Edmonton Oilers: Nugent-Hopkins Will Have to Battle Salary Cap

RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 03: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 03: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Edmonton Oilers locked up the NHL’s deadliest duo to long-term deals worth $21 million combined. Though it is nice to see Edmonton able to hold onto two of their top players over the next eight years, it will lead to some dilemmas with the salary cap.

With a handful of free agents to re-sign next year, including Patrick Maroon, Darnell Nurse, Matthew Benning, Mark Letestu and a few other considerable names, Edmonton will need to afford to hold onto those pieces. And looking at the cap hit for next season, they’ll have to sacrifice some pieces to keep others.

In the end, there is one contract on the roster that is costing Edmonton too much money. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has yet to completely stun the league, is making $6 million per year. With his performance lacklustre, and his contract taking up significant salary cap space, he is on thin ice heading into this season. In fact, it may be that he must bust out, or the ice around him will start to crack.

Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers /

Edmonton Oilers

Nugent-Hopkins’ Performance

In his first-ever 82 game season, the former first-overall pick racked up 18 goals and 43 points and was a minus-10. Despite his poor plus-minus rating, Nugent-Hopkins had 48 takeaways for just 30 giveaways and played a solid two-way game this season.

Though he is one of the Oilers’ most underrated defensive forwards and the last member of the Oilers’ former core that is still with the team, his point production does not translate to that of a $6 million centre. He doesn’t have much of an offensive impact and doesn’t play with the same flash that he used to display earlier in his career.

Overall, he is a good two-way centre who can play well in his own zone and is also capable of killing penalties and bailing his team out defensively. However, that doesn’t make him a lock-in for a roster spot. Not to mention, with the Oilers current roster depth, Nugent-Hopkins looks like he is on the outs.

Leon Draisaitl appears ready to centre his own line, and Drake Caggiula has the potential to become the team’s third-line centre. With these two players taking on bigger roles, Nugent-Hopkins could see himself being replaced and having nowhere to prove himself except on the wing. And though he could probably thrive on the top line wing, there are a handful of young and promising wingers in the system who could put up similar results as Nugent-Hopkins for less of a price.

Next: Edmonton Oilers: Drake Caggiula Poised for Bigger Role

Bottom Line

If Nugent-Hopkins wants to stay in Edmonton, he will have to have a breakout year, with results on the board. Though his defensive play is outstanding, it is not enough to guarantee him a roster spot.

Edmonton has too much depth and too little money, and in the end, unless Nugent-Hopkins starts producing, he and his contract will have to be on the move.