For the past several years, finishing an NHL season near the bottom of the standings has become a ritual for the Edmonton Oilers. Despite a consistent lack of defensive depth and size throughout the roster, previous management always resisted the notion of moving one of their top young forwards to address the issue.
Under first-year GM Peter Chiarelli, however, that could change. On Tuesday, Chiarelli told reporters he's open to the idea of trading a high-salaried forward like left winger Taylor Hall, right winger Jordan Eberle or center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While he's not seeking that kind of move right now, he didn't rule out the possibility of an off-season deal.
It's not the first time Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins have surfaced in the rumor mill, but it's certainly notable that Hall could be considered a trade candidate. The 24-year-old winger is among the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable season for the Oilers. He leads the club in scoring and is among the league leaders in points. Some observers consider him a future captain.
Of the trio, Hall would certainly attract the best return, perhaps landing that long-elusive top-two defenseman. Such a move, however, would also leave a gaping hole at left wing that Chiarelli could find difficult to fill.
Eberle was sidelined by injury earlier this season and struggled to regain his offensive form. Of late, he's developed a strong offensive chemistry with rookie center Connor McDavid. Chiarelli might be leery of breaking up that combination.
That leaves Nugent-Hopkins, who was reportedly offered up to the Nashville Predators earlier this season for defenseman Seth Jones before the latter was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets. On his own, the 22-year-old center won't fetch that top blueliner the Oilers need, but bundling him with another player might do the trick.
That player could be right winger Nail Yakupov. Like Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, he's a former first-overall pick. Unlike those two, he's struggled to establish himself as a scoring winger. Some observers believe a change of scenery could help the 22-year-old winger rediscover his offensive mojo. TSN's Darren Dreger reports the Oilers had trade discussions regarding Yakupov, but believes he could be an offseason move.
Another option for Chiarelli could be packaging his first-round pick in 2016 with Nugent-Hopkins or Yakupov. Given the Oilers placement in the standings, they once again have a very good chance of winning the first-overall pick in the draft lottery. With no “can't-miss” potential superstar defensemen among this year's top prospects, dangling that pick with Nugent-Hopkins or Yakupov might help Chiarelli land a quality blueliner.
Yakupov could also be on his way out of Edmonton by the trade deadline. Restricted free agent blueliner Justin Schultz could follow, along with pending UFA Teddy Purcell.
DROUIN COULD BE ON THE MOVE BY DEADLINE
With the Feb. 29 trade deadline fast approaching, suspended Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Jonathan Drouin is popping up again in the rumor mill. TSN's Bob McKenzie claims at least 10 teams have expressed interest in the 20-year-old playmaker and there's a growing sense his situation could be moving closer toward a resolution.
In the second year of his entry-level contract, Drouin holds no leverage with Lightning management other than to sit out and await a trade. With his club holding down a playoff berth, GM Steve Yzerman can afford to wait until the offseason to move the young winger.
However, Yzerman didn't rule out moving Drouin by the deadline for a return that helps the Lightning now. For the right deal, perhaps a top-four defenseman with a right-handed shot or maybe one or two top prospects, Drouin could be dealt by Feb. 29.
GMs WILLING TO MOVE PICKS
In the weeks approaching the trade deadline, there was a growing consensus among NHL pundits that teams could be unwilling to part with first-round picks for rental players compared to previous years. There was even some talk that there might not be as many second-round picks moved. Many pointed to the possibility of a flat-lining salary cap for 2016-17 could make general managers more keen to retain their picks.
The Toronto Maple Leafs receiving two second-round picks (one in 2017, one in 2018) from the San Jose Sharks for pending UFAs Roman Polak and Nick Spaling, however, suggests some GMs are still willing to swap quality picks for short-term help.
SI.com's Allan Muir speculates there could be some first-round picks on the move by the trade deadline. Potential rental players like Boston Bruins right winger Loui Eriksson, Winnipeg Jets left winger Andrew Ladd, Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal and Arizona Coyotes left winger Mikkel Boedker could prove tempting for Stanley Cup contenders whose first selections in the 2016 draft will be near the bottom of the opening round.
Muir also suggests playoff contenders carrying multiple picks in this year's draft, like the Bruins, Coyotes and Hurricanes, could be willing to move one of their selections for a quality return.
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Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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 The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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