Once You Trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, He’s No Longer On Your Team

One of my all-time favourite sports quotes was actually coined by a current Edmonton Oilers employee, and it went something to the effect of “people realize that once you trade Evgeni Malkin, you no longer have Evgeni Malkin on your team, right?” It’s obviously an overly simplified point, but that’s by design. It’s one that’s worth remembering in moments such as these. 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is no Malkin, but he is the type of asset that a team should worry about parting ways with willingly. Should the Oilers pull the trigger on a trade involving him, he’ll no longer be on their team. That’s a problem. 

It’s worth dropping a disclaimer here that all of these rumours are purely speculation or hearsay at this point. But typically where there’s smoke there’s fire, and the frequency and fervor with which things have been coming out recently suggests that the Oilers are at the very least mulling over making a splash trade. Ryan Rishaug, who’s proven to be a reliable source on these matters, stoked the fire today on Twitter:

The collective opinion on Nugent-Hopkins as a player turned dramatically at some point, I just can’t quite pinpoint when. Or why. Sentiments such as these imply that he’s a reason for the Oilers inability to get out of the NHL’s cellar. After a quick scan of the team’s depth chart I can assure you that the amount of skill they currently possess isn’t an issue, unless of course you’re going the other way and suggesting that they don’t have enough of it. That holds some water. As for the ‘soft’ part of the equation, it’s such a tired and lazy delusion at this point that it’s honestly not even worth spilling digital ink over. 

While it’s easy to blame the top end of the roster for what’s quickly shaping up to be another disappointing season, I’m not quite sure what more people can expect from Nugent-Hopkins at this point within reason. By every objective measure, he’s progressing towards beyond the upper echelon pivot the Oilers drafted him to be. He’s quickly developed into a workhorse, consistently eating the most difficult minutes against the best the opposition has to offer. Since ’05, only 13 players have had a season in which they averaged at least 15 minutes of 5-on-5 time before their 23rd birthday: Derek Stepan, Bryan Little, Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie Benn, Evander Kane, Bobby Ryan, Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Taylor Hall, and Nugent-Hopkins (who’s currently well on his way to making it onto the list for a second time). 

More importantly, he’s been productive in that time. He’s 51st in the league since his first legitimately full NHL season back in 2013, despite not had the benefit of playing with a defenceman that could make life easier for him by effectively getting him the puck on anything resembling a regular basis. He’s on pace for his fourth 50+ point campaign before the age of 23, which only a select few have managed to do in recent history. There’s no reason to believe that, even if he doesn’t reach the peak heights some of those guys, he won’t be able to at least jump another couple of levels as he approaches his physical peak as an athlete.

Somewhat anecdotally, his game has jumped leaps and bounds as a two-way player since the start of last season. From my limited viewings, he does as good a job as any forward of sagging back in his own zone and providing support. Beyond all of the offensive benchmarks we just outlined above, there’s a not-so-subtle irony to the idea that moving their best defensive option down the middle will help address their biggest need: becoming stingier in the defensive end.

It’s interesting that these trade rumours are predominantly coming on the heels of the Nugent-Hopkins/Hall combination being split up out of necessity once McDavid went down with injury. The beneficiary of that has been Leon Draisaitl, who has apparently vaulted himself ahead of Nugent-Hopkins on the organizational depth chart after just 15 games. There’s no question they’ve been wildly productive and filled with scintillating showings, but as Jonathan Willis so elegantly warned they’re also fraught with red flags. He’s had the good fortune of riding a significant percentage spike, being strapped to the hip of one of the league’s most dominant wingers, and having someone else pick up the tab when it comes to combating the other team’s best. Having to do the last part without the luxury of the first two is a whole other animal. 

If the Oilers brass does ultimately deem Nugent-Hopkins expendable because of Draisaitl’s emergence and McDavid’s eventual return, then I imagine that they’ll immediately have 29 interested suitors. The inherent issue, though, is that a very small number of those teams can actually entertain their request of a young, cost-effective top pairing defenceman. If there’s a rarer commodity across the league than an up-and-coming two-way center, it’s that. 

The Nashville Predators may be the one team with the ability to do so with Seth Jones, but even then you’re still rolling the dice on someone that’s yet to show he can handle the sort of responsibility and workload at this level that the Oilers are looking for. As good a bet as Jones appears to be for that based on everything he’s done to-date, it’s still a risky proposition. And all of that is assuming that the Predators would actually be willing to trade him, which is anything but a given. Those sorts of assets typically non-starters. Just as likely is the scenario in which the Oilers wind up settling for talking themselves into making an ill-advised leap of faith because they already feel pot committed. 

Peter Chiarelli and Co. may eventually need to take said risk in an act of desperation to change status quo and right the ship. They’d just better tread carefully here, because trading away a talent like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at this stage of his career carries with it a ton of blow-up potential. The guy being entrusted to make that determination should know a thing or two about that.

  • Oilers lost 2 games on the road trip because they could not score 1 goal, and you all think they need to trade for a defenceman and a goalie? I see a much more structure game defecivly, I see a defenceman that could be a the horses that they need.I have no problems with trades but not for the sake of making a trade. Learning to win consistently in the NHL is hard, NO ONE player is going to help with that.

  • Soiled Trousers

    Bruins are on a roll. We scored 6 goals in the 5 game road trip. Our top 2 players on the 2nd line combined for 2 assista and a minus 16. Yup should be a guaranteed loss night. Will tonight be the first jersey toss?

  • Soiled Trousers

    Those who are reluctant to even consider trading one of the core (you put in the name Hall, RNH, Ebs, okay not a lot of love for Ebs at the moment)remind me of a person in an abusive relationship who cant seem to leave. Just keeps hoping things will get better.

  • Lofty

    Maybe our biggest problem might be new management and coaching at this stage ? They are certainly not performing any better than previous group . Odd how Eakins said MacT. was the man to lead Oilers into competitiveness , and now we have to wonder if he might have been correct . The new group seems to have taken us back even further than anyone expected .

  • bradleypi

    Totally agree, for me RNH is untouchable, as are all of our top 3 centers. If Draisaitl moves to the wing he will still perform at a high level, and he give us injury protection in our top 6. You don’t trade that away.

    Also, Ebs has struggled since returning, but it is only a hand full of games. He has been a consistent producer over his career so far. I would not trade him either. Imagine him playing his best hockey in Nashville or similar. We would likely regret trading him, unless we got Seth Jones, or Ekblad or someone of that caliber.

    Personally, I think it has been our bottom 6 that have let us down this year, for the most part. We get almost no production from those guys, and that is where we need to concentrate, I believe. Of course, once McDavid and Yak are back, we should be able to throw out 3 good lines, which should be a pain for opposing team to try and defend against. I am sure RNH and Ebs will get their games going within the next 10 games.

  • Jaxon

    Please read this from the summer… we have short memories. Nuge is on his way to being elite. You don’t trade that, especially since we really don’t know what we have in Draisaitl and McDavid yet even if the arrows are pointing way way up. Nuge has still been taking the hard minutes and plays the best overall game on the team. He’s in a bit of a slump, so what. Relax.

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/oilers-nugent-hopkins-in-elite-centre-territory/

    “You know what else is hard to believe? Only one forward in the NHL — John Tavares at 20:40 — played more minutes per night than Nugent-Hopkins’ 20:38 in the 2014-15 campaign. Here are a few other stats you likely were unaware of when it comes to the guy who is, for now, the Edmonton Oilers’ first-line centre and one the emerging stars in the game today:

    • 22 of RNH’s 24 goals last season came at even strength. That’s more five-on-five goals than Patrick Kane (21), Jonathan Toews (20), Evgeni Malkin (19) and Sidney Crosby (18).

    • 41 of his 56 points came at even strength, more than Anze Kopitar (40) and Patrice Bergeron (39), and just five behind Toews.”

    AND THIS:
    http://www.beerleagueheroes.com/is-ryan-nugent-hopkins-a-top-center-in-the-nhl/#

    He is not the 3rd C on this team. He is the number one and only 22. For example, Logan Couture’s first full season was when he was 21.5 yrs old, which means Nuge’s last season was equivalent to Coutures first full season. The Oilers simply do not win trades when they’re in last place. It’s not how things work.

  • Chainsawz

    Good read. I hate the spin that Nuge should be traded because he only brings “soft” skill. If one based an argument on the notion Draisaitl has passed him on the depth chart, while Im not YET a fan of this notion, it is a more sane perspective than that of Rishaug’s. To me the only argument that makes sense is simply the Nuge would command the highest return of all the “available” players. Whether or not he should even be in that group is another debate. At the end of the day, being an Oilers / Red Deer Rebel fan, it would be heart breaking to see the Nuge shipped out of town. I personally think, and hope, chiarelli takes the year to see what he has on this team. If Draisaitl truly is better than Nuge, make him prove it all season… not just a 15 game sample. If by the end of the year Dr. Drai is the man and you can get a LEGITIMATE top pair D man at the cost of my Nugey, I could probably get behind that

  • LordVallko

    Here’s a start! Winnipeg needs a goalie, trade Nilson plus bottom eight player(s) with picks for rights to Byfugien, then sign him to a 6 for 6 or 7 for 7 etc. or similar. Put a clause in the deal, if he doesn’t sign an extension, the deal is lighter or we get an asset back. But if you pay him, he will sign. They always do!

  • Spiel

    There are too many voices in Oilers front office. Chiarelli is the GM and POHO, but he still has Lowe (ex of both positions), Mac T, Howson, and others around from the previous regime. Normally a GM and POHO is allowed to hire their own management team. The situation reads as dysfunctional.

    Me thinks that the owner is too involved on the management side or too attached to his buddies for real changes to occur.

    The fact that within a few weeks of winning the lottery, the Oilers hired a new GM was not happenstance. McDavid’s representatives surely let it be known to Nicholson that they were not thrilled with the current state of Oilers affairs. The next pressure point will be when it is time for McDavid to get a new contract. If the Oilers have not cleaned up the obvious dysfunction, it will be very difficult to convince McDavid to sign a contract beyond his UFA years. If he signs a shorter deal, he is all but gone once he becomes a UFA.

  • Jaxon

    Honestly I don’t get why people defend Nuge so much. He isn’t an impact player at all. Not hating on him but really what is so special about him. He is not the only problem I get that.

    I am not saying give him away for nothing but if the price is right I’d like to see some new blood if nothing else we need a culture change. Probably would be better for him as well to move on. The issue now is what realistically can we get in return for hum or Ebs.

    Something needs to change.

  • Jaxon

    I would love to have him on my team. Good 1-2 punch with him &McDavid. Need some solid 2 way wingers to compliment the skill on this team(ones that grind &ago to net). A solid 2way veteran defenseman would also be a huge help.
    If that were to cost Hall and or Eberle so be it. It will be a necessary and probably unpopular deal/s, but if depth can be acquired then wins will come. Needless to say whom ever PC deals it will be tough as dollar figure of some of the players on Edmonton are maybe out of touch with their worth.

  • Chainsawz

    Can’t people accept that just because someone is traded doesnt mean that he is not liked or valuable. YOU NEED TO GIVE UP QUALITY TO GET QUALITY. At some point you need to trade players that you like.

  • Spiel

    Absolutely no way Draisatl is even close to the same league as the Nuge. Nuge will be one of the top Centres in the league in less than five years;
    Draisatl’s ceiling is a top line centre on an average team.

    I love them both, but NO WAY you let Nuge walk if you can run three scoring lines and a productive energy line. If you keep the shifts short they can all get enough playing time. Over a season, you manage the in minute games depending on the opposition. That’s a 1A, 1B, and 1C line.

    That’s the new (future) NHL, leave it to the Oil to re-invent the league again, about time.

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