Oilers Mailbag: Why Nugent-Hopkins will sign an extension in Edmonton

NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman joins Tim and Sid to discuss Phase 2 of the NHL’s return to play plan, and what’s next for the league and it’s players.

EDMONTON — Mailbag Tuesday has arrived, and we must say, considering that not very much has happened in the National Hockey League in the past many weeks, your questions remain unique.

We’re riffing on hub cities, Torey Krug, backup goalies and Ethan Moreau, of all people.

One day soon we’ll have actual hockey games to write about, but until then, enjoy a mailbag from your friendly neighbourhood hockey writer. Cheers!

I wouldn’t go near Vegas if I ran the NHL, and here’s why:

They began opening up hotels and casinos on June 4 in the city, and the plan is to open more as tourism dictates. Vegas is an international melting pot, and a place where casino-crowding and alcohol-fuelled decision-making works against what we know to be the tenets of pandemic prevention. It’s fun, but it’s sweaty — especially in the summer.

By late August, when the NHL playoffs would be in full swing, can anyone definitively say what the COVID-19 meter will look like in Vegas? It could be through the roof. Also, with casinos rolling and bars open, what are the chances one of the NHL’s mid-20s millionaires, a Black Ace from the minors or the farm team’s assistant coach breaks out of the bubble for a night on the town? Those chances are a lot greater in Vegas than in, say, Columbus or Edmonton.

And finally, have you ever been to Las Vegas in the summer? The average high in August is 40 C. Does anyone really want to be in the desert in August and September? A team can practice, then enjoy a day of golf in Vancouver, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Chicago… Not in Vegas – especially for a group in the midst of a playoff round. It would be 24-7 indoors.

Torey Krug was tied for fifth in scoring among NHL defencemen this season. Over the past seven seasons, he ranks eighth with an average of 38 points per season, which puts him ahead of names like Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty and Morgan Rielly.

Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has his defence corps pretty well in control money-wise. And the Bruins also have about $3 million coming off the books in retained salary and buyout money this summer.

Look, Jeremy Lauzon (23), Matt Grzelcyk (26) and young Urho Vaakanainen (21) are all nice players. The Bruins have done well here, and may be able to trade a D-man or two to fill some holes one day soon. But players like Krug don’t grow on trees, and Grzelcyk has one 20-point season under his belt — that’s it.

I keep Krug all day long. As soon as they let him go, Boston would be looking for the next Torey Krug.

The NHL is like any business, big or small. It’s in business to do business. To make money. It just so happens that many of us have become dependent on their product to a greater degree than we are on, say, those produced by a car company or the local dry cleaners. No one looks forward to going home at night and putting together an Ikea bookcase, the way they do watching their favourite team play a big game.

So, looking at it through that lens, go tell your local butcher not to open for a bunch of months. To just “wait ‘til October.” That butcher will open as soon as they can open because they have bills to pay. That’s why the butcher — and the NHL, and Sportsnet — is in business. To do business.

Oh, hard question. How about Jujhar Khaira? He hasn’t been around quite long enough to be sure, but Khaira trends toward a guy whose best offensive seasons will be near Moreau’s — around 30 points. He plays a tough, third-line game like Moreau did, though I’ll say Khaira has a ways to go before he will be deemed as good an overall player as Moreau was in his career.

Or, what about Zack Kassian? Both he and Moreau were first-round picks and their offensive numbers are roughly even. Both are tough, hard-checking depth wingers, though Kassian fits on Connor McDavid’s wing in a pinch. Yep, Kassian. That’s your answer.

Nope. You can’t have more than three goalies at a camp this size, or nobody gets the amount of work they desire. This isn’t training camp, with three groups and 60-some players. If I ran the Oilers, I tell Rodrigue to be ready and in shape in case a goalie goes down. But he doesn’t come into camp until he is one of three goalies, not one of four.

Normally, Nugent-Hopkins could not be signed until July 1 after the 2019-20 season is complete. That date is unknown now, though I do not expect a contract offer from GM Ken Holland until well into the 2020-2021 season. There just isn’t a great deal of pressure here on either side.

Yes, I think RNH signs in Edmonton and here’s why: Nugent-Hopkins is a genuine top-six player who carries his weight in the lineup. He’s 27, in his prime and not replaceable without paying someone else whatever it is he’ll make in his next deal. Plus, the Oilers don’t have any top-six forwards on the horizon, so they would not be able to even remotely replace him internally.

Nugent-Hopkins makes $6 million and has become a 70-point player. I’d guess he’ll be looking for Draisaitl money ($8.5 million), though the Oilers may think that’s high. But with McDavid ($12.5 million) and Leon Draisaitl ($8.5 million) atop the salary structure, Nugent-Hopkins could be signed for a number that does not leave Edmonton like Toronto — top-heavy with three forwards averaging over $11 apiece.

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