The first big free agent off the board is Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who the club reportedly extended Tuesday morning (Andy Devlin/National Hockey League/Getty)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Signs 8-Year, $41 Million Extension With Oilers

Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs have not ended, some teams are already starting to take action. Thanks to the Seattle expansion draft and flat salary cap, this year’s offseason figures to be one of the most interesting in recent memory. There are several teams with key decisions to make that could cause extensive change across the NHL, but the first big domino to fall in the 2021 offseason is one of familiarity, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Edmonton Oilers have resigned forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The contract is 8 years at $41 million, or a $5.125 million cap hit, and also carries a full no-move clause. The club has not officially announced the deal yet, perhaps so they do not need to protect Nugent-Hopkins (a pending UFA) in the aforementioned expansion draft.

Nugent-Hopkins was seen as one of the pillars of Edmonton’s rebuild when the Oilers selected him first overall in the 2011 Draft. He immediately finished second in Calder Trophy voting in 2011-12 and while he is not the game-changer fans were hoping for, he is nevertheless a very solid player. Nugent-Hopkins delivered his best year in 2019-20, scoring at nearly a point-per-game rate after scoring a career-high 69 points the year before, but Nugent-Hopkins’ scoring took a slight step back this year, dropping to a 55-point clip.

Despite this slide, his underlying numbers went from merely respectable to legitimately impressive. For the first time in his career, Nugent-Hopkins was above breakeven as a play-driver (though he has been better looking at his numbers relative to his teammates). In fact, he did so by a pretty healthy margin, (52.23% Corsi, 55.56% xG), and his eight points over Edmonton’s last two playoff runs rank third behind the two superstars of the squad. He is skilled but also defensively responsible. He can center his own line or fill in next to one of Edmonton’s superstars on the wing. Overall, there is a lot to like about Nugent-Hopkins.

The Oilers gave him a massive contract, but is it a smart investment? Eight years is a bit precarious, as the Oilers will be paying Nugent-Hopkins until he is 36 years old (though this is actually a slight pay cut from his previous AAV of $6 million). Nugent-Hopkins signed a 7-year, $42 million deal coming off his entry-level contract in 2014. You can thank the flat salary cap for that development, although Nugent-Hopkins’ new deal is not exactly a cheap one. Skilled but responsible players like Nugent-Hopkins generally age pretty well, but this contract, like most eight-year deals, could be painful at the end. That being said, the Oilers will happily accept that outcome if Nugent-Hopkins helps bring in the goods before then.

As they showed in a stunning first-round sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, the Edmonton Oilers are a flawed team. They have two of the world’s best players but the organization needs more quality players around them. A lack of forwards who can keep up with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl has hurt the team over the last few seasons. They traded Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Milan Lucic was good for one year and then fell off a cliff. Kailer Yamamoto took a step back. Jesse Puljujärvi has yet to live up to the billing of a number four pick, and Zack Kassian lacks high-end skill.

Gotta think Wayne Gretzky would’ve stayed if the Oilers had offered him 8 x $5.125 million, too.

Edmonton’s only clear top-six forward that is not a Hart winner is Nugent-Hopkins. And while the Oilers could have found a new third-best forward in the offseason, continuity is a good thing here. Nugent-Hopkins wears a letter. He is the team’s longest-tenured player by a solid margin, and he was a rare bright spot on some truly horrible Oilers teams during the mid-2010s. He has also been productive throughout his NHL career. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins earned this contract, and I appreciate that the Oilers are rewarding him for his play, but GM Ken Holland still has a lot of work left this offseason.

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Advanced Stats are 5-on-5, Score and Venue Adjusted unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick; salary cap information via CapFriendly