The Edmonton Oilers have three members of their team that they can’t afford to keep, regardless of the situation in the offseason and free agency. They have too many more impactful players who can have an impact in more than one facet of the game and have money to spend elsewhere to push their team forward.
The Oilers will be trying to sign their restricted free agents (RFA) and bring back a couple of important unrestricted free agents (UFA) for next season as well as insert some younger and cheaper talent into the lineup to fill the rest of the lineup. We’ll start with the Oilers’ defenceman with the most trade talk surrounding him, then move to two depth forwards earning too much money for their contributions last season.
Starting with a strong offensive defenceman who has become a luxury the Oilers cannot afford is Tyson Barrie. After he was brought in to fill a power play need with the long-term injury to Oscar Klefbom, he did a stellar job putting up points and helping the Oilers stay atop the league in power-play percentage. Though he did lead all defencemen in points in 2020-21, it was the first time a defender has done that and not received one Norris Trophy vote.
The Oilers knew what they were getting from the Barrie signing, and it wasn’t great defence. He had to adapt this past season to contribute more defensively with the help of Brett Kulak as a partner since Evan Bouchard stepped up and took more offensive responsibilities.
The contract given to Barrie before last season may not have looked that bad or unnecessary if Bouchard hadn’t come in and played very well in his first full season in the NHL after just 21 games of experience. Bouchard can do what Barrie can do, except is younger, cheaper, and higher on the depth chart. As the Oilers are strapped for cap space and will need to trade away a few pieces, Barrie is the only logical NHL defenceman they should be willing to give up and who makes sense. Freeing up $4.5 million for two more seasons will be very helpful in bringing back the younger talent the Oilers must sign and more wiggle room to get a starting goaltender.
After another somewhat disappointing season for Zack Kassian, he did step up and do what is expected of him in the postseason for some of the games, and that’s hit and be very physical. We saw it in 2017 when he put on a show with a few key goals and tons of physical play, but between injuries and what seems like a lack of drive, he isn’t the same player in the regular season (from ‘Dan Barnes: Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian a complete beast against San Jose in Game 2 win,’ Edmonton Journal, April 15, 2017).
Kassian finished the season with six goals and 19 points in 58 games and by the end of the season played predominantly on the fourth line. With how the Oilers are set up, he would fall there once again next season with the projected right wingers being Evander Kane/Zach Hyman, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jesse Puljujarvi with Derek Ryan spending time on the right side as well. With a top-heavy team, the Oilers will need every penny they can get and can’t afford to be paying a player who plays fourth-line minutes and no special teams $3.2 million for two more years.
The Oilers also have prospects who are expected to make the jump next season, so the forward group gets more crowded and the priority is the young guns who have potential and cost much less. Kassian won’t go for nothing as teams are always looking to add physicality, especially for the playoffs. So it won’t be as difficult as initially thought to move him this offseason and create room.
The third player and second depth forward that the Oilers need to consider trading at the very least is Warren Foegele. He has the lowest cap hit of the three, so he is the lowest priority to move. But the Oilers are in need of every bit of cap space they can get as I said, and players like Dylan Holloway are pushing for a spot in the opening day lineup.
In the first half of the season, he would fluctuate between playing top-nine minutes and top-six minutes before his role was decreased significantly. Foegele did play every game for the Oilers in the regular season and scored 12 goals and 26 points, but was a healthy scratch at times in the playoffs and his ice time dropped to around 10 minutes or fewer most nights in the second half of the season.
He makes $2.75 million for two more seasons and it isn’t too big of a hit by the way he produced, but he goes cold often for stretches of games where he is invisible. He may hit and work hard, but he too doesn’t play any special teams as someone in the bottom part of the lineup should be able to do. If there’s enough room to hold on to him, the Oilers may opt to do so, but it would also be beneficial to move him and open up a bit of cap space. If he’s playing anywhere lower than the third line and produces any less than he did, the Oilers have to seriously consider moving on.
The Oilers have some work to do and will hopefully find willing trade partners sooner than later for the three players above, as even though they have all contributed at times, the Oilers have better options and don’t have the luxury to fill their depth with players earning too much money.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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