Does Nugent-Hopkins On LTIR Open Door For Big Cap Space Trade?

The Edmonton Oilers placed forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on long-term injury reserve (LTIR) this week. The move will take his $5.125 million salary and give the Oilers an additional $5.6 million in cap space. As per PuckPedia, GM Ken Holland can now exceed the NHL’s salary cap by $10.7 million, with plenty of room to theoretically make a big move, should the Oilers want to.

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But, does this move, and the subsequent decision to waive Kyle Turris and free up even more cap space, mean the Oilers are on the verge of doing something big? The answer is probably no, and here’s why.

Things Are Not That Simple

Unless the Oilers know something about Nugent-Hopkins’ injury that they aren’t letting on about and he’s done for the remainder of the regular season, his salary is not free money the Oilers can simply go out and spend. That $5.6 million in cap space is a deceptive number as the extra money gained by moving Nuge can only be spent if he’s out until the playoffs. In that instance, the Oilers can do what the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Nikita Kucherov and bring Nugent-Hopkins back for the start of postseason without a cap penalty.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There’s been no indication his injury is that serious. Therefore, once he’s activated, that cap hit has to come back onto the books.

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In other words, the Oilers can’t go out and trade for a player like Marc-Andre Fleury and add his pro-rated $7 million salary to the books because once Nugent-Hopkins is healthy, Edmonton won’t have enough space to keep both Fleury and their own forward. It’s the same theory that applies in Vegas, where the Golden Knights are going to have to decide what to do with a couple of contracts once Jack Eichel is ready to play and Max Pacioretty is healthy enough to return.

What Can the Oilers Do?

All the moved salary does is give the Oilers room to add in the short term. Remember, Nugent-Hopkins going on LTIR gets backdated or is retroactive to the date he went down with an injury (Dec 31). He only needs to miss 10 games to be considered LTIR eligible and he might be back after that, with postponed games counting among the 10.

Assuming the Oilers add Evander Kane, — Kane is expecting the NHL’s report from its investigation to come in Monday or Tuesday of next week — the obvious next step for Edmonton is to bring up some contracts from Bakersfield. There’s already been talk of the Oilers signing Brad Malone to an NHL contract and there could be additional moves with Seth Griffith being reassigned from the Condors to Edmonton’s taxi squad already.

From there, the team will likely move goaltender Ilya Konovalov from the position of emergency call-up goaltender (his cap hit is $0) to a regular call-up where his cap hit now counts. Either that or they’ll send him back to the AHL with Stuart Skinner ready to go after Saturday’s matchup against the Calgary Flames.

One Long-Shot Deal the Oilers Could Make

If the Oilers are contemplating trading Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton could make a move now and make the Nugent-Hopkins deal later. This would require a few things to work, however.

First, Nugent-Hopkins has to agree. He’s got a no-move clause as part of his new contract, thus he would have to approve any deal. Second, the Oilers would have to work out the details of a trade, one that would need to be completed before Nugent-Hopkins is activated. That’s easier said than done. Finally, the Oilers would have to believe the piece they are adding is better than Nugent-Hopkins.

The Oilers have three players on LTIR in Nugent-Hopkins, Josh Archibald, and Oscar Klefbom. As it stands now, none of those players are deemed to be exclusively playoff returnees, with Nugent-Hopkins due back well before then. For a team that is struggling as badly as the Oilers are, it sounds good to hear the team has some cap space, but it means very little in the grand scheme of things.