After a stunning first-round sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, the bad could soon get worse for the Edmonton Oilers. Appearing on Sportsnet 960 in Calgary today, insider Elliotte Friedman dropped a bomb: “That’s a negotiation that went sideways… It fell apart.” He’s of course referring to the Oilers’ negotiations with impending free agent Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, easily the third-best forward on a top-heavy Edmonton roster. After a decade of consistent production, the Oilers could now potentially watch the 2011 first overall pick walk out the door.
According to Friedman, the two sides were close to terms of an extension early in the season. He is unsure when or how things starting to break down, but Friedman adds that whatever imminent deal was once on the table is no longer there. ” I believe it was always the plan that Nugent-Hopkins was going to stay and they wanted to keep him,” Friedman stated, “And now I don’t know… it got mangled.”
While the Oilers could certainly use the added cap flexibility that an RNH departure would afford them, they would have a hard time making up his production, even with multiple additions. A career .73 per-game scorer, Nugent-Hopkins has notched 60+ point seasons in two of the past three years and in an 82-game season this year would have surpassed 50 points for the sixth time in his ten-year career. That kind of production, especially to a team that sees Nugent-Hopkins as a center rather than wing, could be invaluable this off-season. Among impending UFA forwards, RNH ranked sixth this season in points per game and many of those players around him – Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Toronto’s Zach Hyman, and Boston’s David Krejci and Taylor Hall – are expected by most to re-sign with their current squads. Nugent-Hopkins could realistically enter the open market as the most coveted forward available. If the Oilers allow RNH to test the market, the odds that they will be able to afford to re-sign him diminish greatly.
Talks will certainly continue between the two sides. Friedman notes that there have been attempts to rebuild a mutually acceptable offer, but it obviously hasn’t happened yet. Edmonton’s early playoff exit may have changed the mindset of the player or the team, but assuming there is still interest in an extension, negotiations will probably come down to the last minute. However, generally when a deal is in place and then breaks down to this extent, it doesn’t bode well for a continued relationship. Will the 2021 free agent market become the summer of RNH?