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Spector: Expect a new contract for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but there isn’t pressure to get a deal done soon

It seems very likely that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will sign another contract with the Edmonton Oilers, but, when that happens is up in the air.

Nugent-Hopkins is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2021, as the seven-year deal he signed back in September of 2013 comes to an end. That would mean that general manager Ken Holland will be able to sign Nugent-Hopkins to an extension this off-season. The date would normally be July 1, 2020, but everything has of course been pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Spector wrote in his mailbag at Sportsnet that he believes the Oilers and Nugent-Hopkins will come to terms on a new deal, but that there isn’t any urgency from either side to get a contract done right away.

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Normally, Nugent-Hopkins could not be signed until July 1 after the 2019-20 season is complete. That date is unknown now, though I do not expect a contract offer from GM Ken Holland until well into the 2020-2021 season. There just isn’t a great deal of pressure here on either side.

Yes, I think RNH signs in Edmonton and here’s why: Nugent-Hopkins is a genuine top-six player who carries his weight in the lineup. He’s 27, in his prime and not replaceable without paying someone else whatever it is he’ll make in his next deal. Plus, the Oilers don’t have any top-six forwards on the horizon, so they would not be able to even remotely replace him internally.

Nugent-Hopkins makes $6 million and has become a 70-point player. I’d guess he’ll be looking for Draisaitl money ($8.5 million), though the Oilers may think that’s high. But with McDavid ($12.5 million) and Leon Draisaitl ($8.5 million) atop the salary structure, Nugent-Hopkins could be signed for a number that does not leave Edmonton like Toronto — top-heavy with three forwards averaging over $11 apiece.

He put up the best season of his career statistically in 2019-20. He scored 22 goals and 61 points and surely would have broken the career-high of 69 points he set in 2018-19 if not for the season being cut short. Nugent-Hopkins found chemistry alongside Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto this year as the trio formed one of the most dominant lines in hockey.

There’s no doubt that Nugent-Hopkins is a key part of Edmonton’s future. He’s developed into a multi-dimensional forward who can serve as either a quality, two-way second-line centre or as a winger who produces at a 70-point clip. He’s also only 27 years old, meaning Nugent-Hopkins has plenty of good years left ahead of him in the league.

But, as Spector says, there isn’t a rush from either side to get a new deal done. There are so many question marks around the league right now that signing a player to a long-term deal a year before he’s eligible to hit the open market isn’t realistic. We have no idea what the salary cap is going to be in 2020-21 or the extent to which the financial ramifications of COVID-19 will affect the salary cap for years in the future.

Another thing to consider with Nugent-Hopkins, as I pointed out a few months ago, is the Seattle Expansion Draft. If Edmonton reaches a handshake agreement with Nugent-Hopkins ahead of the expansion draft in June of 2021, they wouldn’t have to use one of their protection slots on him. That would give the Oilers the flexibility to protect somebody like Caleb Jones or Tyler Benson who would otherwise be left open to Seattle if Nugent-Hopkins were to be protected.

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So while all signs seem to indicate that Nugent-Hopkins will remain a member of the Oilers for the long-haul, I wouldn’t expect a contract extension any time soon.