Author of the article:

David Staples  •  Edmonton Journal

Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during NHL action on Oct. 18, 2019, against the Detroit Red Wings at Rogers Place.
Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during NHL action on Oct. 18, 2019, against the Detroit Red Wings at Rogers Place. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

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The new contract worked out between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Edmonton Oilers is a strange brew of a deal.

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Such long-term deal usually go to players much younger than RNH and the deals usually have a higher pay day, often much higher, as seen with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Since the NHL’s last lockout — when an eight-year term limit was put on all new contracts for players re-signing with their current team — Capfriendly reports that 50 such long-term deals have been handed out, but just one of them has a lower annual average salary than RNH’s $5,125,000 million per season, and that was handed out to a player heading into his prime NHL seasons, not out of them.

Florida gave 24-year-old d-man Mike Matheson an 8-year deal at $4.9 million per in 2017.

Only five of the 50 deals had a cap hit lower than $6 million per season, the closest being Washington handing 30-year-old free agent-to-be T.J. Oshie an eight-year deal at $5.8 million per in 2017.

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Just 18 of the 50 were given to players 28 year of age or older.

How do the deals that are most similar to RNH’s contract work out?

They tend to be a coin flip. About half of these deals work out for the team, about half of them fail, at least according to my back-of-the-envelope survey of such deals.

If we look at contracts that are a) seven or eight years in term, b) signed by players who will be in their 30s for at least one third of the contract and c) within a million dollars of RNH’s annual cap hit, about half of those deals are so far trending OK-to-great, including contracts for Oshie, Brad Marchand, Jonas Brodin, Alex Killorn, William Karlsson and Josh Anderson.

But about half of them were also dud deals, including the contracts for Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd, Cory Schneider,  and Justin Abdelkader, whom Oilers GM Ken Holland signed in Detroit in 2015. It’s safe to say that injury played a major part in many of these deals failing, with Nathan Horton, Johnny Boychuk and Marian Gaborik on that list. The older the player is when he signs, the more likely the deal is to be a dud for the team.

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If we look at longer team deals handed to players in their 30s or heading there fast, where the annual salary cap hit is almost exactly the same as RNH’s $5.1 million per, we also see about half of the deal working out OK-to-great, about half of them being mediocre-to-terrible.

Contracts that are ended up well or are trending well for this kind of player who earn around $5 million per include deals for Mark Streit, Jonathan Marchessault, Yanni Gourde, and Valtteri Filppula.

Contracts that ended up poorly include deals for Andrew MacDonald, Mike Cammalleri, Matt Moulson, Joffrey Lupul, and Mikhail Grabovski.

Essentially, the Oilers are flipping the coin with RNH, heads Edmonton wins a Stanley Cup or two, tails the contract is part of a mediocre-to-terrible outcome for the Oilers in the McDavid/Draisaitl era.

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The hope for the Oilers is that at least in the first half of the contract, RNH plays at a high level. The fantasy is that he’ll play at the same high level he attained while teamed up on the DYNamite line with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto in 2019-20.

If Oilers coach Dave Tippett reunites that line, and if it re-ignites, the RNH contract could look like a steal of a deal for a few years. But if RNH keeps scoring at the same low rate at even strength as he did in 2020-21, or if he gets injured, this long term deal will be seen as a massive mistake.

Either eventuality could well occur.

As I said, it’s a coin flip.

Is a 50/50 coin flip outcome good enough in the NHL to make such a bet on RNH’s contract? With McDavid and Draisaitl in their prime for the next few years, I can certainly see how Oilers GM Ken Holland could not resist such a bet.

If you’re going to flip a coin on anyone, RNH has to be near the top of the list.

At the Cult

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