Edmonton Oilers: Looking at expiring contracts – UFA edition

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /
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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Continuing on the topic of expiring contracts, we look at how the Oilers will handle their UFAs or Unrestricted Free Agents. As you might guess, UFAs have no restrictions and can sign where they want to. The Edmonton Oilers have 11 UFAs, quite a bit. Let’s see where we’re going with this.

C/LW Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, expiring contract $6 million

This is the one player we’ll all be watching closely. Nuge is the longest-tenured Oiler, 10 years and 656 NHL games. He’s seen a rebuild or two in his time here.

The 28-year-old has 478 points in 656 games, plus another 14 points in 21 playoff games.
Most years he’s the #3 scorer on the team after the McDrai duo. He’s cracked the 20 goal mark 3 out of the last 4 seasons, missing out this year but only because of the shortened season. He finished with 16-19-35 and would’ve had 25 goals and 55 points in a normal 82 game season. He finished 5th on the team this year due to the stellar puck-moving of the Nurse-Barrie duo. They both outscored him.

Nuge was 5th on the team in ice time this year with 20:46 (I bet you can name the other 4 ahead of him for yourself). He was #2 in PP ice time next to Dr. Drai, narrowly edging out Connor Mcdavid at 4:13/game.

He took less than half the amount of faceoffs he took two seasons ago and fell from 50.74% in the faceoff circle to 45.63%, which is a bit disconcerting for a natural center who’s been around the league for 10 seasons.

He’s not a physical guy but did finish 10th on the team in blocked shots with 29 last year.

The big alarm people are raising with Nuge is the fact that 9 of his 16 goals this year were on the PP, as were 20 of his 35 points. The former mark is actually a career-high for him. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your philosophical bent.

To put that in perspective, that’s 56.25% of his goals on the PP and 57.14% of his points on the PP.

His +/- dipped a bit too, going from +1 2 seasons ago to -4 last season. That isn’t a reason to panic, IMO, but it is a bit worrisome.

Combine the red pen ticks with the fact that we’re running in a flat cap economy in the NHL and it seems to outsiders as if Nuge won’t get re-signed unless he takes a slight pay cut. He’s probably looking for a bit of a raise on his $6 million as a thank you for his years of service and many years of losing in the rebuild. Fair point, but the NHL is a “what have you done for me lately” business.

Fun fact – I once delivered food to Nuge’s house. True story.

This is my best guess as to how this will play out:

Chances he’s re-signed – 93%.

Look at all the free agents who are natural centers in the NHL. The list is pretty bad. Horrendous, really. If you look at the LWers who are free agents in the NHL, the list gets better, but still not as great as Nuge. It’d be naive to believe Washington isn’t re-signing Ovenchicken.

The same goes for Gabriel Landeskog in Colorado. Taylor Hall would be a nice re-addition at the position, but he’ll probably cost twice as much. Tomas Tatar would be comparable offensively, but he’s also two years older and not a long-term fit.

No way does Detroit let Jakub Vrana go after they traded Anthony Mantha for him at the deadline. Patrik Laine is staying put in Columbus, especially after they traded Dubois to the ‘Peg for him. The only other guy who might be a replacement would be Sam Bennett, and frankly, I wouldn’t want him as he’s still got years of Flames stink on him. So, Nuge is still the best option.

Predicted contract – 6 years, $33 million ($5.5 million per season).

This one is probably going to go deep into the off-season, IMO. In a flat cap economy, Nuge will probably have to swallow his pride and take a slight pay cut. He’s already publicly stated he wants to come back. There are replacements on the market, but are they as good as Nuge? Not over the long term. Any upgrades at the position will come at a much higher cost.

There have been dramatic rumors about negotiations with Nuge, but I would bet on him remaining an Oiler come next year, and retiring an Oiler. He wants to be here, and potential replacements don’t fit as well as he does for one reason or another. Plus, who wouldn’t want to play with the two biggest superstars in the NHL today? Nuge fits here and the team needs him. Get it done.