The Oilers may have to part with center Sam Gagner if they want to improve in other areas. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Despite the Edmonton Oilers’ depth in promising young talent, questions remain about key areas on their roster.
While right wingers Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov, left winger Taylor Hall, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenseman Justin Schultz suggest a bright future for the Oilers, they’ll need help to end their lengthy absence from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Edmonton Journal’s Jonathan Willis, writing for Oilers Nation, reported 630 CHED Oilers analyst Bob Stauffer expects the club could make a “wow factor” player move once the NHL lockout ends.
Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe stoked the speculation during a subsequent interview with Stauffer last Thursday.
Lowe acknowledged his team had assets which would be attractive to other clubs. He said “at some point, whenever that is,” his club would have to “make some tough choices” and move players, or a player and draft picks, to bring in the one or two pieces necessary to put the Oilers on the championship path.
Though Lowe admitted he doesn’t talk to other GMs anymore in his current role, he doesn’t expect Oilers GM Steve Tambellini would have much difficulty swinging a deal. He also hinted the new collective bargaining agreement might make it easier to make trades.
In Lowe’s estimation, goaltending and defense were the two biggest question marks heading into this season.
To address those areas, the Oilers will have to draw from their forward lines.
Budding stars like Eberle, Yakupov, Hall, and Nugent-Hopkins would attract considerable interest around the league, but nobody anticipates Tambellini shopping them.
Having won this past summer’s bidding war for Schultz, the American League’s player of the month for October, the Oilers won’t trade him, especially given puck-moving blueliner Ryan Whitney’s injury history.
Willis suggested left wing Magnus Paajarvi, right winger Ales Hemsky and center Sam Gagner – fixtures in the Oilers rumrr mill over the past year – as trade options.
Of the trio, Gagner would have the most value, but as Willis pointed out, it’s hard to imagine the Oilers moving him without getting another center in return.
Hemsky, 29, is a two-time 70-plus-point winger, but his lengthy injury history and $5-million cap hit could make him difficult to move. Paajarvi is only 21 and still considered a promising forward, but on his own wouldn’t attract much of a return.
Prior to the expiration of the old CBA, the Oilers reportedly made an offer for Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo.
The Canucks, concerned over the long-term health of Ryan Kesler, are believed to be seeking depth at center. Gagner would be a good fit there.
Problem is, the two clubs are division rivals and the Canucks might not be keen to have Luongo return to haunt them six times a year. If the Oilers gave up Gagner, they would have to shop around for a replacement.
Luongo was also linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs in recent speculation and the Oilers might be hard-pressed to outbid the Leafs, who have several assets (including center Tyler Bozak) believed to be tempting to Canucks management.
Indeed, The Province reported Sunday Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman and Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke were spotted at a recent Toronto Marlies game in Abbotsford, B.C.
With payroll at $62.9 million for this season, the Oilers also have to ensure they don’t take on too much salary for too long when the league returns to action.
If the league succeeds in lowering the salary cap ceiling for this season, the Oilers might be allowed to remain over that cap with their current payroll, but would have to ensure they become cap compliant the following season without hurting their overall roster depth.
Lowe’s suggestion the next CBA could make it easier for make trades suggests the possibility of teams being allowed to absorb part of a player’s salary to facilitate a swap. It’s also possible the Oilers will capitalize by picking up players from other clubs sitting much higher above the cap looking to dump salary.
It remains to be seen if one of those players is Luongo, but based on Lowe’s comments, the Oilers could be active in the trade market when the NHL finally returns to action.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.