With a hard cap that was already a difficult obstacle for teams to navigate, it’s stagnation, truncation even, has made it even more cumbersome for teams to navigate, particularly for contending teams who are often operating within dollars of the cap limit. Some circumstances allow teams creative loopholes, often causing the collective consciousness of a fan base to figure out how certain conditions might allow for the slightest relief.
Such is not necessarily the case for the Edmonton Oilers at the moment, with GM Ken Holland stating this week that any trades this deadline must be dollar in, dollar out. For this reason, growing rumours that Jesse Puljujarvi and his $3M cap hit might be moved might offer the only space that the Oilers have to upgrade a roster that has come together nicely over the past month.
That being said, a lot can change in the time between now and the deadline thanks to the inherent attrition of the NHL. Were the Oilers to suffer an injury causing a cap hit to be moved to LTIR, the collateral benefit of an unfortunate injury would be the opportunity to add more salary.
Though such a circumstance would open a multitude of possibilities, an intriguing candidate is Gustav Nyquist of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nyquist’s injury makes for a peculiar cap situation
Nyquist is a capable second-line scoring forward who has been somewhat forgotten on a lowly Blue Jackets team, but his theoretical acquisition is made more interesting by his specific injury circumstances. Out with a shoulder injury, Nyquist won’t be returning to action until the playoffs, where the cap no longer applies. Providing a team can acquire him and remain under the cap for one day, his cap hit can be sent to LTIR. Teams around the league that have their own injury situations are being linked as potential destinations, essentially bringing Nyquist in as a playoff reinforcement. While the Oilers are not necessarily in a position where they can take advantage of this mechanism at the moment, there is no guarantee that will remain the case until the trade deadline.
Naturally there is some risk to adding a player to a strong team in its most critical moment, the playoffs, without any game action to adjust into their new lineup. While Nyquist is a good player, and potentially acquiring him without cap consequences is a tantalising thought, teams may be scared off by the uncertainty in this regard. This uncertainty might cause contending teams to look elsewhere, leading to less significant interest than one might assume at first glance. Of course, the acquiring team would have to feel confident in its playoff standing without Nyquist’s contributions in the regular season as well, something the Oilers should be feeling good about at the moment.
Holland is familiar with Nyquist
The Oilers do have a leg up on most teams around the league in this respect, due to some familiarity. Holland was GM of the Detroit Red Wings when Nyquist was drafted, his subsequent development, and ultimately for some of the most productive years of the winger’s career. This relationship might lead to the Oilers being more comfortable with adding Nyquist than most, if not all, other deadline buyers.
Since leaving Detroit, Nyquist hasn’t quite stuck with any one team, bouncing from the San Jose Sharks to the Blue Jackets. The Sharks are decidedly deadline sellers, and are under new management as well. Though lower level executives and scouts might be familiar with Nyquist as well, perhaps Jim Nill, GM of the Dallas Stars, there is reason to believe that the Oilers would trust Nyquist enough to be the highest bidders.
Where Nyquist would fit in the lineup with the Oilers
With both the goaltending and defence rounding into form, there is legitimate reason that the Oilers might look to add a forward more than anywhere else in the lineup. With the likelihood of Puljujarvi being traded this need might increase as well.
In the cap world no team is deep enough to lose much talent due to injury, but we have seen the Oilers forward depth be greatly affected by Evander Kane’s absence. Losing any one of the top five forwards (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Kane) would diminish the Oilers to a significant degree. For this reason adding a winger of Nyquist’s calibre might be the foremost addition the Oilers can make at the deadline.
Nyquist’s specific skill set does seem to pair well with the Oilers lineup in theory. Nyquist has clear skating and playmaking prowess, able to carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed and set up teammates. Nyquist hasn’t been a top unit power play player in years, doing a great deal of damage at even strength. This is good news for the Oilers who have more than enough options on one of the league’s all time great power plays.
Nyquist’s speed might be enough to keep up with McDavid, who has never played with a winger as fast as Nyquist. While both Hyman and Kane have looked good on McDavid’s wing, the likely loss of Puljujarvi might give an opportunity to others in this spot.
Nugent-Hopkins does not always centre his own line, but when he does he seems to be most effective with bigger wingers who play more of a straightforward power style, like current wingers Klim Kostin and Mattias Janmark. Nyquist would certainly help RNH with some neutral zone puck carrying, but the duo would require a physical scorer to get the most out of their collective playmaking skills. Perhaps Kostin or Kane might be a fit here.
The best prospective fit for Nyquist on the Oilers would be on Draisaitl’s wing. Draisaitl really appreciates the neutral zone attacking, playmaking, and speed that Nyquist provides. The Oilers lineup does not have many options in this regard, but we’ve seen such an arrangement work well with Draisaitl before, with McDavid being the obvious example, as well as the effectiveness that Ryan McLeod has shown in his brief stints on Draisaitl’s wing over the past two seasons.
Nyquist isn’t exactly an adept shot-suppressing winger, but Draisaitl is rarely relied upon for such contributions as it is. In a lot of ways, Nyquist is an ideal winger for Draisaitl. With such an obvious spot in the lineup and the familiarity between Holland and Nyquist, it might make more sense for the Oilers to acquire Nyquist than any other contender.
With some circumstantial creativity from a cap perspective, Nyquist could be a sneaky piece of the Oilers deadline moves from a holistic standpoint. Columbus does make sense as a potential Puljujarvi landing spot as well, and the Oilers could add Nyquist at a retained cap hit for Puljujarvi outright. From that point, moving Nyquist to LTIR would allow the Oilers to make another move or two with the cap relief.