Edmonton will be tight against the cap next season, especially considering this stoppage could see the estimated jump in salary cap not happen. It will be imperative the Oilers get the best possible deals done with their pending free agents, Bear among them.
It’s easy to argue that Bear is the Oilers player with the most promise combined with the smallest statistical history. On paper, he’s a huge question mark, even if it seems clear what he already is when you watch him play. Comparables for Bear are hard to find if the rookie wants big money now. And, if the season doesn’t proceed, he’s got no choice but to sign a smaller-value bridge deal or go for a long-term contract that isn’t high on a per-season basis.
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