Allow me to start off with a preamble here: I love Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I think he’s one of the best and most underrated two-way centers in the entire league. He’s a great kid. Keeps his head down, does his job, does work around the community, and is just generally a likable guy. I’d be gutted if we lost him.
What if he doesn’t have a breakout season here in 2016-17? That’s not to say as if he’s necessarily been “under-performing” in his first five seasons in the league. But you can’t say he hasn’t been a little… soft. Last year he dropped 27 games due to a broken finger, and he’s missed 44 total games in his career thus far. The more worrying thing is that he suffered in 2012-13 from the classic 21st century Oilers ailment known as “Shitty Shoulderitis”, and has already had it worked on a couple of times so far in his young career.
Now, this isn’t to say that he’s a broken man and a lost cause, it’s just a general comment on the physical aspect of his game: it just really isn’t there. Sweet baby Nuge doesn’t take sustained punishment by the NHL goon squad too well. Thankfully, he’s a smart kid, and is gifted with incredibly high hockey IQ, so he doesn’t necessarily need to play the toughest game out there. His intelligence on the ice gets him to where he needs to be and generally keeps him out of where he shouldn’t be. Generally.
I still can’t help but think that, as much as I like the guy, if a certain German stud steps up big time and shows he’s ready to sidle up into the 2C spot behind #97, and maybe a guy like Drake Caggiula ends up proving he can anchor a bottom-6… Well then that’s where things could get interesting.
Here’s how I see it going down. We’ll have to wait for the 16-17 season to play itself out fully, see who gets moved where, who doesn’t live up to the hype here and there, but I see Edmonton shopping out Nuge to a team who needs a solid, 50-point, two-way center who can drive plays and collapse effectively when those plays don’t always work out. (Who couldn’t use that, right?) But specifically, a team like Minny or Columbus. Call me a cynic, but I just can’t see Pierre-Luc Dubois being the savior for that team. By the end of this season, RNH is still locked into a very reasonable $6M contract for another 4 whole years. That is a tasty deal for a long time, something a team on the receiving end of his skill set can build around.
I see us getting at least a 2nd round pick + top-4 d-man or top-9 forward or prospect out of an RNH trade, but that doesn’t matter so much when we look at…
Brent Burns. I want him. And not just for his ridiculous facial hair or ASG breakaway showmanship. He’s just so goddamn good. And as a 6’5″, 230-pound, right shot offensive defenceman, he’s exactly the type of hockey player that Peter Chiarelli is having exquisitely deviant dreams about right now.
Burns put up 27 goals and 48 assists (75P!!) in a full 82-game campaign last year. His boxcars read like this for his career so far: 797GP-141G-282A-423TP. He’s +3 in RelCorsiFor% averaged for his career. His playmaking is elite with a FirstA/60 rate of 0.53. He’s a giant goon and is a nightmare to play against because he’s so offensively strong while simultaneously being huge and very difficult to break past for opposing offensive players. He’s just so goddamn good.
He’s also coming into free agency at the end of this season. And his contract expiry is such that not only does San Jose not have to resign him before the dreaded expansion draft rolls around, he also doesn’t need to be protected from the clutches/talons/swords of the Las Vegas BlackJackKnightBirds or whatever they’re called this week. To me, this is a perfect storm for Burns to be testing the waters and seeing what a new team might be willing to give him to essentially cap off his fine career.
Right now, Burnsy makes $5.76/per. A very respectable deal, no doubt. He’ll want more. So if the Oilers just so happen to find themselves, oh, I dunno, ~$6 million dollars richer by the end of next season, what can we reasonably offer Brent Burns that would convince him to pack his bags and head up to E-town?
Well, he’ll be 32 by the time this move is even viable. So I don’t see us wanting to offer him anything over 6 years. He’ll probably want to pull a Weber and be playing (“playing”) into his 40s, but it won’t happen. GMs are way too leery about those deals with defenceman nowadays, considering the fact that Arizona Coyotes legend Chris Pronger is still technically an NHLer. I think Burns will ask for 8, we’ll counter with 5, and ultimately settle on 6 years at something between $7.5-$8M. A huge contract, no doubt. But ultimately a workable one when you consider that we just made $4.5M more dollars by shockingly not resigning Nikita Nikitin, and we’re going to find another $3.25M when Andrew Ference’s contract goes away at the end of this season.
We also have our magical, high-profile player-accumulating tool known as Connor McDavid, and let’s not forget that Burns played for years with Todd McLennan behind him on the bench, and you’ve got to think that if the combo of McD + Chia gets us Looch, McD + MacT could get us Burns…
Anyway, keep in mind here that while San Jose is struggling to say the least with cap space, they are on the verge of losing Thornton and Marleau and their accompanying cumulative $13.4M to unrestricted free agency next season as well. So you never know, maybe they’ll throw the cheque book at Burns and tell him to write in a number he likes. Or, maybe they’re going to clear house and start from scratch. I know I’m sure hoping it’s the latter. Sorry, Nuge.