With the grey cloud that’s hung over the Edmonton Oilers this season, the few standouts that have kept their year from falling into utter disrepair haven’t had enough light shone on their success.
One player that immediately comes to mind is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored the overtime winner in last night’s 3-2 Oilers win over the Arizona Coyotes. The Oilers just as easily could’ve lost that game, in which the Coyotes out-shot and out-chanced them, according to the data tracked at www.NaturalStatTrick.com.
— Baggedmilk – Beet writer til .500 (@jsbmbaggedmilk) November 29, 2017
As far as low points go, losing to the then 6-17-3 Coyotes on home ice is digging for Hades. Could the Oilers recover from that? It’s said that Connor McJesus can produce miracles, but that’s asking a bit much.
Fortunately, that’s a question not worth asking, and that’s due in large to Nugent-Hopkins. He’s been a big part of keeping this team from those depths for a while now.
That’s why it’s peculiar, if a little disconcerting, that Nugent-Hopkins has been a permanent fixture in the NHL’s rumour mill since the start of the season. It was always assumed that the Oilers long-term financial outlook would force Nugent-Hopkins and the $6-million they owe him annually for the next four seasons from their roster in the summer. And certainly, there’s merit to the argument that it’s one of the better options available to Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli to balance the books for next year and beyond.
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) July 26, 2017
How are the Oilers at a point where this is even worth exploring in earnest with over 50 games left to play though?
The only way one could have foreseen that timeline accelerating itself is if the Oilers found themselves mired in the type of season they’re currently suffering. Nothing brings on panic, and panic moves, quite like expectations unmet. When the expectations are as lofty and unforgiving as the Stanley Cup, you have a recipe for disaster.
As far as options go, the Oilers don’t have many. Especially as it concerns assets that hold significant value.
That’s how one of their most consistently productive players in Nugent-Hopkins finds himself dangled to and fro in trade rumours. If the Oilers want to shake things up, that’s about all they have left to them to accomplish that end.
Making a move for the sake of making one doesn’t usually work to the advantage of the team that’s forcing the issue, though. Chiarelli should know this all too well, as his footprint with the Oilers can so readily attest.
The Oilers lack secondary scoring and need help on their back-end, which is striking since Chiarelli’s been making moves in a similar vein to the one we’ve been forced to hypothesize for a while now. We’re not going to relitigate the Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle trades because that’s history, but a Nugent-Hopkins trade at this venture feels like a continuation of that timeline, and that’s been a dark chapter for this team.
If Nugent-Hopkins continues at his current scoring rate, he’ll establish a new career high in points with 59. Nugent-Hopkins is converting on north of 15 per cent of his shots at the moment, so it seems unlikely that he’ll continue to score at this clip, but he’s an 11 per cent career shooter, so the drop off in goal production won’t be immense.
The good news is, Nugent-Hopkins’ on-ice shooting percentage checks out at a sustainable level, so his primary contributions as a playmaker aren’t in jeopardy of parting with him down the stretch, either.
Based on the fact that Nugent-Hopkins is scoring himself at an unsustainably high rate and still owning a normalized on-ice shooting percentage suggests to me that as his individual goal-scoring tails off, his linemates should be able to pick up the slack, assuming regression to the mean. It’s possible Nugent-Hopkins’ raw counting stats are understating how efficient a distributor of the puck he’s been thus far.
Meanwhile, Nugent-Hopkins has been reliable as always in terms of pushing play in the right direction. The almost 52 per cent of shot attempts that the Oilers are controlling with Nugent-Hopkins on the ice may seem unspectacular compared to most Edmonton skaters, but it’s more impressive than most give credit. Consider that Nugent-Hopkins is providing that value without having played even two minutes at even strength with Connor McDavid. Instead, Nugent-Hopkins has played with Milan Lucic (far from a possession anchor, but not as good as he once was in this regard) and Ryan Strome.
The good news is that this story has had more cold water poured on it lately than gas. As Oilers Nation’s Baggedmilk highlighted in his recap of yesterday’s rumours and ruminations from around the league, focus seems to have shifted to Patrick Maroon and away from Nugent-Hopkins as far as moveable pieces in Edmonton are concerned.
— OilersNation.com (@OilersNation) November 29, 2017
Hopefully, for the Oilers’ sakes, there’s merit to those reports. This team can’t afford to trade Nugent-Hopkins. Certainly not this season, and if he remains this productive any longer, perhaps not for the foreseeable future period.