The Edmonton Oilers are heading into the 2023-24 season as one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference with a superstar core led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers have lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion in back-t0-back seasons; they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Western Conference Final and bowed out to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round a year later.
But there is hope that this core has what it takes to bring a championship to Edmonton for the first time since 1990. That is especially true with the emergence of two young stars in defenseman Evan Bouchard and Calder Trophy finalist goaltender Stuart Skinner. Both players were excellent in 2022-23, and, ideally for Oilers fans, they will be even better next year.
That being said, Edmonton is one of the most cap-strapped teams in the NHL, and are currently projected over the salary cap as of early September. Because of that, the franchise could be looking to offload a few complementary pieces this season. Here are three viable options.
Warren Foegele, RW
The Oilers have already freed up some cap space by trading Kailer Yamamoto to the Detroit Red Wings (he was then placed on waivers and signed by the Seattle Kraken). The team could look to do the same with Warren Foegele, a bottom-six player who is making $2.7 million in 2023-24 before becoming an unrestricted free agent. Considering he's entering the final year of his contract, the 27-year-old could be the next forward dealt out of Alberta after Yamamoto earlier this summer.
Foegele is a high-energy, physical player who is a great forechecker and can also contribute on the stat sheet. He scored 28 points in 67 games last year, and has reached double-digit goals in five consecutive seasons after scoring 13 in 2022-23. A former third-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2014 NHL Draft, Foegele has emerged as a reliable third or fourth line player. Although he fits the role nicely in Edmonton, he is the most likely forward to be dealt to keep the team under the salary cap before the season starts.
Cody Ceci, D
On the back end, Cody Ceci is in a very similar boat to Foegele. The 29-year-old has two years left on a deal that will pay him $3.25 million AAV until the summer of 2025. The Oilers don't have a plethora of NHL ready defensemen, but they could certainly sign or promote a player who costs much less in order to stay under the salary cap.
Ceci has been good, if not great, during his tenure in Alberta; he produced 15 points in 80 games in 2022-23 after a 28-point campaign the season before. The 29-year-old Canadian has significant playoff experience, and could certainly help a team that has more space to maneuver around the salary cap. Either Ceci will be traded to continue moving salary off the backend, or he will be back in the team's top-four on opening night.
Jack Campbell, G
Jack Campbell really struggled in his first season in Edmonton after signing a five-year, $25 million contract with the Oilers in the summer of 2022. After being challenged by Stuart Skinner early in the year, he eventually lost the starting job altogether after posting a middling .888 save percentage and 3.41 goals-against average in 2022-23. It truly was a nightmare campaign for Campbell, who will be looking to bounce back but might not have much of an opportunity to do so.
It puts the Oilers in a very difficult spot, as $5 million is way too much to be paying a backup goaltender. But that's exactly where Campbell projects next season, with Skinner figuring to get even more starts. If he doesn't hit the sophomore slump, it might be time for GM Ken Holland to look into trading the former first-round pick out of Edmonton.
Now at 31 years of age, Campbell will be relegated to backup duties, but he's still good enough to start on a few NHL rosters. For that reason alone, Holland should be gauging the market for the former All-Star. It's very possible that Campbell could bounce back in 2023-24, but it doesn't look too promising in the dog days of summer.
The Edmonton Oilers are firmly in win-now mode as they enter another season with one of the best cores in the National Hockey League. But in order to stay under the salary cap before opening night, they may have no choice but to move a roster player for draft capital, and salary cap relief, before the campaign gets underway.