The Edmonton Oilers got another of their young stars locked up on Thursday, signing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a seven-year, $42 million contract extension to keep the 2011 first overall draft pick under contract through the 2020-21 season.
In a press conference in Edmonton, Nugent-Hopkins repeatedly expressed his excitement at remaining in Edmonton.
“It’s an awesome time for me and my family, and I’d like to thank the Oilers organization, including Daryl [Katz], Craig [MacTavish], Kevin [Lowe] and everyone else involved,” he said.
“I couldn’t be happier, and it’s going to be great.”
MacTavish was pleased to get the deal done early, citing the 20-year-old Nugent-Hopkins’ skill and character as reasons for the deal getting done.
“It’s equitable, it’s reasonable, and when two reasonable people come together, you can normally come to a reasonable conclusion,” he said of the negotiations.
“Ryan wanted to stay here, we really wanted to keep him here, and we knew what the template was, having done that with two of our other star players.”
The Oilers general manager called the contract “a complete no-brainer,” and it was an easy one to get in the right financial ballpark.
“When we did the contracts with [Hall and Eberle], at that point we knew we’d be doing a similar, if not identical contract to what we did with those players. This is just a reflection of how highly we hold Ryan within our organization.”
The Burnaby, B.C., native and former Red Deer Rebel has played 102 career NHL games, scoring 22 goals and 54 assists for 76 points. However, shoulder injuries have affected both of his seasons (62 games played in 2011-12, 40 in 2012-13), and some argue he would have won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2011-12 over Gabriel Landeskog had he not been injured.
Despite Nugent-Hopkins’ durability being tested, MacTavish was optimistic about his young pivot’s health.
“The surgery is solid, and there’s a good history to lead us to believe and have every confidence that there won’t be a problem going forward,” he said.
The extension means the Oilers will have just under $30 million in salary cap space tied up in six players (Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle, Sam Gagner, Andrew Ference, and Ladislav Smid) for at least the next three seasons, with other key young players including Justin Schultz (RFA) and Devan Dubnyk (UFA) needing new deals after the 2013-14 season, and 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov waiting as an RFA after the 2014-15 season.
A common refrain from MacTavish was his belief that, by the end of the contract, paying Nugent-Hopkins $6 million per season would look like a bargain based on his offensive output. Once the 2014 season starts, he’ll find himself with an equal cap hit to not only Hall and Eberle, but also Carolina’s Jordan Staal and Boston’s Milan Lucic. He’ll be at a higher value than 2009 first overall pick John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and Mike Richards, and he’ll be lower than Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg, along with young Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
While he’ll be linked to Hall and Eberle in terms of assessing contract value, Nugent-Hopkins needs to find some more consistency in his game, which should come as he’s only 20 years old.
However, in an era where top picks are supposed to step into the lineup and contribute right away, Nugent-Hopkins will still have some growing pains. Despite posting 52 points in 62 games as a rookie, there were times when Nugent-Hopkins would dry up offensively, and Nugent-Hopkins acknowledged that his 2012-13 numbers (four goals and 24 points in 40 games) represented a drop from where he wanted to be.
However, let’s not lose sight of Nugent-Hopkins only being 20 years old. He’s still a young man with loads of potential to grow, so I think, as the contract progresses, that Nugent-Hopkins will develop into an even more integral part of the Oilers’ core than he already is.