The No. 1 concern for the Edmonton Oilers this past offseason was to sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a new contract and keep one of their core pieces in town. They did so at a great deal that will continue to be looked at in that regard.
Nugent-Hopkins signed what is considered a very team-friendly contract at $5.125 million per season for eight years. For him to sign anywhere for that money would have been a steal, but to do so in a place like Edmonton where for the most part, players are asking for more money to come there, it seems too good to be true.
On the open market, Nugent-Hopkins would have been worth a lot more for the services he provides, but there’s loyalty to the team that drafted him and the want to win in Edmonton. Even the no-move clause that’s attached to his contract indicates he wants to finish his career as an Oiler, and with the cap set to finally go up again, his money will take up less and less of the total team’s cap space.
What Nugent-Hopkins Provides for the Oilers
Nugent-Hopkins brings everything you could ask for in a top-6 player. He is the longest tenured Oiler and with that brings a ton of experience. He has stuck with the Oilers through the dark years of being at the bottom of the standings, so his drive to win is very high.
Along with that, he is one of the go-to players in all situations. Nugent-Hopkins is a lock on the top power play, tied for fifth-most in the league in power-play points and part of the best power play in the league over the past few seasons. He is also always relied on to kill penalties for the Oilers, especially when the team may be down a goal and some offence is needed while shorthanded. Already this season he has two shorthanded points.
Not only is he efficient on the penalty kill, but Nugent-Hopkins is also very solid and responsible defensively at 5-on-5. He can slide between playing centre and the wing to complement either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, and we’ve seen both. Having someone of his caliber and his complementary ability does wonders for either of the stars I previously mentioned and gives the Oilers one less thing to worry about on a nightly basis.
Though goals have been a little hard to come by this season with only three in 30 games, he still has 26 points. The Oilers shouldn’t worry too much about the goals right now for the former 4-time, 20-goal scorer, as his shooting percentage is bound to go up from 4.2 percent and get closer to his career average of 11.6 shooting percentage.
The Oilers may need to mess around with the lines to get going, and it makes it a lot easier when a player like Nugent-Hopkins can play the wing on either of the top two lines or give the Oilers a real triple-line threat and centre the third line. His versatility and ability to play in all situations is hard to match and would have warranted much more money if he wanted.
Comparable Contracts to Nugent-Hopkins
Nugent-Hopkins could have easily asked for and taken one to two million more from another team or even from the Oilers based on his skillset. There are many teams out there with the resources and space available that would have paid handsomely for him to join their team. Teams had to settle for others, so let’s look at some similar players and contracts from around the league.
We don’t have to look much further than a few players from the same draft class as Nugent-Hopkins. Players like Gabriel Landeskog, Phillip Danault, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. They all needed contracts around the same time, are the same age, but none of them took a discount to sign with the team they are on.
Landeskog, who was taken No. 2 in the 2011 NHL Draft behind Nugent-Hopkins, has recorded 35 more points in 23 more games. Since offensive help has been drafted and added to his line in the form of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, they have been a force to be reckoned with and seen as possibly the best line in the NHL. Where I’m going with this is if Nugent-Hopkins had McDavid and Draisaitl on his line for the past number of years, his offensive numbers would be a lot better as well.
Landeskog technically has the versatility to play centre as well as the wing, but he rarely utilizes it, as seen when Rantanen was tasked with playing centre on the top line in MacKinnon’s absence. Yes, Landeskog is the team captain and Nugent-Hopkins isn’t, but that’s partly to do with timing as well for both teams. Landeskog doesn’t play shorthanded, so Nugent-Hopkins has the step up on him there, while making $1.875 million less per season. The $7 million contract Landeskog signed was not at all a hometown discount for a team that is in win-now mode before they lose and have to pay other players.
Danault is the only player of the three mentioned that decided to leave his team and test free agency. This in turn would boost the market for him given similar two-way players like J.G. Pageau and Nugent-Hopkins were already off the market. Signing a 6-year, $5.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings, plainly put, he was overpaid.
The Kings were willing to pay this price as there were still question marks about top prospect Quinton Byfield. Though it is expected that Byfield takes a top-6 centre spot before Danault’s contract is over, they still elected to sign him for six seasons.
Danault’s offensive production dropped off significantly, scoring just five goals in 53 games last season. His biggest attraction is his ability to defend very well as a forward, getting him into the Selke Trophy conversation for the past three seasons. At just a .51 points per game, something is still left to be desired, and either way, he should not be making more than Nugent-Hopkins.
The only player mentioned that actually makes less than Nugent-Hopkins is Pageau, but not by much. After being traded to the New York Islanders by the Ottawa Senators, Pageau signed a 6-year, $30 million contract that comes out to $5 million per season. Even more-so than Danault, the offensive production is not there, especially since signing with the Islanders. That and even though he has been in the Selke Trophy conversation, Pageau’s best finish has been 13th in voting.
Pageau plays lower in the lineup than any of the other three comparable players while posting a 0.45 points per game in New York and 0.43 in his career. To be paid $125,000 less per season than Nugent-Hopkins is absurd.
Oilers’ Difficulty in Attracting Free Agents
Despite having two of the best players in the world, it has generally been difficult for the Oilers to attract big-name free agents to come play for them. Of course, on the other hand, with the team having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it adds that incentive for the player to possibly play with either of them and boost their numbers.
In recent seasons we’ve seen free agents like Zach Hyman and Milan Lucic come to Edmonton with the promise that they would be playing alongside McDavid, and it has happened. Lucic was the type of player that isn’t as effective in today’s game, and that’s why he lost value and eventually moved down out of the top-6. But Hyman has already shown that he is capable of sticking in the top-6, and even if the Oilers decide to spread out the scoring, he would be able to play effective hockey on any line without a complaint.
It was a whole different story before the superstars arrived in Edmonton due to the cold, being a Canadian market, and the tax on their contracts compared to some teams in the U.S.A. where there isn’t state tax. Having the incentive to be given the ability to play with McDavid or Draisaitl has definitely helped recently, but the other factors definitely still come up.
As a goalie, you can look at it two ways when considering Edmonton as a destination: There will be lots of goal support in the event the goaltender has a bad game, or the team lacks a strong defensive system and goaltending coach to be able to help him succeed in goal. This may have been the deciding factor for recent goalies the Oilers lost out on in free agency.
Nugent-Hopkins has been as reliable as they’ve come in regards to his career in Edmonton. Nobody should complain about the deal the team got to keep one of the Oilers’ core pieces around for another eight seasons given what he has and can provide.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.
You can find more of his work here.