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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins agrees to 8-year, $41 million extension with Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2021-06-29 Bruce McCurdy, Edmonton Journal
a hockey game in the snow: Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins beats Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during Game 4 of a Stanley Cup playoff series in Winnipeg on Mon., May 24, 2021. © Provided by Edmonton Journal Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins beats Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during Game 4 of a Stanley Cup playoff series in Winnipeg on Mon., May 24, 2021.
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Huge news from Edmonton Oilers’ camp this morning as the longest-serving Oiler, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, is set to stay with the NHL club for a long, long time.  In fact, the maximum eight years. This per TSN’s Edmonton bureau chief Ryan Rishaug, who tweeted these details this morning:

The eight-year, $41 million pact is for one year longer, and $1 million less, than the seven-year, $42 million deal the player inked back in 2013. His cap hit will thus be reduced from $6.0 to $5.125 million in 2021-22.

The no movement clause appears to be a key part of the deal, as the player clearly wants the club to reciprocate his long-term commitment, which as Rishaug points out, will extend to 18 years by the time the new pact expires. Assumption at this point is that the NMC extends for the entire duration of the contract, though that remains to be confirmed. According to TSN hockey insider Perre LeBrun, the contract is slightly front-loaded and includes signing bonuses in years 5, 6, and 7 which would make it more expensive to buy out but not to the  n th degree of Milan Lucic and his “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”pact.

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In Nugent-Hopkins the Oilers have an all-purpose player who plays in all situations. He’s the only forward on the team who is a mainstay on both the powerplay and penalty kill units, with both special teams playing a critical role in the regular season success of the Oilers during the first two years of the Dave Tippett era. In 2021 he averaged over 6 minutes of special teams time per game; no other Oilers skater averaged as many as 5.

A natural centre, the first-overall pick from the 2011 NHL Draft has played plenty of time on left wing in recent years. Under Tippett, he is the yin to Leon Draisaitl’s yang, with the two frequently switching off for each other at 1LW and 2C. On almost any night, one of them is playing pivot and the other one isn’t. Helpful to have two high-calibre centre/wingers to keep those options open, allowing the coach to utilize the explosive Draisaitl where he can do the most damage against a given opponent.

From the player’s point of view, it’s unfortunate his prior contract wasn’t up one year ago, when he was coming off the best two seasons of his career, including a red-hot finish to 2019-20 that saw him score 41 points in his final 30 games on a searing hot line with Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto, then 8 more in 4 post-season games largely paired with Connor McDavid. At 5v5 he scored at a career best rate of 2.23 points per 60. His bargaining power would have been at its peak last off-season.

Video: Edmonton Oilers connect with boy wrote letter requesting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signature (Global News)


But the shortened 2021 season was less kind. While he continued to excel on special teams, his production dried up at even strength. His production rate of 1.15 points per 60 was his lowest since his sophomore season, which was compromised by a shoulder injury that required major surgery at season’s end. That low production rate this past campaign was all the more perplexing given he played much of the time on McDavid’s flank, this in a season that the phenom erupted for 105 points in 56 games. Nuge wound up with just a third of that point total, 35 points in 52 games, including just 15 points at even strength.

Clearly that slide in production affected the negotiations. From this distance, the player relented on average annual value while the club did likewise on the term and the no-move clause. Some would question whether an eight-year commitment is wise on a player who may have shown his first signs of decline; others would counter that it may be one-year glitch, moreover that his utility in all situations will allow him to age gracefully and to continue to make important contributions to the club for the foreseeable future. However you slice it, he will be 35 during the final year of the pact.

He is already the longest-serving on-ice Oiler by some measure. His 656 games played rank 12th in franchise history, and he is on a short list of just 13 Oilers to play in 10 different seasons with the NHL club. Kevin Lowe leads both lists with 15 season and 1,037 GP, not to mention 172 more in the playoffs. Lowe has worn many hats with the franchise, currently as Alternate Governor of Oilers Entertainment Group, but his four years as a New York Ranger disqualify him as a pure “lifer”. (Joey Moss, on the other hand…)

No other current Oiler has played as many as 500 games in Edmonton (all of Draisaitl, McDavid and Darnell Nurse are over 400), while only fellow 2011 first-rounder Oscar Klefbom (7 seasons, 378 GP) has been in the organization as long. Klefbom missed the entire 2021 season with a serious shoulder issue, and his future remains under a cloud. As for Nugent-Hopkins, he now has a distinct possibility of becoming the first significant Oiler to play his entire career in Edmonton.

While some fans aren’t thrilled with the no-move clause, this one welcomes it. When one considers the fact that by the final year of this pact the locals will be marking their silver anniversary in the NHL, it’s beyond high time that somewhere in the pantheon there is a “lifetime Oiler”.

Among other things, this signing virtually ensures that the Oilers will follow the 7-3-1 model when submitting their protected list of forwards-defencemen-goaltenders for the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. While there was some talk that the Oilers might wait until after that process to re-sign Nugent-Hopkins, the organization chose to get it done now. All of McDavid, Draisaitl, Yamamoto, and Jesse Puljujarvi slam dunks to be protected; Nugent-Hopkins and his no-move clause makes five, leaving two more forward spots to be determined. That creates headaches on the back end, especially if the club also agrees to terms on an extension with Adam Larsson and has been widely rumoured. It might open the door for a defenceman-for-forward type trade with another NHL club with an excess of quality forwards.

For now, Oilers GM Ken Holland can check off one important box on his extensive off-season “to do” list. With this long-term commitment to a popular Oiler, he now has his three most important forwards under contract until at least 2025. Now he can turn his attention to the necessary task of improving the supporting cast.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: “What a steal, baby!” Twitter reacts to Nuge deal

McCURDY: Any lessons for Oilers in Habs’ success on the trade market?

LEAVINS: Is Ken Holland still on top of his game? 9 Things

STAPLES: Is Oliver Ekman-Larsson a fit in Edmonton?

McCURDY: Which young guns could crack next year’s lineup?

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