What is a realistic contract for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? When we look at recent signings, we can come up with a plausible salary range, but the term and AAV are not obvious.
RNH turned 28 in April. He has scored 185 goals and 478 points in 656 games as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. He is 10th in franchise history in goals and points and sits 12th in games played. But will he play another game in the white, blue and orange?
Oilers general manager Ken Holland has offered Nugent-Hopkins a few different contract options, but they’ve yet to reach an agreement. I understand why Nugent-Hopkins might want to test free agency. How often in life do you get firsthand knowledge of how others value you? Maybe another team will offer him over $6m AAV on a six or seven year contract. The risk is that he goes to market and higher offers aren’t from teams he truly wants to play for. The reward is there might be a better fit for him in free agency.
He and his agent Rick Valette have to weigh all their options. There is no rush to sign with Edmonton. Seattle has a 48-hour window to talk with UFAs in on July 18th to 20th, so RNH could listen to the team with the most cap space, just to get a sense of what they would offer. If it doesn’t entice him he could re-sign with the Oilers prior to July 28th. The risk for the Oilers is obvious. They could lose RNH for nothing, but unless Holland wants to keep upping his offer he has no other alternative.
But what is a realistic and fair offer? It is difficult to say because of the flat cap, but I wanted to look at some players who are comparable offensively to Nugent-Hopkins and who signed recently or are also pending UFAs. I ranked them off their 5×5 points the past three seasons.
6yr, $6.5m AAV 2021/22
8 yr, $6.5m AAV 2020/21
7 yr, $6.5m AAV 2020/21
5 yr, $5.5m AAV 2019/20
7 yr, $7m AAV 2019/20
4 yr, $4.25m AAV 2020/21
5 yr, $6m AAV 2019/20
Gallagher was a restricted free agent when he signed his six-year extension last October with Montreal. Gallagher just turned 29 and his new deal begins this season. I’m sure Nugent-Hopkins’ camp will look at the $6.5m AAV. Gallagher is a much more proficient scorer at 5×5 with 17 more points in 23 fewer games and a 2.48 points/60, compared to RNH’s 1.75. RNH produces much more on the powerplay though. Their overall P/60 is much closer at 2.47 for Gallagher and 2.44 for RNH.
Jordan Eberle signed for $5.5m two years ago while Anders Lee got $7m for seven years. Brayden Scheen and Chris Kreider’s new deals began in the 56-game shortened season and both got long-term deals. Both were 29 when their contracts began this season.
Toffoli was clearly the best bang-for-your-buck salary among these players, but his 1.73 P/60 at 5×5 is very similar to RNH’s 1.75. Only Blake Coleman (1.69 P/60) had a lower P/60 among these 14 forwards the past three seasons. Nugent-Hopkins’ 5×5 production, even when playing with the league’s two most offensive players, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, wasn’t as productive as the other 11 skaters.
How much will that factor in the negotiations? If they include that, then I’m sure RNH’s camp will counter with his excellent powerplay production. His 70 powerplay points were the best among this group and his 165 overall points were the most. While he was unable to produce as much as you’d expect with Draisaitl and McDavid at 5×5, he did produce on the man advantage.
Apr 2, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates a second period goal against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Goals and points matter a lot in my eyes, as they have the biggest impact on the outcome of games. Even if you have great shot share, if you aren’t outscoring the opposition, ultimately your chances of winning diminish. So here is a look at some possession metrics as well. I ranked them based on GF%.
D Zone St
The line of Gallagher, Danault and Tatar has been quite effective for Montreal the past few seasons, especially when you consider they started in the D zone more than the offensive zone. I’ve read some suggesting Tomas Tatar being a healthy scratch this post-season is a red flag. It isn’t ideal, no debate, but it doesn’t diminish what he’s done the past few seasons. It might hurt him in contract negations, but it benefits the team that signs him. He is still a very solid player, especially at 5×5, and he has produced quite well despite never playing with an elite offensive centre. He seems poised to be a great value signing for some team this summer.
While RNH has solid offensive numbers, his possession numbers are below average amongst this group and he’s played on a team that has the 15th most wins in the NHL the past three seasons and the ninth most the previous two seasons.
He’s also played a lot.
RNH has played the 15th most total minutes among forwards the previous three seasons. Draisaitl has played the most at 4,700 minutes, while McDavid is 5th at 4,421 and RNH is 15th at 4,058.
Among the aforementioned comparable players, Schenn is next at 3718, followed by Danault (3670), Toffoli (3468) and Kreider (3331). Is there a concern about wear-and-tear on Nugent-Hopkins? Or will teams view it as a benefit that he is capable of playing that much and in all situations?
Dec 16, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) in action during the game between the Oilers and the Stars at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Then there are other factors that each scout and organization will value differently, but will play a factor. Thing like: leadership, winning battles, winning key battles, hockey sense, faceoffs, making plays at each blueline and competitiveness. Some of the previous numbers can give you a sense of those, but teams have thousands of shifts on video they can dissect to get a better sense of the player.
But the biggest challenge is that all teams pay free agents based on what they’ve done to this point. They make a projection on who the player will be and what type of production he will have moving forward. History suggests most players, especially the non-elite ones, will start to dip, yet year after year teams still hand out long-term contracts to UFAs that end up being the low-value contracts.
So what is a realistic contract to expect for RNH?
The Toffoli deal is the outlier in terms of AAV and term. But it has also been the best value thus far. He signed his deal on October 12th, and the exact same GM, Marc Bergevin, gave Gallagher a six-year deal at $6.5m two days later. On October 8th, Bergevin signed Josh Anderson to a seven-year deal at $5.5m. So in a span of six days Anderson got $5.5m, Toffoli got $4.25m and Gallagher received $6.5m.
They are all slightly different players, and in different situations, but the deal varied in length and salary based on how the GM perceived them.
I believe RNH will get at least $5.5m and some team might be willing to pay him $6.5m and I sense the term will be five to seven years depending on the cap hit.
I’m bullish on going shorter term on every UFA, unless it was of the truly elite players in the game. I’d be leery of any contract longer than five years, but I understand why a GM will go six years if it means RNH signs with them. Only 13 of the existing 32 general managers have been with their team for more than six seasons. Longevity isn’t guaranteed in the NHL, and many owners, and managers, are impatient and only look a few seasons down the road and they will worry about a potential decline in year six rather than fret about it now.
I believe RNH will get a contract between $5.5m- $6.25m and for five or six years. If he signs a longer term then I expect the AAV to come in around $5m-$5.25m. The main question is will the team who signs him get good value from it?