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Connor McDavid contract extension top priority for Oilers

Center can become restricted free agent after 2017-18 season

by Derek Van Diest / Correspondent

EDMONTON -- Extending the contract of captain Connor McDavid will be the No. 1 priority for the Edmonton Oilers during the offseason, general manager Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday.

McDavid has one year remaining on his entry-level contract and could become a restricted free agent after next season. Chiarelli said McDavid's contract would dictate the signing of other free agents, including forward Leon Draisaitl, who could be a restricted free agent July 1.

"The order of events, we can't officially sign Connor until July 1, but it's going to be Connor and then Leon," Chiarelli said Tuesday. "And then we have a cluster of other guys that I'd like to have back, but I have to get through those."

McDavid's contract has an average annual value of $3.78 million and an NHL salary-cap charge of $925,000, according to

McDavid, 20, who was selected by the Oilers with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, led the NHL in scoring with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy as League MVP with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. McDavid had nine points (five goals, four assists) in 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games. 

Draisaitl's three-year entry-level contract had an average annual value of $3.4 million with a salary-cap charge of $925,000. The 21-year-old finished second on the Oilers in goals (29), assists (48) and points (77), and led the Oilers in points (16) during the playoffs, which ended with a second-round loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

"Cap-wise, we're OK next year, we could basically stay the same, it's the following year when Mr. McDavid's contract will kick in, so I have to be cognizant of that," Chiarelli said. "But we've got a lot of different rosters we've looked at in the sense, at numbers, numbers for specific guys, term. But the [NHL salary] cap is expected to stay flat or raise a little bit, so we're working off $73, $74, $75 [million] and we'll see where it's at. We'll certainly have the resources to put another contending team in place."

Chiarelli said he does not anticipate any problems signing Draisaitl.

"Leon's representatives have told us they want to stay and they want to be part of a team-building process," Chiarelli said.

Chiarelli said the Oilers exceeded his expectations this season by finishing second in the Pacific Division with 103 points, two behind the Anaheim Ducks, and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Edmonton was seventh in the division last season with 70 points, 17 out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

"I had us in meaningful games in March," Chiarelli said. "I'd been saying 85 points, 87 made it the year before. I had us in and around the playoffs. What happens is, the team starts to develop a real identity and starting feeling good about itself, and that's what you saw at the end. That was a leap I hadn't projected, but it carried into the playoffs."

The Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games in the Western Conference First Round but were eliminated by the Ducks in seven games.

"I thought we had a good series against San Jose," Chiarelli said. "We had a good series against Anaheim, there were a couple of results I didn't like. But [we had] that uptick at the end and everyone went along for the ride. So now, we have players that played in a playoff drive. We have players that have played in two rounds of the playoffs in heavy series.

"I was banking on the meaningful games and maybe the playoffs and that to me was a 15-20 point improvement from the year before and we exceeded that."

Edmonton has six players scheduled to become restricted free agents on July 1 (forwards Draisaitl, Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira, Iiro Pakarinen and Anton Lander and defenseman Griffin Reinhart). Six others could become unrestricted free agents (forwards David Desharnais, Matt Hendricks, Tyler Pitlick and defensemen Kris Russell, Eric Gryba and Andrew Ference). 

Chiarelli said he would like to sign Russell but only after McDavid was extended and Draisaitl signed.

"I have to have certainty in those other two, that's what I've told Kris," Chiarelli said. "I want to have Kris back, I thought he was really good for our team. I thought the way he approaches the game, the way he battles, his poise, his skating, I thought he was a really good complement to our group."

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