Originally posted on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 11/4/11

By Patrick Powell

Through Wednesday night’s action, every NHL team save the New York Islanders has reached double digits in games played for the 2011-2012 campaign. Every team is beginning to develop an identity, and General Managers are watching closely to determine whether it may be time for a trade.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the early stages of the season is the young Edmonton Oilers. 2011 first overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 18, has taken a firm hold of the club’s first line center position through eleven games. Nuge, as he is known, recently earned NHL Rookie of the Month honors for his stellar play in October (five goals and 11 points) while playing with fellow youngsters Taylor Hall, 19, and Jordan Eberle, 21. The entry-level contracts of Hall and Eberle will expire after the 2013 season. Currently, the Oilers have approximately $3.5 million in available cap space (per CapGeek).

Despite being in first place in the Northwest Division, the Oilers are getting paltry contributions from forwards other than the young first liners and 35-year-old perennial fan favorite, Ryan Smyth (five goals, 10 points). Oft-injured Ales Hemsky has dressed for only two games thus far, but he may be available sometime during the Oilers’ current road trip. Hemsky is a dazzling player when healthy, but his $4.1 cap hit through next season may render him expendable this season. Team captain Shawn Horcoff has done well in the faceoff circle, and lead the team’s penalty killing efforts (Oilers rank fifth in the NHL entering Thursday’s action). Horcoff is an interesting story because despite his effectiveness in the faceoff circles and in the dressing room, he carries a humongous $5.5 million cap hit. His contract runs through the spring of 2015, so given that the top trio will probably be in the market for substantial raises, the Oilers may have to make some tough decisions over the next couple of years.

The Oilers have allowed an NHL-low 18 goals through Thursday’s games. A big reason for Edmonton’s early success is the play of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who leads the NHL with a 1.12 goals-against average.

Despite their limited number of offensive threats, the Oilers seem to believe that they will get a boost from Hemsky, and that Ryan Jones will begin to emerge as a threat on the third line. Given that Edmonton’s most coveted trading chips are young forwards Sam Gagner and Linus Omark (who was demoted to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday), rumors have swirled that the Oilers are talking to teams such as the Blue Jackets and Rangers about a blueliner.

Speculation from league sources is that the Oilers are eyeing Marc Methot ($3 million cap hit) of the Blue Jackets and Ryan McDonagh ($1.3 million cap hit) or Daniel Girardi ($3.325 million cap hit) of the Rangers. Mathematically speaking, a straight up trade involving Sam Gagner ($2.275 million) and any one of the aforementioned players would keep the Oilers under the cap.
The Oilers may be wise to acquire a young blueliner in exchange for an extraneous forward.  

Given GM Steve Tambellini’s tricky cap situation in the next couple seasons, he needs to be careful to avoid creating further difficulties in re-signing Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins when their entry-level deals expire.


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