The Edmonton Oilers will soon face a cap crunch and may be forced to deal star Ryan-Nugent Hopkins. If available, the Vancouver Canucks should at least to try to see if a deal can be had with their western Canadian rivals.
Through his first three years as Vancouver Canucks general manager, Jim Benning has stayed away from making blockbuster trades — and rightfully so.
He came over to inherit the mess that predecessor Mike Gillis left behind. Benning was forced to deal away fan favourite Ryan Kesler after the 2011 Selke Trophy winner requested a trade which was granted to the Anaheim Ducks in 2014.
Other than that, Benning has smartly tried to build this team through the draft and hasn’t sacrificed future assets for star players that could help them “win now”. But as the Canucks continue to stock up their farm system, you do wonder if Benning will eventually go for it and make a big move.
If he’s awaiting an opportunity, he may have to look no further than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — the Edmonton Oilers young star who suddenly finds himself in the trade rumour mill.
In the wake of the Oilers locking up stars Connor McDavid (eight years, $100 million), and Leon Draisaitl (eight years, $68 million), Edmonton suddenly faces salary cap woes that will have to be addressed in the future.
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David Staples of the Edmonton Journal doesn’t believe that a Nugent-Hopkins trade will happen, believing that they’ll “find a way to keep him”.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Oilers have just over $8 .3 million in cap space. That’s before McDavid and Draisaitl’s extensions kick in, though. 27-goal man Patrick Maroon is also a free agent next year, and is due for a big extension.
So in reality, Edmonton may have to move out Nugent-Hopkins in 2018 or 2019, who has four years remaining on his current deal at $6 million a season. That’s where Benning should pick up the phone and try to make a deal with a rival team.
Player the Canucks need
Though the Canucks are building a nice foundation of young players centered around Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi, they still need an established scorer with that “wow” factor in his game.
Nugent-Hopkins — who was drafted with the first pick in 2011 — has struggled to stay healthy and has been inconsistent in his career. But when healthy, he’s usually good for 18-plus goals and a minimum of 50 points a season.
He also owns a career Corsi For percentage of 52.0, exemplifying a strong puck possession game that would fill Vancouver’s needs. Nugent-Hopkins’ defence also shined in the postseason, as his line shut down Joe Thornton and co. during the opening round of the 2017 playoffs.
Nugent-Hopkins may not have the mind-blowing stats. But he produces like a reliable No. 2 centre, plays solid defence and has the speed and puck possession to fill out the weaknesses across Vancouver’s roster. He’s a player that would undoubtedly make them a much better team.
Cost would be affordable
When you take a look back on teams who were forced to clear out high-salaried players, you’ll notice they didn’t get much of a return. The Boston Bruins had to give away Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders in 2014 for a pair of second round picks.
The Blackhawks had to deal perennial 30-goal and 60-point man Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars in 2015 for a second-pairing defenceman in Trevor Daley and bottom-six forward Ryan Garbutt. They also got very little in return for the aforementioned Byfuglien, Ladd and Versteeg trades.
So the Canucks would have leverage in trying to work out a deal with Edmonton. The Oilers know they can’t demand a guy like Horvat or Juolevi. Plus, Edmonton wouldn’t be able to afford a guy like Horvat, Sven Baertschi or Markus Granlund — who will surely get locked up to extensions soon.
In a possible RNH trade, Edmonton wouldn’t be able to take back high salaried players. They could only demand draft picks and perhaps one or two mid-level prospects.
At the end of the day, a Nugent-Hopkins trade isn’t urgent — and we have no idea if the Canucks and Oilers would be interested in doing a deal. But if the Oilers have to move out their star forward, the Canucks have to at least look at the opportunity to trade for Burnaby, B.C. boy.