Which forwards will return to the Oilers next season?
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
I really wish the Oilers could have given us a few more weeks of playoff hockey to talk about. I’m the guy who always talks about how much I enjoy covering the trade deadline and the offseason because speculating about potential moves is just flat-out fun. Still, it’s disappointing to be getting into that side of things as early as we are.
This Oilers team was built to go to the Stanley Cup Final. That was the goal and ultimately, this season was a failure. Yes, you could argue that losing to the best team in the Western Conference for a second straight season isn’t the biggest shortcoming, and I do see some validity to that, but my counterpoint would be this: it’s time for the Oilers to be the best team in the West.
That series against Vegas was very winnable. The Oilers just shot themselves in the foot too many times.
So, if the season was a failure, then big changes should be coming, right?
Well, I don’t think that will be the case.
With so many of their big names locked up to long-term deals, it would be tough for the Oilers to make sweeping changes to this roster and I would argue that it would actually be foolish for them to do it.
Yes, players like Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had disappointing playoff runs but with all of their cap hits being in the $5-$5.5 million range, it would actually be really hard to upgrade those spots without paying way more.
The big five should all be back next season, but what about the other pieces?
Kailer Yamamoto, Warren Foegele, and Dylan Holloway are all under contract for next season but it feels unlikely that they’re all back.
Between Yamamoto and Foegele, it’s tough to tell which one is going to be easier to move.
Yamamoto is the younger of the two but he’s also more expensive and while he has a 20-goal season under his belt, he was a far less impactful player during this most recent playoff run. Foegele brings an element of size to this Oilers lineup, he’s cheaper, and while he’s been less productive, he’s found a way to hit double digits in the goal column each of the last two seasons despite spending far less time playing in the team’s top six.
Three months ago, I would have said that it was a no-brainer to choose Yamamoto over Foegele, at one point I was advocating for Foegele to go on waivers, but now I’m not so sure.
Both players really struggle to stay consistently effective over an 82-game season, that’s their biggest downfall and it’s why I think you need to move on from at least one of them. While I think it makes sense to bring back largely the same core, the Oilers do need to give their top nine a bit of a fresh look.
I think there is a chance that Yamamoto has a bit of value on the trade market and could fetch the team a mid-round draft pick. I’m not certain that Foegele has the same kind of value simply because he’s three years older and doesn’t have the ‘first-round pick shine’ that Yamamoto does.
It’ll be a tough move to make because Yamamoto is really well-liked in the locker room and does a lot of things really well, but he might be the piece that has to go in order for the Oilers to gain some salary cap flexibility this offseason.
THE FREE AGENTS
Oct 27, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan McLeod (71) skates with the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
The Oilers have two RFAs that they need to deal with this summer: Ryan McLeod and Klim Kostin. Both made under $1m this season and are due for bumps in pay.
Bringing back McLeod is a no-brainer. He’s a speedy, versatile bottom-six piece who still has some solid upside. It should be a fairly simple contract to negotiate as well. A one to two-year deal that pays him somewhere between $1.5-$1.75m would make sense.
As for Kostin, I think the Oilers should absolutely qualify him. He scored big goals during the playoffs and adds a nasty, physical element that the team really doesn’t have in their bottom six. Bringing him back on a one-year deal worth around $1.25m makes sense to me.
The UFA forwards are Derek Ryan, Nick Bjugstad, Mattias Janmark, and Devin Shore.
I would be surprised if Janmark signed another contract in Edmonton. I think he’ll walk. If Devin Shore is open to signing a two-way deal and wants to go be a good veteran voice in Bakersfield, then I could see him coming back.
Derek Ryan told Bob Stauffer the other day that he wants to finish his career in Edmonton and I think the team would be smart to bring him back. It would just have to be for less than his current $1.25m cap hit. If they could sign him for under $1m, he could be a great value piece for them.
Nick Bjugstad is a tough situation to read. On one hand, he scored 20 goals in 90 games (counting both regular season and playoffs) this year. On the other hand, he really isn’t much more than a solid third-line player and that means the Oilers really can’t afford to pay him more than $2.0 million. Could he get more than that on the open market? Potentially.
Can the Oilers afford him if he was at $1.9 million? Even that would depend on what else they want to do with this roster. It will all come down to cost. I don’t think he would take a discount to stay in Edmonton.
So here’s my prediction: of the 12 forwards that dressed for the team’s final playoff game, I think nine will be back. One of Yamamoto or Foegele will be traded, Janmark will walk, and Bjugstad will likely be priced out of their range.
Dylan Holloway will take one of the open spots, someone like Raphael Lavoie or Noah Philp could take the other, and the team will need to sign one or two free agents to fill the other gaps. I could see pieces like Connor Brown, Gustav Nyquist, and Lars Eller being potential fits, but we can get into that another day.
Recent articles from Tyler Yaremchuk