Welcome to 21 Questions, an off-season series in which we look at some interesting Oilers- and NHL-related questions heading into the 2021 season. 
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is eligible to hit the open market for the first time in his career this summer.
It feels like a lifetime ago that Nugent-Hopkins signed a seven-year, $42,000,000 deal, one that gave him an identical cap hit of $6,000,000 to @Taylor Hall and @Jordan Eberle, the two other members of Edmonton’s core trio who had been signed the previous off-season.
Here we are now. Nugent-Hopkins’ deal will be the final of those three to expire. Eberle re-upped with the Islanders on a deal worth $5,500,000 over five years and Hall opted to take a one-year, $8,000,000 deal with the Sabres so he could take another swing at free agency when times are more normal.
What will Nugent-Hopkins’ next deal look like? And who will he be signing it with?
Let’s figure out what the dollars and cents on Nugent-Hopkins’ next deal will look like. For the sake of finding a comparable, here are the long-term deals signed by high-level, free-agent forwards in their mid-to-late-20s since July 1, 2019…
  • @J.G. Pageau: Six years, $5,000,000 cap hit. Extension with 42 points in 67 games.
  • @Charlie Coyle: Six years, $5,250,000 cap hit. Coming off 34 points in 81 games.
  • @Brendan Gallagher: Six years, $6,500,000 cap hit. Coming off 43 points in 59 games.
  • @Chris Kreider: Seven years, $6,500,000 cap hit. Extension with 45 points in 63 games.
  • @Brayden Schenn: Eight years, $6,500,000 cap hit. Coming off 54 points in 72 games.
  • @Kevin Hayes: Seven years, $7,142,857 cap hit. Coming off 55 points in 71 games.
  • @Matt Duchene: Seven years, $8,000,000 cap hit. Coming off 70 points in 73 games.
Brendan Gallagher’s six-year extension to stick around with Montreal (he would have been a UFA after the 2020-21 season) is the only one of these contracts that was signed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the financial ramifications of the pandemic, free agents are obviously seeing a bit of a squeeze, but Gallagher’s extension indicates that key players are still going to get paid on long-term extensions regardless of the lower-than-expected cap ceiling.
The cluster of Gallagher, Chris Kreider, and Brayden Schenn who all inked deals worth $6,500,000 annually is probably the low-end for a Nugent-Hopkins extension. Those three are all good, productive, top-six players but I wouldn’t put any of them near the elite category. If this were two years ago, I would put Nugent-Hopkins in this category of players. But, over the past two seasons, the former No. 1 overall pick has elevated his game to a new level.
As a result, the best comparable from this list would be Matt Duchene, who scored 70 points in 73 games between Ottawa and Columbus in 2018-19 before signing a seven-year deal worth $8,000,000 annually with the Predators. Duchene, like Nugent-Hopkins, is a former top draft pick who plays both centre and wing.
Nugent-Hopkins, of course, is coming off the best season of his career offensively. He scored 22 goals and 61 points across 65 games and surely would have eclipsed his 69-point career-high had the season not been cut short. If Nugent-Hopkins has another near point-per-game season in 2021, he’ll be able to use Duchene’s deal as his comparable.
The advantage that Edmonton has over Nashville is that they would be re-signing Nugent-Hopkins, meaning they can give him an eight-year term whereas the Predators could only offer seven years on the free-agent market. That means the Oilers could offer Nugent-Hopkins the same total value — $56,000,000 — over eight years, bringing the cap hit down to $7,000,000 annually.
Can the Oilers afford such a deal?
Edmonton currently has $53,000,000 committed to their roster next season and it appears as though the salary cap will remain flat at $81,500,000. Mike Smith, Tyson Barrie, Adam Larsson, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Ennis, and Nugent-Hopkins are free agents while Kailer Yamamoto, Dominik Kahun, and Jujhar Khaira are restricted free agents.
There’s quite a bit of cap room for Ken Holland to work with here. The Oilers can afford to ink Nugent-Hopkins to a new deal worth somewhere between $7,000,000 and $8,000,000 annually and still have enough money to make upgrades elsewhere on the roster, like finding a starting goalie or adding a veteran defenceman. You could probably extend Nugent-Hopkins and sign Taylor Hall as a free agent if you really wanted to.
Given their salary cap flexibility, I have a difficult time imagining the Oilers and Nugent-Hopkins not reaching terms on a new contract. It took him a little while, but Nugent-Hopkins has developed into an excellent, versatile player for the Oilers, one who can effectively centre his own line or be an ideal complement to Connor McDavid. He’s also going to be only 28 years old in the first season of his next contract, so Nugent-Hopkins should have plenty of good years ahead.
Something similar to the deal Matt Duchene signed with the Predators would be fair for both the Oilers and Nugent-Hopkins.

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