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The Money…

There’s a lot of room for debate when it comes to how much the Edmonton Oilers should pay Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a new contract and for how long they should pay it when his seven-year deal worth $42 million is up after next season. We’ve seen a wide range in the discussion about dollars in the last few days.

In a town where “Keep Nuge Forever” is a thing, I’ve seen some fans throw out numbers as high as $7.5 million a season over a max term of eight years. RNH and agent Rick Valette wants them sitting at the bargaining table. Jason Gregor wrote an in-depth piece yesterday citing comparables. Gregor landed on a top-end of $6.5 million over six years and a bottom line of $6 million over the same term, given COVID-19 and the flat-cap.

I come in right in the middle of Gregor’s numbers at $6.25 for six years. Understanding what I think doesn’t mean a damn thing to Valette or Oilers’ GM Ken Holland, my number is based on giving RNH a modest raise during difficult times with the Oilers having cap issues. My term ends at six years because, with rare exception, I don’t believe it makes sense to offer players contracts that take them into their mid-30’s at top dollar. That’s just me.

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That $6.25 million isn’t a take-it-or-walk number (although I did suggest it was on Twitter yesterday). It would be my target going into negotiations as GM. Again, there’s room for debate and cases can be made why that number could change. That said, loyalty, which came up yesterday, isn’t at the top of my list of reasons why. RNH has been a good, loyal soldier. That is true, but it’s also true he’s been handsomely paid during his tenure.

IT’S A BUSINESS

Bottom line, the NHL is a business. Players and agents are quick to lean on that when it comes to contract time, and that’s a perfectly legitimate argument. That also holds true for general managers, not that Holland needs me to remind him of that. I’ve got no desire to see Holland play hardball with RNH, but he can’t go in pitching underhand either just because Nugent-Hopkins has spent so many lean seasons here without complaint.

There comes a time, when it can be argued he’s worth 7 & you’re willing to go as high as 6.5, that you take the fact he’s been a warrior for us through embarrassing years & is well-liked by his teammates & pull the trigger. Show players that this org can be loyal to its guys.

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I understand that sentiment, as does anybody who watched the Oilers and Ryan Smyth part ways over a few hundred thousand dollars in February of 2007. If ever the loyalty card should’ve meant something, it was then. GM Kevin Lowe grinding Smyth was a bad look. Smyth should not have had to go elsewhere to get paid – after finishing 2006-7 with the New York Islanders at $3.5 million, Smyth got $6.25 over five years with Colorado as a UFA in his next contract.

HOW IT PLAYS OUT

The flat cap because of COVID-19 isn’t RNH’s fault, but it is his problem because it does impact the UFA market now and likely will for a few years. That changes the dollars RNH can expect now and even if plays out the final year of his contract. That’s not to say he couldn’t get paid more on the open market, but the flat cap will most certainly shorten the line-up of interested teams.

Under normal circumstances, I’d say RNH should bet on himself and not sign a deal until his current contract is up. If he scores at the same pace he has over the last two seasons, he has an even stronger case as a UFA and he can still stay in Edmonton even if he takes a look-see at what else is out there. There’s still leverage there, just not as much.

While it matters that RNH wants to stay here, that he’s respected in the room from everything I’ve heard (I’m not there) and that it’s likely captain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would be less-than-impressed to see him go, there’s other important issues for Holland. What does the top-six forward group look like without RNH? Who do the Oilers have to replace him? Who fills that spot if Holland has to bring somebody else in? How much does that cost, particularly if the replacement comes from the UFA pool?

I don’t think $6.25 million a season for a term of six years is the proverbial slap in the face some people will argue it is, given the circumstances. Likewise, I don’t think $7 million a season means Holland has been taken to the cleaners. Is there a middle ground at the intersection of business and loyalty that makes sense and keeps everybody happy? Sure there is. What’s that number?

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Previously by Robin Brownlee