Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Contract: What's Oilers Future with Young Stars Locked Up?

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor ISeptember 19, 2013

EDMONTON, CANADA. - April 10: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck against the Phoenix Coyotes at Rexall Place on April 10, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  (Photo by Perry Nelson/Getty Images)
Perry Nelson/Getty Images

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the latest Edmonton Oiler to be signed long term according to Elliotte Friedman of CBC, but there is no guarantee that this group of youngsters has what it takes to be a Stanley Cup contender.

With all of these long-term signings, it is clear that management is building for the future, but the latest signing does add another tradeable chip to the Oilers arsenal. While no one is suggesting that RNH be traded, that could change five or six years from now.

The Oilers still have a lot of holes to fill, and in order to improve their roster they are going to have to give in order to get. New bench boss Dallas Eakins will help the youngsters improve, but there is only so much that he can do.

The future that management envisions is unclear at this point, and there are a number of ways in which the team could change over the next few years. While it has been established that Oilers are building for the future, which roster player will be thrust into the flames of trade rumors as the team continues to build forward?

The wings are set with Jordan Eberle, David Perron, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov. Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Boyd Gordon will center the top three lines, and each provides balance to the lineup. 

From an asset management perspective, at least one of these players could be used as a prime asset to improve the roster one way or another.

It is fair to say that if a young blue liner became available for a fair trade, general manager Craig MacTavish would have no qualms shipping out one of his dynamo forwards. This is because the Oilers are still missing some important ingredients if they want to become a Stanley Cup contender.

Team brass wisely added some of these ingredients this summer when veterans like Gordon and Andrew Ference were acquired to add a mentoring influence in the locker room, but there is still some work to be done.

The blue line remains a main concern for the Oilers, and they will need to address it if they want to become a contender. Justin Schultz had a nice rookie season, Ladislav Smid is a solid blueliner, Ference was a nice Stanley Cup veteran pickup and Nick Schultz is a solid top-six defender.

Outside of these blueliners, the Oilers don’t have significant professional depth. While Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, David Musil are promising prospects, there is no guarantee that they can have a sizable impact at the NHL level.

Additionally, the Oilers eventually should address their goaltending. Although Devan Dubnyk improved his numbers last season, is he a Stanley Cup-caliber goaltender?

That is something that Eakins and company will find out this year, and the powers that be can make personnel decisions depending on how the team performs this season.

So realistically, if the Oilers want to get better, they will need to give to get. Given the amount of term and money invested in the players on the Oilers roster, is management trying to keep this group together, or were players signed to attractive deals that would help facilitate a trade?

It is clear that the Oilers still have some holes, and to gain anything of value they may be forced to dip into their surplus of riches at forward.

If you look at the Oilers' roster moves, they make sense in many ways. If the Oilers truly want to hold onto all their young stars, they have already effectively locked them up long term in an environment where the salary cap is rising.

Conversely, team brass have also made their young stars valuable commodities, because they are locked up long term at a rate that will be considered a bargain in a world where the salary cap is in excess of $75 to $85 million.

Management hired a coach with a proven track record of helping young talent, they have secured young talent and they have signed the young talent to flexible contracts.

The future of the Oilers is still foggy at best, but the team certainly will have some options given the makeup of their salary cap.

This will be Eakins' first season behind the bench. It is fair to say that this year is going to be a trial run for everyone on the roster. The results of this season could impact who stays and who goes, but it is clear that the Oilers are doing whatever it takes to win.


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