Many, many things have gone "sideways" for the perennially disappointing Edmonton Oilers over the past number of seasons, so why would contract negotiations with one of their most important assets go any differently?
As arguably the team's most important piece outside of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins heads to free agency on the heels of the most excruciating ending to an Oilers season since the current core has been together. With a multi-year flat salary cap looming and Nuge looking to cash in what will likely be his last "big" deal, the two sides needed to find some common ground in order for it to work.
But that is absolutely not what is happening in negotiations that have become tense and "mangled," according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.
“I got to tell you, that one has been tough,” Friedman said Friday on Calgary's Sportsnet 960. “They were really close before the season started and it fell apart at the last second. I don’t know what is going to happen there. Whatever was on the table then I’m not convinced is on the table now. We’re going to have to see. That’s a negotiation that went sideways. They tried again a couple of times. I really don’t know how to handicap that one. I really don’t."
“Something happened here. I believe it was always the plan that Nugent-Hopkins was going to stay and they wanted to keep him. I think anyone who is familiar with this situation will tell you they thought it was going to happen and it got mangled. And now I don’t know," Friedman added.
"To me, I don’t think it’s the worst thing if someone walks, as long as you do something good with the cap room.”
Nugent-Hopkins isn't coming off his most productive campaign, notching 16 goals and 35 points in 52 games this past season before tallying just one goal in Edmonton' four straight losses to the Jets in the first round. He is still, however, an extremely effective player at both ends of the ice who fills key slots on the power play with the ability to move up and down the lineup while mostly occupying the Oilers' crucial 2C spot.
With the need to aggressively move the franchise forward before McDavid's patience and prime slowly dwindle, losing a homegrown, capable second-line centre (or winger, if you so choose) of Nugent-Hopkins' caliber for nothing would be yet another brutal setback for the Oilers.
Unless, of course, they use that $6-million-plus in coveted cap space extremely well. That's a very tall ask for an organization that hasn't quite been the model for cap management excellence in the past, no matter who's in the GM chair.
“At the end of the day they were trying to compete at some level this year," Friedman said. "I do think they see value inside Nugent-Hopkins inside the organization. I do think they were trying to sign him. But if he walks, I think just saying, ‘We’ll take the $6 million in cap room and do something with it,’ I don’t think that’s the end of the world. Now you’ve got to do something with it.”
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