For 10 years, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been beloved in Edmonton. He scored in his very first NHL game and the love only grew from there. He joined the Oilers’ first wave of HOPE (Taylor Hall, Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle) and out of all that initial hope, he’s all that’s left. Nugent-Hopkins lived through the infamous decade of darkness in Edmonton, 10 straight years of missing the playoffs, holding his head high, and never complaining. Now, with the additions of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, hope is back and the Oilers are finally heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might not be joining them.
The man Oilers nation lovingly refers to as Nuge, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Leading up to this day, there was very little doubt that Nuge would be re-signed. Then the pandemic hit and the NHL brought in a flat salary cap. There should have been lots of room for Nuge, but now, the purse strings need to be tightened.
The Edmonton Oilers want Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ cap hit to start with a 5, Nuge’s camp wants it to start with a 6. To Nuge’s disadvantage, he’s coming off a less than stellar season, picking up just 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points on the year. Not terrible numbers, unless your spending most of the season playing left wing for Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
Nuge has played center for most of his career but has lost the ability to drive his own line. He’s best suited as a winger now, probably second line, in the middle of his next contract, most likely third line. The number on his contract has to reflect that. That’s why I fear, despite how loved Nuge is, the Oilers may lose him to the free-agent market or in expansion to the Seattle Kraken.
In the event of this happening, I’ve selected three pending unrestricted free agents, that the Oilers could sign to replace Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if they reach the free-agent market.
Currently, with the Montreal Canadiens, Tatar appears to be on his way out. He’s appeared in only 5 games so far for Montreal in the postseason, registering 1 assist. Doesn’t sound like a guy the Habs are itching to re-sign. The Oilers, on the other hand, have the Ken Holland connection. Tatar played for Holland in Detroit and he knows what he can do. Playing on the left-wing of either McDavid or Draisaitl could see Tatar’s numbers skyrocket. The Oilers could likely land him on a one-year ‘show me’ deal, or a 2-3 year term at $5 Million or less.
Currently, with the Colorado Avalanche, Saad would bring a perfect mix of skill and experience to the Oilers locker room. He was a great fit in Colorado, putting up strong numbers with 15 goals in 44 games and another 8 points in the postseason. Probably more of a 2nd line fit with the Oilers, Saad brings Stanley Cup pedigree and veteran leadership, both crucial elements for the Oilers to take a step forward. I’m thinking he comes in around $4 Million on a short-term deal.
Currently, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hyman has been a rock for the Maple Leafs. He’s fit in seamlessly with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, posted strong plus/minus numbers, and can be counted on for around 20 goals. Make no mistake, the Leafs don’t want to lose Hyman, but their tight cap situation may force them to let him go. Hyman is very deserving of a raise and the Oilers may just be the team to give it to him. They know he can play with McDavid and Draisaitl and is probably the best player available, that covers all the categories a team would be looking for. He’s in line for a 5-6 year deal, at $5-5.5 Million.
Final Thoughts On Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
It will be a very sad day for Oilers fans if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leaves town. If this day comes, hopefully, fans can take solace in the arrival of one or more of these three players.
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