Author of the article:

David Staples  •  Edmonton Journal

Publishing date:

Dec 23, 2020  •   •  4 minute read

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins speaks to the media at Rogers Place following the conclusion of the Edmonton Oilers’ 2017-18 NHL season, in this file photo from April 8, 2018. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia file

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There are many complicating factors in the Edmonton Oilers coming to a new contract with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

1. Nugent-Hopkins is now the longest serving Oiler, the only remaining player from the 2011-12 squad. He also plays in a city where the fans crave a star finally playing out his entire career here. He’s also a beloved Oiler, a favourite of many. But how much is that worth to the franchise? What value can you put on that? I don’t think it’s a meaningless consideration, especially not in Edmonton.

2. Nugent-Hopkins is a strong defensive winger, and excellent on the penalty kill, but I’ve never loved his defensive work at centre. He can get both overpowered and outfoxed in the corners and in the defensive slot. But would another team in free agency see him as a strong two-way first or second line centre and be willing to pay him that way? I suspect so.

3. He’s an excellent playmaker and his shot is improving, but he’s never be that elite attacker able to drive his own line. Again, though, we come to the same issue, that some other team desperate for a top line centre will likely be willing to pay him a premium in the hopes he can be that star first line centre for them. That kind of expectation might not work out well for RNH, and he certainly got a taste of losing as a first-line centre on a weak team in Edmonton’s pre-McDavid era, but maybe RNH is itching for that kind of challenge, especially if it comes in a low-tax jurisdiction with palm trees.

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4. He’s been a dangerous power player in recent years, but he’s a bit of a mismatch as a left shot on the left half-wall of the Edmonton power play, and the team now has a number of right shot options, including Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi. Should Edmonton see his splendid power play performance as something only he can give or as something that another younger and less expensive player could provide? Given the strength of Edmonton’s power play, it would be risky to move on from RNH, who has amazing chemistry with McDavid and Draisaitl.

5. His main skill, and it’s an extremely valuable one, is working with other skilled players on a line, something he did exceptionally well with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto last year, and could well do with Connor McDavid this year. But could not other players be brought in to play with Draisailt and McDavid in years to come and also put up big numbers? After all, the Oilers brought in Dominik Kahun, Tyler Ennis and Jesse Puljujarvi on the cheap this year. Could they not do well one day, if not this year, on McDavid or Draisaitl’s wing?

6. If Edmonton doesn’t sign him, he’ll walk away as a free agent, and the Oilers will lose a valuable player without any return. But if Edmonton pays him too much for too many years, that contract will weigh down the franchise and hurt its chances of winning. It’s always risky signing players entering their 30s but with his exceptional skating, RNH is likely to be an extremely useful player for many more years.

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7. A major complicating factor is that the NHL market has drastically changed for the worse since the corona hit in March and it’s unlikely to get better any time soon. It’s easy to imagine league revenues being deflated for years, depending on how quickly the economy can rev up as the virus is vaccinated into submission. Before the virus, long term and big dollar contracts were the norm for solid veterans like RNH, who will be 28 in April and is likely going to have five or six more near peak seasons following this one. In February, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, then 27 and not nearly the attacker that RNH is, signed a six-year, $5 million per deal. Power forward Chris Kreider, 28, signed a seven-year deal at $6.5 million per. I’ll suggest RNH is a better bet than big Kreider to. have staying power, so talk of RNH getting a $7 million per year deal over six or seven years made some sense at that time. But since the corona hit, only a few players have gotten long-term, big money deals.

8. I suspect the more that we move away from the old world of long term and big money deals, the less common those kinds of contracts will be. At the same time, the more RNH plays and puts up points with McDavid or Draisaitl, the more other teams will covet him, believing he can do be a big scorer for them as well.

My hope?

That RNH signs here for five or six years, earning about what he earns now, $6 million per. Given how much he would likely command on the free market, that might be seen as a bit low by the Nugent-Hopkins camp, so how about he gets what Brendan Gallagher got in Montreal, six years at $6.5 million? Make sense? That looks like the going rate for a good top line NHL winger, with Kreider getting the same in New York with one more year of term.

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