With the Seattle Kraken expansion draft in the rear-view mirror, attention has turned to the opening of unrestricted free agency and an expected second wave of trades as teams begin off-season roster building.

One of the expected first moves concerns the Edmonton Oilers, who have already been quite busy this summer.

The Oilers have reportedly set their sights on Toronto Maple Leafs winger Zach Hyman – a competitive, speedy, and versatile two-way player who should have a considerable impact on the depth issues that have plagued the organization for years.

Hyman’s sustained production over the years in Toronto ensured he would receive a considerable bid as a free agent, but eyebrows were raised when rumours of a max-term deal manifested. The Oilers can sign him to a seven-year contract, but it appears they are interested in working with the Maple Leafs on a sign-and-trade that would bring Hyman in on an eight-year deal.

That, I think, is the wrinkle with Hyman. He’s a quality player. He is also 29 years old with a career high of 41 points (2018-19) and a history of knee problems. How perilous is it to offer so much term to this type of player, and what does history forecast as to how these contracts play out?

On quick research: about 24 forwards have been in a similar position as Hyman over the years, signing an extension around the age of 29 (I’m using a range of 28 to 31), and one that was at least six years in length. In most every one of these situations, the organization was betting that the goodness created from the player in the first half of the contract would outweigh the risk at the tail-end of the deal, where age and mileage starts to take a heavy toll on production.

Let’s take a look at that group, and what they signed for:

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At first glance, this is a bit of a scary list.

There are a number of players who didn’t make it halfway through their contracts – players like Nathan Horton and David Clarkson as the two standout examples, both beleaguered by injuries after signing large extensions.

On the other hand, there are players who were able to sustain performance for long periods of time, and that’s what Oilers GM Ken Holland is hoping to see. Anaheim’s Corey Perry – now with the Montreal Canadiens – was a very effective player throughout his contract, and Boston’s Brad Marchand is trending that way as well.

But it’s clear there is sizable risk in this contract with specificity to the term of the deal. If we follow every one of these players and their respective production, we see a common theme – a significant tapering in production, some of which is the net result of injuries, some of which is likely attributable to aging.

Observe the trend in the below boxplot:

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What’s been clear over the years is that general managers are good at identifying players who are playing well at the moment their deal is signed. But it’s not clear they have ever figured out a way to minimize the risk with these long-term contracts. As you venture into the heart of these contracts, performance for the group tends to separate wildly, with a few very strong players (like the aforementioned Perry and Marchand) holding up degradation within the rest of the group.

Consider the median performance for the group. In the second year of the deal, the group was around the 60th percentile of contributions for forwards. At the tail of the contract, these forwards are generally fourth-line calibre – either relatively unproductive or can’t get into the lineup because of injuries, creating common outcomes of buyouts and leveraging long-term injured reserve.

Bringing this back to Hyman and Edmonton: There is no doubt in my mind the Oilers are a better team with Hyman in the lineup than not, and that’s going to be true for at least a couple of years. But a max-term contract for a player who, like most of his predecessors, appears to be coming out of his prime carries considerable risk, especially for a forward who has never been a particularly strong individual contributor on the offensive end.

It’s a very interesting – and bold – bet by Holland should this signing be finalized, and one we will be studying for a long time.

Data via Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com