Having value contracts on an NHL roster is extremely important. And, as the NHL scales back its increase for next season’s salary cap, teams that don’t have players who can produce at a rate greater than their pay are in real trouble.
Back in 2005-06, when the Edmonton Oilers made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, they had a number of value contracts on the team. Those players wound up signing later in deals that would sting a little, but the play of Fernando Pisani, Shawn Horcoff, and others became instrumental in the Oilers push towards a Stanley Cup. Edmonton isn’t the only team that’s gotten close or won the league’s biggest prize with production from players who weren’t making a whole lot.
This coming season, the Oilers will be looking to Kailer Yamamoto.
Allan Mitchell of The Athletic (subscription required) recently took a look at just how valuable Yamamoto’s contract is with the Oilers vs. the production he offered to end this past season. With 26 points in 27 games, Yamamoto was a revelation in the making. Mitchell explained:
Yamamoto made a major impression on his coach, team, management and fans. His even-strength performance was nothing short of brilliant. You can argue that a skill player placed in a similar position would deliver strong results, but the results with Yamamoto on the No. 2 line tower over those delivered by previous unproven candidates.
So now what?
Yamamoto’s cap number for the season is $894,166, with $230,000 in bonuses. That means, should he hit them, the Oilers will probably be paying close to $1.1 million for the player during the 2020-21 season. This is huge considering the cap isn’t going to increase.
As the Oilers struggle, like many teams will, to fit all their key pieces in under a tighter cap, Yamamoto becomes a critical piece to their success. Based on what he did this past season, and depending on how he contributes in a playoff run, he’s a lock for the Oilers top-six and makes squeezing in players next season under a flat salary cap much more manageable.
He gives the Oilers the flexibility to move a player like James Neal should they so choose or find a taker (freeing up even more money) and they’re unlike a lot of teams who badly need to find top-six scoring considering the Oilers are fairly deep.
Specifically, Yamamoto has already found chemistry with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He just needs to find it with Connor McDavid as well. Mitchell writes:
If Yamamoto can develop chemistry with McDavid, it’ll keep him on a skill line during slumps and make him less susceptible to playing a tertiary role with the club.
From there, he believes Yamamoto has the skill set to be a strong penalty killer, meaning the Oilers will place more on Yamamoto’s shoulders, and to date, he’s excelled in elevated roles.
So How Good Is Yamamoto’s Contract?
Mitchell suggests Yamamoto has possibly one of the best value deals for the Oilers since Ales Hemsky in 2005-06. Hemsky’s 2005-06 contract paid him $901,740 and represented the last year of his entry deal. He scored 77 points in 81 games that season. If Yamamoto can get anything close to that in 2020-21, the Oilers are in great shape.
It gives the team a chance to use what little money they will have to fill depth roles, not needing a skilled forward since they already have them.
It would be nice if Edmonton could say the same about players like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones. Perhaps they’ll get to. But as Bear gets a new deal and Jones isn’t still completely a lock for regular play, Yamamoto represents the Oilers best value deal in the organization… and it’s not really all that close.
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