Ottawa hockey insiders speculate on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Senators. Hmmm

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Speculation about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Ottawa Senators was kicked off last week by rumour specialist Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, who noted the Sens organization has made it clear it’s looking for veteran centre to help out young centres, Josh Norris, Shane Pinto and Logan Brown.

Garrioch mentioned Ottawa might try to move out centre Chris Tierney, then talked about numerous possible replacements including Nazem Kadri, Claude Giroux, Sean Monahan, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jack Eichel and RNH: “Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be able to choose whatever destination he wants if the Oilers decide to walk away after their four-game exit vs. Winnipeg and let’s be honest it’s an easy way for Edmonton to turn the page.”

Writer Ken Warren of the same Ottawa Sun picked up the drum beat, adding: “While Oilers fans are trying to figure out why the current centre setup hasn’t worked, Nugent-Hopkins looms as a potential answer for the Senators riddle in the middle… If he’s in the $5-to-$5.5-million range per season on a long-term contract, would the Senators take a long look? Even with the pending signings of restricted free agent wingers Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson, the Senators would have plenty of room under the salary cap. That kind of cash wouldn’t upset the internal salary structure, where Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot will sit at the top based on what they have already done for the organization and the potential they carry for future success.”

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My take

1. There will be no end to his kind of speculation until RNH signs here or moves on. The Sens tried to pick up a veteran centre to help out last season, trading a second-round pick for 30-year-old Derek Stepan, who flopped with the Sens, just one goal in 20 games. In this case, RNH will be an Unrestricted Free Agent, so he’d have to pick the Sens and I’ll be utterly astonished if he’d do so. The Sens are in a rebuilding phase and I have strong suspicion that RNH has had his fill of “rebuilding.” If he were to leave the Oilers, I suspect he would chose a solid playoff contender, not any team anywhere near the rebuild phase.

2. Edmonton is close to competing for the Stanley Cup. The team will almost certainly move up in NHL standings next year into the Top 10 teams. With Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and the best young talent its had in several decades, it looks ready to advance from playoff pretender to contender. RNH would surely have been a well-paid part of this ongoing push in Edmonton, but he had a mediocre regular season in 2020-21 that might well give Oilers GM Ken Holland pause.

3. Is RNH worth a bit on a long-term deal? Does he deserve a raise from $6 million per season? It would be fair game for any NHL GM to think long and hard on these questions, and I’m sure almost all of them will. At the same time, how many of them are contending teams with cap space and a willingness to use it on RNH with a long-term deal? That list might be quite small, especially with the cap flat for years to come. Nuge needs just one serious buyer to meet all those conditions, but I wonder if that buyer is out there.

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4. I doubt he ends up in Ottawa. I suspect he’ll end up in Edmonton. I’m an Oilers fan, so I hope he does so with a contract that makes him happy but also makes sense for the Oilers. As it is, I suspect RNH may be a bit under-valued, given he made major contributions to 152 Grade A shots this season, according to our count at the Cult of Hockey. That should have been good for about 45 points, not just 35. It would be folly for the Oilers and for any team to go long-term with him, given the collapse in his even strength scoring this year, but he’s an OK bet on a three or four year deal in the range of $5.0 to $6.0 million per season, say three years at $6.0 million per or four years at $5.0 million per. 

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