Over the weekend, the Edmonton Oilers signed 22-year-old defenseman Oscar Klefbom to a seven-year, $29.169 million, set to kick in after his entry-level contract runs up after this season.
A seven-year contract extension for a player who is still on his entry-level deal is practically unheard of in today’s NHL. P.K. Subban signed a two-year bridge deal with the Montreal Canadiens after his entry-level contract ran out. Marcus Johansson of the Washington Capitals signed a bridge deal as well. A two-year bridge deal has become the norm following a player’s entry-level contract. It allows both sides to get a better understanding of the player’s worth.
Klefbom has played in just 77 NHL games, 60 of them came just last season. What did the Edmonton Oilers’ new front office brass see in Klefbom in such a short period of time?
They could have looked at this past season and saw that Klefbom was one of the few bright spots among the Oilers’ defensemen grouping. A good way to judge a player is by checking out his possession stats. If a player’s team has the puck when that specific player is on the ice, that means that player is more than likely generating some offense and playing good defense because, well, how is the opposition going to generate much offense if they don’t have the puck?
The problem is, the Edmonton Oilers were a terrible possession team as a whole, ranking in the bottom-half for virtually every single team possession stat. But what we can look at to get a general idea on how well of a possession player is on a specific team is by looking at his possession stats relative to his team mates. Anything above 0 percent is considered a good number in comparison to the rest of the team, and anything below 0 is generally considered bad. Klefbom’s Corsi-relative (a definition of Corsi is provided here by Sporting Charts) to his fellow Oilers team mates with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play was 4.28 percent, not just the highest Corsi-relative percentage among Oilers defensemen, but the highest Corsi-relative percentage on the entire Oilers team last year.
That wasn’t the only category Klefbom excelled at last season. Klefbom gave up the fourth-fewest high-danger scoring chances (shots taken from within the slot) on the team at even strength five on five, behind Mark Fayne and ex-Oilers’ Martin Marincin and Keith Aulie. And he faced the fourth-most difficult competition, behind Fayne, Andrew Ference and ex-Oiler Jeff Petry.
More importantly, according to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Klefbom improved the possession stats of every single player that played at least 100 even strength five on five minutes with last season, except for Fayne. That means Klefbom was able to help virtually everyone get more scoring chances for than against when he was out on the ice. Not bad for a defenseman that recorded just two goals and 18 assists last year.
At 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, the 2011 19th overall pick has all of the tools to be a legitimate NHL star. And the Oilers recognized that quickly. Klefbom saw 21:59 minutes per game last season, the second-highest time on ice on the team, and he saw the third-most penalty kill time among Oilers defensemen.
Klefbom’s primary defensive partner last year was Justin Schultz, but with newcomer Andrej Sekera coming into the mix, could new head coach Todd McLellan pair the two together? Should he choose to do so, the Oilers could have a legitimate top-pair among their defensemen corps for the next several seasons.
The seven-year deal was a risk for new GM Peter Chiarelli to take, but it was certainly a calculated risk. 77 career games is a small sample size to judge a player on, but all signs point to Klefbom being the real deal.
And the seven-year deal wasn’t just a risk for the Oilers to make, it was also a risk for Klefbom to take. Klefbom will be 29 when this deal runs out. With a $4.167 average annual value to the deal, could Klefbom potentially become underpaid? What if Klefbom becomes a top-NHL defenseman in the league? There aren’t too many top-NHL defensemen making just over $4 million per year.
The Klefbom extension isn’t one we are likely to see around the NHL for the foreseeable future. Both sides took a risk in this deal, and time will only tell as to which side came out on top.