In the NHL’s hard salary cap era, every dollar against the cap is beholden to the utmost scrutiny. Often, the very skill of players can be under or over emphasised because of the price tag they come at. An inefficient cap hit, or AAV, can affect a GM’s legacy as much as any trade or draft selection. Draft pick sweeteners for cap purposes in trades have become more popular, as evidenced by the Nashville Predators retaining just enough salary on the recently acquired Mattias Ekholm for the Edmonton Oilers to be able to afford Nick Bjugstad with 50% salary retention, the maximum that can be retained by any one team, from the Arizona Coyotes.
Though Oilers GM Ken Holland has made his fair share of perceived missteps against the cap, which draw and power a large portion of Oil Country’s collective ire, there have been some very efficient signings that have counter-acted. This balance is displayed by the team’s overall success in the past two seasons. As much as inefficient contracts are widely and openly bemoaned it seems that adulation for efficiency is often understated. Perhaps such is human nature, to take for granted the positive, or rather, could it be a symptom of the NHLs overall competitiveness?
Lost somewhere between draft lottery wins and high priced extensions is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While his synergy with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl has carried value, Nugent-Hopkins has delivered a level of play beyond any season of career, a new benchmark for a player that was once the first overall selection himself in the 2012 NHL entry draft. Now, having surpassed the 100-point threshold, Nugent-Hopkins enters a new stratosphere.
While this level of play is worth noting in its own right, the fact that this career season comes in the first year of a newly signed six-year extension at a cap hit of $5.25M makes Nugent-Hopkins’ contributions that much more valuable. To contextualise this success we will analyse the points per cap dollar of those likely to reach the 100-point mark this season, and further analyse other notable seasons in this metric over the years.
100-point seasons in the cap era
|Leon Draisaitl||Edmonton Oilers||2021–22||80||55||55||110|
|Johnny Gaudreau||Calgary Flames||2021–22||82||40||75||115|
|Jonathan Huberdeau||Florida Panthers||2021–22||80||30||85||115|
|Kirill Kaprizov||Minnesota Wild||2021–22||81||47||61||108|
|Auston Matthews||Toronto Maple Leafs||2021–22||73||60||46||106|
|Connor McDavid||Edmonton Oilers||2021–22||80||44||79||123|
|Steven Stamkos||Tampa Bay Lightning||2021–22||81||42||64||106|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Calgary Flames||2021–22||82||42||62||104|
|Connor McDavid||Edmonton Oilers||2020–21||56||33||72||105|
|Leon Draisaitl||Edmonton Oilers||2019–20||71||43||67||110|
|Sidney Crosby||Pittsburgh Penguins||2018–19||79||35||65||100|
|Leon Draisaitl||Edmonton Oilers||2018–19||82||50||55||105|
|Patrick Kane||Chicago Blackhawks||2018–19||81||44||66||110|
|Nikita Kucherov||Tampa Bay Lightning||2018–19||82||41||87||128|
|Brad Marchand||Boston Bruins||2018–19||79||36||64||100|
|Connor McDavid||Edmonton Oilers||2018–19||78||41||75||116|
|Claude Giroux||Philadelphia Flyers||2017–18||82||34||68||102|
|Nikita Kucherov||Tampa Bay Lightning||2017–18||80||39||61||100|
|Connor McDavid||Edmonton Oilers||2017–18||82||41||67||108|
|Connor McDavid||Edmonton Oilers||2016–17||82||30||70||100|
|Patrick Kane||Chicago Blackhawks||2015–16||82||46||60||106|
|Sidney Crosby||Pittsburgh Penguins||2013–14||80||36||68||104|
|Evgeni Malkin||Pittsburgh Penguins||2011–12||75||50||59||109|
|Daniel Sedin||Vancouver Canucks||2010–11||82||41||63||104|
|Nicklas Backstrom||Washington Capitals||2009–10||82||33||68||101|
|Sidney Crosby||Pittsburgh Penguins||2009–10||81||51||58||109|
|Alexander Ovechkin||Washington Capitals||2009–10||72||50||59||109|
|Henrik Sedin||Vancouver Canucks||2009–10||82||29||83||112|
|Sidney Crosby||Pittsburgh Penguins||2008–09||77||33||70||103|
|Evgeni Malkin||Pittsburgh Penguins||2008–09||82||35||78||113|
|Alexander Ovechkin||Washington Capitals||2008–09||79||56||54||110|
|Evgeni Malkin||Pittsburgh Penguins||2007–08||82||47||59||106|
|Alexander Ovechkin||Washington Capitals||2007–08||82||65||47||112|
|Sidney Crosby||Pittsburgh Penguins||2006–07||79||36||84||120|
|Dany Heatley||Ottawa Senators||2006–07||82||50||55||105|
|Marian Hossa||Atlanta Thrashers||2006–07||82||43||57||100|
|Vincent Lecavalier||Tampa Bay Lightning||2006–07||82||52||56||108|
|Joe Sakic||Colorado Avalanche||2006–07||82||36||64||100|
|Martin St. Louis||Tampa Bay Lightning||2006–07||82||43||59||102|
|Joe Thornton||San Jose Sharks||2006–07||82||22||92||114|
|Daniel Alfredsson||Ottawa Senators||2005–06||77||43||60||103|
|Sidney Crosby||Pittsburgh Penguins||2005–06||81||39||63||102|
|Dany Heatley||Ottawa Senators||2005–06||82||50||53||103|
|Jaromir Jagr||New York Rangers||2005–06||82||54||69||123|
|Alexander Ovechkin||Washington Capitals||2005–06||81||52||54||106|
|Eric Staal||Carolina Hurricanes||2005–06||82||45||55||100|
|Joe Thornton||Boston Bruins/San Jose Sharks||2005–06||81||29||96||125|
There have only been 47 individual 100-point seasons in the past 17 years. This list is made up of players who might all be in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day.
It’s possible that roughly ten players reach the milestone this season, clearly a symptom of the league’s trend towards offence. Goals are up and save percentages are down. Between the 2010–11 and 2016–17 seasons, only five players reached the 100-point plateau, once each. Not all of these 100 point seasons are created equally.
Cap dollars per point of 100-point season for 2022–23
|EV||EV||Cap Hit||Years Remaining||$/PTS||$/PTS rank|
A few things stand out off the bat. Tage Thompson in on the last year of a deal that he is vastly outperforming, an ode to his unique development path that saw him explode into a top line talent in his age 24 season, last year. His cap dollar per point is not likely to be matched this season, but it might be a stretch to think that he is able to hit the 100-point threshold. Erik Karlsson would be the first defenceman to reach the 100-point plateau in the cap era with a few big performances down the stretch. Karlsson is also the oldest player on this list at 32, followed by Nugent-Hopkins and Nikita Kucherov at 29.
Nathan MacKinnon and David Pastrnak are finishing the last year of deals that were long regarded as some of the most valuable league-wide. Both are already signed to extensions that almost double their current cap hits, with MacKinnon set to surpass McDavid for largest cap hit league-wide.
Jack Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Jason Robertson are both younger players on contracts signed more recently. All three are clearly among the top players in the league, and clearly worthy of taking the torch from MacKinnon and Pastrnak as a gold standard for contract value. This speaks to the lack of leverage younger players have in contract negotiations.
The Oiler’s own Leon Draisaitl is, of course, on a fantastic value contract himself that still has three seasons remaining.
Still, Nugent-Hopkins outpaces all five of Draisaitl, Pettersson, Robertson, MacKinnon, and Pastrnak when it comes to dollars per point among 100-point seasons. As much as this is an amazing sign, it should be noted that Nugent-Hopkins’ even strength production is the lowest of this group.
Current circumstances for Nuge
This increase in offensive production has put Nugent-Hopkins among the upper stratosphere of the league’s scoring race. It should probably be conceded that RNH is not quite on the level as his cohorts here, rather that the centre has found a way to punch above his weight.
Perhaps, even as he is about to enter his 30s, Nugent-Hopkins is well suited to age gracefully. His skating and speed have never been the focal point of his game, so as long as he is able to maintain some semblance of his mobility, his hands and mind should allow him to continue playing at a high level through most of his current seven-year contract.
It is worth mentioning that Nugent-Hopkins’ career year came a season after he was challenged by Coach Jay Woodcroft to take his game to a higher level. The coach has managed to put RNH in positions to succeed. Naysayers might mention that RNH is simply capitalising on power play time with McDavid and Draisaitl, but he has been on the power play with them for years now. RNH deserves full credit for his ascension, and perhaps the partnership between coach and player, as well as the swell in league scoring, will see the centre continue to play above his career averages for the next few seasons.
Looks aren’t everything, but considering the seemingly ageless nature of Nugent-Hopkins it might be likely that the centre holds up well through his 30s. If anything, RNH is becoming stronger, more rugged, and more durable, not to mention more savvy. These assets should help him more than youthful exuberance or pace did.
RNH is already starting his legacy
As Nugent-Hopkins quickly approaches 800-career games and 700-career points, he is some ways off of a Hall of Fame career. With a full career Nugent-Hopkins might have a shot at reaching 1000-career points, lofty territory for any player. The NHL’s current All-Star selection process, focusing on representing each team more than anything, severely limits RNH’s likelihood of receiving the honour. Over the next handful of seasons, circumstances would have to line up for RNH to get that chance, despite clearly being worthy of such this season.
The Oilers are no stranger to first overall draft picks, and fans across Oil Country are no doubt aware that not all of these players are created equally. Some years have generational talents, or future Hart Trophy contenders like McDavid or Connor Bedard this year. Some players are seemingly on pace for the Hall of Fame, like MacKinnon or Auston Matthews. Some are a cut below that, yet still top pine NHLers, like Taylor Hall or Aaron Ekblad. Of course, for one reason or another some are known as busts, like Nail Yakupov. Just where does Nugent-Hopkins fit into this? Moreover, how does one evaluate if the burden of expectation has been satisfied?
Even within Nugent-Hopkins’ 2012 draft class there might be some interesting comparables. Fellow top three picks, Jonathan Huberdeau and Gabriel Landeskog, are well known top line players, and so far have achieved a bit more than RNH has. Even without individual accolades, team success can help shape this perspective, as seen with reigning Stanley Cup Champion Landeskog. The Colorado Avalanche captain has missed the entire season with injury, but was always lauded for his value beyond raw offensive production totals. Meanwhile, Huberdeau is off to a rocky start with the Calgary Flames, and a long, expensive extension is kicking in next season. We should expect Huberdeau to bounce back, but given all our talk on contract value, he will be under a lot of scrutiny over the remainder of his career.
All these factors converge to form the present moment for Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers. If the team is able to achieve its ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup, all the players on the roster will be forever held in higher esteem. If Nugent-Hopkins can maintain a pace near a point per game across most of the next five seasons, he should help make up for some of the leaner years in the early stages of his career to form a strong resume of career production.
It remains to be seen to what extent Nugent-Hopkins’ reputation will be raised, but between his level of play, Woodcroft’s success coaching, and Holland’s successful gamble in re-signing the centre to a long extension at a pay decrease have all converged over the past two seasons to make a tangible impact to Nugent-Hopkins’ valuation. In a hockey world more and more influenced by statistics and analysis, we must remember that the chaos of life will throw curve balls. With players’ scoring primes and overall effectiveness thought to be in the early to mid 20s, aptly displayed by this year’s list of top scorers, Nugent-Hopkins joins teammates Zach Hyman and Derek Ryan in bucking the average progression.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire