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Oilers' potential long-term deal with Zach Hyman not pretty, but necessary

EDMONTON — We hear it constantly here in Edmonton. And so does Ken Holland.

“The Edmonton Oilers can’t waste any more years of Connor McDavid’s career than they have already.”

“The Edmonton Oilers should be all in at every opportunity, before McDavid asks out.”

On any given day here in Edmonton, you can almost look skyward and see some version of those words trailing behind small aircraft, flying overtop of the Oilers corporate offices. It’s graffitied on bridges, tattooed on bikers’ forearms.

It is the provincial anthem here in Northern Alberta, and to a lesser extent, a common refrain across the hockey world.

Today, as the Oilers get ready to offer maximum term to left winger Zach Hyman, you should remember those words before you go online and carve up general manager Ken Holland for signing a 29-year-old to a seven- or eight-year deal.

With Zach Hyman in Edmonton visiting the #oilers today, as @JasonGregor reported, there remains a possibility of a sign-and-trade scenario with the #leafs that could get him a max eight-year term.

— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) July 21, 2021

Hyman spent the day in Edmonton with his wife Alannah on Wednesday, checking out a city that may become home to them and son Theo — who is not yet a year old — should Hyman decide to become McDavid’s left-winger for the rest of his hockey life.

So, what are you going to hate about this deal? The term, that’s what.

In an effort to keep the Annual Average Value as low as possible, Holland is planning to offer Hyman maximum term. That move defines trying to win a Stanley Cup in the nearer future, as the lower AAV will leave Holland more cap space with which to build.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have given the Oilers permission to host Hyman and speak with agent Todd Reynolds. As a free agent suitor, Edmonton can sign Hyman to a maximum seven-year deal, which would come in with an AAV of around $5.5 million.

But if the Leafs — who can not afford to sign Hyman — trade him to Edmonton, then Holland can offer an eight-year deal with an AAV of closer to $5.125 million — exactly the deal signed by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on June 29.

So you can hate the term, which is truly excessive for a player who turned 29 on June 9. But if you are someone who expects Holland to go for it at every opportunity — someone who is constantly reminded of the wasted seasons of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — then these are the kinds of things you had better come to accept.

So, why Hyman?

As UFA left wingers go, Hyman is in the Top 3 this summer along with Taylor Hall and Gabriel Landeskog, should the latter get to free agency in Colorado. Landeskog will command a much higher AAV, however, while Hall is happy and set to re-sign in Boston. He and Edmonton are two ships in the night that simply will not pass again.

Hyman, meanwhile, represents exactly what is required on McDavid’s left flank. A right shot left-winger, Hyman has played more than 60 per cent of his NHL minutes next to Toronto superstar (and McDavid friend) Auston Matthews, where he has thrived.

Hyman is a cerebral player who knows what his role is and how to maximize it. His points per game average has gone up in each of the past four seasons, and he was a leading penalty killer and first-unit powerplay player in Toronto.

While McDavid has become as adept at scoring as he is at feeding his wingers, Hyman has made a reputation as a guy who can do whatever is needed as well. The biggest addition to Edmonton’s Top 6 — and to McDavid’s line — is his ability to score down low. Garbage goals, rebounds, tap-ins…

Edmonton lacks that player. McDavid lacks that player.

Hyman’s nose is perpetually dirty, as they say, which makes him a nice fit across the rink from right-winger Jesse Puljujarvi, who can score from distance.

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Hey — the contract won’t be pretty. UFA deals never are.

But in this case the player is in his prime, and able to fulfill the mandate of helping McDavid and Draisaitl reach the promised land in the next four years, with an AAV that is not crippling for a productive Top 6 left winger. For the first few years, at least.

In order to secure a trade from Toronto — and that eighth year to keep the AAV down — Edmonton could likely shuttle one of their two sixth-round picks to the Leafs. Or trade Oscar Klefbom and his LTIR space, a bit of business that has interested the Maple Leafs before.

At this time, the Oilers are believed to be the decided front runners in the race to sign Hyman.

The family visit on Wednesday could sway that, as Edmonton is not Toronto — in size, proximity to their families, or amenities. But, it is a place where the Hymans can get the best contract they’ll ever see, and a chance for Dad to play alongside a generational player.

And maybe, just maybe, to win a Stanley Cup while that player is still under contract here.

Because in Edmonton, that is really the only thing that matters.

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