Why the Oilers shouldn’t trade Warren Foegele before the NHL trade deadline

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EDMONTON – Warren Foegele was so good in the Edmonton Oilers’ last game, a 6-5 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, that his coach, Kris Knoblauch, used the word “phenomenal” to describe his work.

It wasn’t just that Foegele scored two goals, the fourth time he’s done that this season. It was how he scored them – by driving to the net with determination.

It wasn’t just that Foegele was asked to skate on the top line with Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman because of star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ illness absence. It was how he fared in that role – driving play to the tune of a 40-8 shot-attempts advantage for the Oilers, per Natural Stat Trick, when he was on the ice.

It wasn’t just a “phenomenal” performance. It was arguably his best as an Oiler, and that’s saying something considering he’s had some standout moments this season – his best as an NHLer.

Foegele’s two goals against the Bruins have him up to 13, equalling his career high he’s hit twice. His 29 points are one back of the 30 he recorded with Carolina in 2019-20, when he appeared in 15 more games than he’s played this season.

“Warren’s very valuable,” Knoblauch said.

Yet, despite that value, Foegele’s spot on the Oilers roster doesn’t appear to be set in stone.

He’s a pending unrestricted free agent and said there haven’t been any talks this season regarding a contract extension, even though he’d welcome them because he’s “committed to this team.”

Also, his $2.75 million cap hit is perfectly suited to include in a trade if the Oilers wanted to acquire a higher-profile player.

For those reasons alone, it’s not all that surprising that Foegele appears at No. 33 on colleague Chris Johnston’s latest trade board.

“I’d say I’m obviously aware (of the speculation). I’ve been aware since the summer,” Foegele said. “The only thing I can do is do what I can control.

“My first year (in Edmonton), it really didn’t go that well. I learned that worrying so much about things you can’t control usually doesn’t go in your favour. You’re probably just hurting yourself.”

It’s not something Foegele should have to be concerned about. To be clearer, there aren’t many scenarios in which the Oilers should even consider trading him.

Foegele hasn’t quite made himself indispensable given the contractual and roster composition circumstances, but he’s sure made a strong case. He’s looked so much like the player McDavid vouched for after last season.

He’s a mainstay on both special teams – albeit on the seldom-used second power-play unit. Those are opportunities he received only sporadically with the Oilers before this season, and really before the coaching change in November. That’s helped the 6-foot-2, 204-pound winger’s five-on-five game “tremendously.”

“Because I’m not sitting on the bench for eight minutes,” Foegele said. “Being on special teams, you just keep your legs into it. For someone my size who has some speed, it’s a lot easier when I’m in the game to continue to move my feet. When I’m not moving my feet, I’m not good.”

There haven’t been many stretches where Foegele hasn’t been good this season. He’s capably bounced all around the lineup while getting time on both wings.

He’s played with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, most notably in the Heritage Classic. He had a month-long stretch with Draisaitl and Ryan McLeod during their mega winning streak, when that trio seemed like it could do no wrong.

His work in the top six – including Wednesday’s latest example – has been productive.

“I just feel that each time I’ve been given that opportunity, I just let my play and results do the talking,” Foegele said.

Foegele’s had some scoring dips this season, to be sure. He’s had some sizable droughts, too.

But he’s still been useful alongside McLeod in the bottom six even when the offence hasn’t come as consistently.

“When I’m on the third (line) and making plays, I have to be way more responsible,” Foegele said. “Your role kind of changes. You want to have momentum shifts, grind them down, and set up the next line for success.

“But we should still be able to make some plays. I can’t just keep cycling the puck and not produce. It’s something we’re working on, and we’ve talked about.”

The overall numbers this season are still very favourable regardless.

He has 11 goals and 26 points at five-on-five, fourth on the team in the latter department and one up on Nugent-Hopkins in each category. At five-on-five, he’s outscored pricier players the Oilers have been linked to, such as Jordan Eberle, David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich.

That’s important to note because there isn’t a spot on the first power play there for the taking in Edmonton. If the Oilers acquire an offensive forward, he’ll have to produce significantly outside of special teams.

“He can create offence at five-on-five, and that’s really hard to do in this league,” Hyman said of Foegele. “He’s a great player for us.”

Foegele might have to be expendable if the Oilers acquire an impactful contributor like winger Jake Guentzel or defenceman Chris Tanev. (Though in Tanev’s case, jettisoning fellow right-shot blueliner Cody Ceci would be more sensible and practical.)

The point is they’d be advised not to ditch him for someone who’s not an appreciable upgrade. And it’d be foolhardy to move him just for change’s sake.

Naturally, Foegele’s got his fingers crossed, optimistic he’s not the 2024 version of Tyson Barrie – whom the Oilers dealt before last year’s deadline to free up money to land stalwart defender Mattias Ekholm.

“It’s part of the business, right?” Foegele said. “The team’s trying to win and they’re going to do what they think’s best. Obviously, I hope I’m still part of it.”

Sure, the Oilers will be hard-pressed to retain Foegele past this season for several reasons.

The career campaign he’s having, plus the leverage he has with the open market calling, means he’s due for a reasonable raise at 28 – the age he turns in April.

And then there are Edmonton’s salary-cap issues for next season to mention.

Per CapFriendly, the Oilers have just over $14 million in cap space with an $87.5 million projected cap. That doesn’t account for Connor Brown’s $3.225 million games-played bonus, which should all be tacked onto next season’s books. Nor does it include the $225,000 Corey Perry is due for playing his 10th game as an Oiler – which could come as soon as Friday against Minnesota.

At least there’s no one sure in line for a big contract. Brown, Perry, Mattias Janmark, Sam Gagner, Vincent Desharnais and Calvin Pickard are other pending UFAs, whereas Dylan Holloway and top farmhand Philip Broberg need new deals as RFAs. The organization does need to be mindful that massive offers to McDavid, Draisaitl and Evan Bouchard are on the horizon, though.

There are some ways for the Oilers to open cap space in the weeks and months ahead, such as trading Brett Kulak and promoting the cheaper Broberg as well as ditching Jack Campbell via a buyout or otherwise.

Whether they can bring Foegele back is an issue for another day.

The Oilers are in win-now mode, and Foegele has helped and can help do just that.

Fittingly, that’s all he wants. Leave him in an Oilers jersey, play him anywhere, and he’s content to help push for a Stanley Cup.

“I’m here to win,” Foegele said. “I actually care about this team. I actually want us to win. I don’t have an ego. I’m not here to complain.

“This team needs to win. We want to win. I’m willing to do that because I want to win.”

(Photo: Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

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