Nugent-Hopkins Should Be an Oiler for Life

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland has been busy cutting down on his offseason workload over the past month. Besides heading up the Oilers amateur and professional scouting meetings in Palm Springs, Holland has also signed Caleb Jones, Zack Kassian, Darnell Nurse and Joakim Nygard to contract extensions.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Holland is focused on adding a player or two before the trade deadline on Feb. 24, it’s never too early to start discussing a contract extension with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The former first-overall pick is under contract through 2020-21 and carries a $6 million cap hit.

Tippett Has Found the Right Linemates for Nugent-Hopkins

After a slow start, Nugent-Hopkins has tallied eight goals and 21 points in 15 games, ranked sixth in league scoring during that stretch. He registered his second straight multi-point game and 13th of the season in a 5-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, while playing a team-high 24:49 among forwards.

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His game really took off once head coach Dave Tippett put him on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. In 14 games together, the trio have easily been the Oilers’ most productive line, combining for 22 goals, 57 points and a plus-31 rating.

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With Connor McDavid expected to miss the next two to three weeks due to a quad injury, the Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and Yamamoto line will have to step up even more. Despite a strong 30-20-6 record through 56 games this season, the Oilers still lack the scoring depth to lose a player of McDavid’s ilk for any extended length of time. However, they passed the first test against the Blackhawks.

Related: Oilers’ Yamamoto Already Comfortable With Linemates

The 26-year-old has been searching for a consistent set of linemates since Taylor Hall was traded in the summer of 2016. While Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Jordan Eberle formed the Oilers’ best line for the better part of five seasons, his new line has the potential to be more prolific.

RNH missed six games with a hand injury in November, but is still on pace for 62 points in 76 games (seven points shy of his career-high 69 points in 2018-19). A healthy Nugent-Hopkins could put up 70 or more points playing alongside Draisaitl and Yamamoto in 2020-21.

Oilers Need to Extend Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Kevin Lowe and Ryan Smyth share the franchise record for most seasons played at 15. Nugent-Hopkins, the longest serving member on the roster, is in his ninth season in Edmonton. The Burnaby, British Columbia naive is tied for 10th in goals (162), 13th in assists (261), 12th in points (423) and 15th in games played (589) in franchise history.

He has been extremely loyal to the Oilers for almost a decade, and only has 13 playoff games to show for it, which should change this spring. He’s done everything the organization has asked of him, from developing into a reliable two-way forward, to playing centre on each of the top three lines, to moving to the wing.

He deserves to be the first player to spend his entire career with the Oilers.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of many Oilers’ first-overall picks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I expect Holland to try and add at least one impact player in the offseason who can push the team closer to contending for a Stanley Cup. Still, locking up Nugent-Hopkins to a long-term contract extension should be his top priority.

McDavid and Draisaitl earn $12.5 million and $8.5 million per season respectively, so no one else on the roster is going to be in that range. I would ink Nugent-Hopkins to an eight-year extension with a $7.5 million cap hit in a heartbeat.

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An eight-year extension would run through 2028-29 when Nugent-Hopkins turns 36, almost ensuring that he spends his entire career with one team. While Holland would surely love to sign him for under $7 million per season, there’s a chance he would get at least that much on the open market, and the Oilers simply can’t afford to go into the 2020-21 season without extending Nugent-Hopkins.

Related: Edmonton Oilers’ 3 Best Contracts for 2019-20

All-in-all, he’s a player the Oilers committed a first-overall pick to in the summer of 2011. Now they need to commit to him for the rest of his NHL career.