The Edmonton Oilers priority should be to trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They managed to clear out the unbreakable contract of Milan Lucic in a lateral move earlier in the offseason, but they’d be wise to keep going.
Nugent-Hopkins’ value will likely never be higher for the Oilers than it is right now. He’s coming off a career-high in points (69), of which nearly 38% came on the powe play. The problem for the Oilers is that he’s less effective when there are an even amount of players on the ice for both teams.
He’s been a negative shot-attempt player, relative to his team, for the past three seasons. During his career-high setting 2018-19, he generated both fewer shots for and more shots against at 5-v-5 in the same season for the first time in his career.
Considering that he isn’t a young player anymore at 26-years-old, his near 70-point season is unlikely to repeat itself. It’s also not out of the question to see his 5-v-5 points-per-60 drop from the 1.75 it was last season. He has a career trend of posting a pair of lower seasons after exceeding 1.9 points-per-60.
His expected-goals-for-percentage (relative) from 2015-16 through 2017-18 of -3.82 is among the worst on the team over that span. Little changed for the 2018-19 season, as he posted a -3.80 xGF% relative. He spent roughly 32% of his 5-v-5 time with Connor McDavid, recording a 1.95 xGF% relative. The time spent with McDavid softened the blow on his underlying numbers.
He just isn’t having the type of success that you expect from a player that you are paying $6 million. His over-achieving point totals are covering up his overall play. Luckily, there are general managers willing to overpay for players of just this type. If he was more self-sufficient on the ice at 5-v-5 (at least closer to average), then maybe his value is better with the team.
As it stands right now, the Oilers continue to waste their years with McDavid. In his four professional seasons, McDavid has been to the post-season once. That was in 2016-17, and there’s a very good chance they fail to make the playoffs again. It’s for that reason they should place Nugent-Hopkins on the trade market and take the highest bid. This franchise is in a position where they likely don’t become relevant until 2021-22.
They have a chance to take advantage of a team, perhaps a team on the playoff bubble themselves, for a ransom worth more than what’s being exchanged. While Nugent-Hopkins’ underlying numbers don’t support his perceived value, he still puts up points so removing him will only allow Edmonton to increase the value on their own first-round pick in addition to what they would receive in a trade.
What the Trade Should Look Like
The Oilers should be seeking to make a trade similar to what the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche made earlier in the offseason. The Leafs managed to replace their positional loss at center, as well as upgrade their defensive group. A trade like this would help distance the Oilers from the jeers in the background. It also helps set them up for impact moves in two years when they are free from Kris Russell and the majority of the $4.1 million and $3.8 million being spent on buyouts.
It won’t be as simple as announcing that they’re officially putting him on the market. He’s still a player under contract for two seasons at $6 million AAV. Teams that should be looking for help down the middle are the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders and New York Rangers. The Islanders are the more desirable trade target of this group. They can handle all of Nugent-Hopkins’ cap-hit without getting creative, and they have more selection that’s of use to the Oilers.
What they should do, and what they’re capable of doing, could be two different things. Newly minted Oilers GM Ken Holland has had gradually less success as the salary cap came into play. After the 2012-13 lock-out, the wheels really started to come off the bus for the high-profile GM. For Holland, the Oilers could either be redemption story or confirmation that he’s in over his head in the new NHL. Trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could begin to right the ship if Holland can get the right return.
Statistics via naturalstattrick.com