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5 Things – Part Two: Bring Back Nuge and Larsson

We are all fully expecting the Oilers to be very active this offseason. They have some holes that need to be filled, pending free agents that need to be re-signed, and bad contracts that need to be dealt with. There’s a lot to get done and there’s been a lot of debate around Oilersnation about what Oilers GM Ken Holland should and shouldn’t do.

That’s why I’ve decided to take my offseason wish list for the Edmonton Oilers and break it into five steps. You’ll see each idea get its own article on the site over the next few weeks as we continue debating and speculating about what Holland could do to this roster over the next few months. If you missed part one, you can find it HERE.

2 – Bring Back Nugent-Hopkins & Larsson

I fully expect the Edmonton Oilers to be very active on the free-agent market this offseason, but before they do that, they’ll have to take care of a couple of their own pending unrestricted free agents.

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Let’s start with Larsson since most Oilers fans seem happy with the idea of him coming back. There have been plenty of reports from different insiders around the sport that Larsson and the club are close to signing a 3-4 year contract that will carry a cap hit close to $4 million, which is exactly how much he made last season. That seems more than fair. Larsson reportedly loves playing here and the Oilers benefit from his presence on the ice. After battling injuries in 2019-20, he put together a really solid season in 2020-21 and it’s clear that he’s a very important part of this blueline.

Everyone talks about the modern defenseman and how important it is to have players who can move the puck up the ice. I don’t disagree with that at all, but there is still value in having a player like Larsson who is a strong penalty killer and can break up cycles with his strong play along the boards. A deal for Larsson should get done and it likely will. 

With that being said, if the Oilers are smart, they’ll wait until after the expansion draft to sign the deal. Really no sense in forcing yourself to protect Larsson if you know he wants to stay here and if you’re Larsson, there’s no reason to make the team lose a good young defenseman like Caleb Jones.

Now that brings us to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whom the fan base is much more divided on. Personally, I don’t understand the hate that he gets. He’s coming off a bad season, but before that, he had three straight seasons of 0.7 points per game or better.

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In the last four seasons (counting this season which was a down year) he ranks 52nd in points per game amongst forwards (with at least 100 GP). That’s pretty good. The three players right ahead of him are Filip Forsberg, Sean Monohan, and Vladimir Tarasenko. The three players right below him are Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Debrincat, and JT Miller. All of those players make between $5.0-7.5 million per season.

Yes, Nugent-Hopkins has the luxury of playing with either McDavid or Draisaitl, but he’s still productive in that spot, and guess what? He’ll still get to play with them once he signs a new deal. He’s not suddenly going to constantly play with worse linemates. On top of that, he can kill penalties, he’s responsible in his own end, and he can play centre if you need him to. His versatility is an asset.

Around free agency, there is a lot of talk about “fit.” Teams are making huge investments in players and they don’t know for sure if they’ll click with their stars. The Oilers know that Nugent-Hopkins works in their top six. There’s no risk in this signing. He is clearly worth between $5.25-$5.75 on a long term deal and I might even go $150-200k over that to make sure the deal gets done.

It was frustrating to watch Nugent-Hopkins struggle to produce at even strength this season, but that extended slump may have saved the Oilers close to $1 million on this contract and based on his history, I think the former first overall pick will bounce back just fine.

Based on all the reports I’ve read, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins loves being an Oiler, the Oilers love him, and his teammates value having him around. The same three things could be said about Adam Larsson as well. Ken Holland needs to go out and acquire some impact pieces to improve the Oilers’ ability to score goals, but before he does that, he needs to make sure that two important pieces of the core are back in the fold.

As for which big-name they should target, I’ll be giving my take in part three of this series, which will be dropping soon!

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