Negotiations between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Edmonton Oilers were “mangled” and now up in the air, says NHL insider

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This in from Elliotte Friedman, one of the most credible and reliable sources of NHL news, his take on Calgary Sportsnet 960 radio that negotiations between the Edmonton Oilers and 10-year veteran Ryan Nugent-Hopkins haven’t gone well and are now up in the air.

“I got to tell you, that one has been tough,” Friedman said of the negotiation. “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. 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.”

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The NHL salary cap may not go up for five years, Friedman said, an opinion that is pretty widely shared. “At the end of the day they were trying to compete at some level this year. I do think they see value inside Nugent-Hopkins inside the organization. I do think they were trying to sign him. But if 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.”

This is not a terrible strategy to use a player for a season, then let him walk and use the money elsewhere, Friedman reiterated. “I do think (RNH) has an attachment to them. But, like I said, we have a negotiation here that went sideways… They’ve tried to put it back together and work it out, they’ve had a lot of trouble.”

Friedman also said it’s possible Oilers would buy out goalie Mikko Koskinen, who has one year left on a deal that pays him $4.5 million. “I got to think it’s Koskinen, it’s possible he’s the guy, and maybe Neal but the problem with Neal is he’s on your cap for four years. I’m not as convinced about one. I think it’s more likely to be Koskinen.”

On defence, Darnell Nurse will sign a big deal in a year, if not sooner, Evan Bouchard will play and Adam Larsson will be re-signed, Friedman said. “I heard Larsson’s number is right around where it is now.”

Edmonton’s goal is to find out which of its young players can play, Friedman said, naming Bouchard and Ryan McLeod.

“Generally what I think they’re going to do is they’re going to try to turn it more over to their young players and find out who they can. count on long-term. To me that is probably the right thing to do.”

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My take

1. I hope the Oilers can work out something with RNH, but it won’t be easy. Given all the factors at play, I’d suggest a deal that might work for both sides is giving RNH all the money he wants and maybe even a bit more, but keeping the term short, preferably one or two years, three years max. If it turns out to be an overpay — if RNH’s even strength alarmingly low level of scoring continues to tank — then there’s some pain for the Oilers but not brutal long-term pain. If RNH does well and performs at a high level he will easily get a new contract. Does that make sense for both sides.

2. Friedman’s Calgary radio spot is a major boat load of significant Oilers speculation from a highly credible source. I hope I’ve in no way misunderstood or misrepresented what Friedman said here, but as I hear it and as I process his lengthy exploration of this topic, this isn’t the best news if you’re a huge Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fans and are dead set on him returning to the Oilers. That sounds like it’s in doubt, like it’s going to take some real movement from one or both sides if that’s going to happen.

3. What has gone sideways with RNH? I can only speculate. My best guess is that when it comes this mangling, it’s completely understandable, as three or four confounding factors have been at play all at once: 1) The prospect of the NHL’s salary cap staying the same through the five-year duration of Connor McDavid’s contract in Edmonton is giving the Oilers pause about throwing big money at other players; 2) Nugent-Hopkins has been tried in two key spots, as a left winger for McDavid and as a second-line centre and he’s come up short; 3) RNH had a terrible year putting up points at even strength; and 4) other teams may well see more value in him as a first or second-line centre and be willing to pay more over a long-term to get him, making his market value one thing in Edmonton but potentially another thing in another NHL city.

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