Oilers’ 5 Worst Contracts of 2022-23

The Edmonton Oilers generally don’t have horrible contracts. There are a few overpaid players and some that need to prove their worth after a lacklustre season, but overall, general manager Ken Holland has done a solid job of assembling a contender.

It was tougher to come up with this small list than the top 10 Oilers contracts, considering many Oilers had career years and strong performances in 2021-22. But even within this group, there are a few who should be moved because of their contract-to-production ratio. Here’s a look.

5. Slater Koekkoek, Defence

$925,000 AAV through the 2022-23 season

Slater Koekkoek was given a one-year deal before the 2020-21 season and contributed about as much as you could expect from a player making $850,000. But it was confusing when he was awarded a two-year contract extension. First, his deal quickly became a waste of money, with the team’s young defencemen developing well enough for a spot in the lineup. Second, the organization’s talented defensemen in American Hockey League (AHL) had also secured their spots.

In the first of Koekkoek’s two-year deal, he started the season in the NHL before being sent down to the AHL and never returned. He played 19 games, averaging just over 11 minutes of ice time per game and recorded four assists. He then saw Oilers prospects Philip Broberg and Markus Niemelainen get their shot and outperform him.

In the AHL, Koekkoek played just two games because the defence core was already strong, and the lineup would be negatively affected if players sat in favour of the 28-year-old. His contract will only get worse in year two when he is owed $1.1 million in base salary for 2022-23. He won’t make the Oilers, as they have much better options, so he will be stuck in the AHL, eating up cap space and without seeing much ice time (from “Lowetide: Oilers’ opening night roster will be influenced by salary cap, waivers,” The Athletic, 8/29/22).

4. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Left Wing/Center

$5.125 million AAV through the 2028-29 season

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ contract is up next. I don’t want to criticize him too much, considering he didn’t hesitate to take what appeared to be a hometown discount to stay in Edmonton for eight more years. Locking in a player of his calibre long-term will help the team’s overall production initially, and he will provide leadership throughout.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But the inevitable issue is the decline that comes with age. He will be 36 years old by the time his contract ends, and his goal-scoring production has already taken a hit. It could be a one-off, which is what everyone is hoping for, but Nugent-Hopkins scored just 11 goals in 63 games last season as a top-six player alongside Leon Draisaitl. Also, being exposed to Connor McDavid and the rest of the highly talented Oilers’ offence should have boosted his production, not see it fall.

Excluding the shortened season in 2020-21, Nugent-Hopkins scored 22-plus goals in three consecutive seasons. Fortunately, he is a strong presence on the power play and plays his role very well. He is also a great two-way forward who can play on the wing and at centre. What he provides on the penalty kill is also very difficult to match, and his defensive game is unlikely to take as big a hit over time as his offence. As such, reaching the 20-goal mark again and continuing his strong play defensively could remove the veteran from this list as soon as next season.

3. Darnell Nurse, Defence

$9.25 million AAV through the 2029-30 season

The Oilers were victims of the market when Darnell Nurse’s contract was up for renewal, as he saw the top defencemen around the league being paid around $9 million and wanted a similar payday. At the time, Evan Bouchard and Broberg had yet to prove themselves as future top-pairing defencemen. So, Holland had to lock up what was his sure bet in Nurse.

Related: Comparing Oilers’ Bouchard’s Next Contract to Islanders’ Dobson

Defence remains the Oilers’ biggest need, so losing a huge piece who helped in every zone and played big and hard would have been detrimental to their success. Nurse plays big minutes against the opposition’s top lines, and though he isn’t an elite offensive producer like some of the other number one defencemen who got paid, the Oilers have a couple of defenders who specialize in offence who can, fortunately, take the load off.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The contract may become a problem down the line when some younger Oilers need new contracts, but the salary cap is also expected to go up, so the cap hit won’t hurt as much. Nurse’s game is a blend of strength and talent at both ends of the ice. Though he isn’t expected to run the power play, he is capable of doing so or chipping in offensively. He is also only two seasons removed from scoring 16 goals in 56 games and is now in the prime of his career.

2. Tyson Barrie, Defence

$4.5 million AAV through the 2023-24 season

Tyson Barrie‘s contract is just half the cost of Nurse’s, but it looks worse because of the minutes he plays. He got bumped down the lineup from the first pairing to the third last season and is stuck there. He did find chemistry with Brett Kulak after the trade deadline, but no bottom-pair defenceman should be paid more than $2-$3 million, and he is paid significantly more than that.

Barrie’s ice time is also limited to easier matchups and the power play, and even time on the power play will likely be reduced as Bouchard continues to develop. Bouchard took time away from Barrie last season and is a future offensive star, as we already saw him shine in his first full season.

A miscalculation on Barrie’s contract means he is likely to be phased out very early into his three-year deal. With Nurse, Bouchard, and Broberg stepping in, along with Cody Ceci’s underrated offensive production, the Oilers need a strong third-pairing defender who can defend and not be a liability. Barrie doesn’t fit that mould, and there isn’t room on the team for him to become a top-four defenceman again.

1. Warren Foegele, Winger

$2.75 million AAV through the 2023-24 season

Warren Foegele has the worst contract on the Oilers in light of his down season and role. He doesn’t contribute to special teams and has been moved to the fourth line, where he will likely start the 2022-23 campaign. He was a very different player on the Carolina Hurricanes and put up more points. Though he showed flashes of becoming a solid depth forward for the Oilers, he was also often invisible.

Warren Foegele Edmonton Oilers
Warren Foegele, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Foegele scored five goals and seven points in the final 34 games of the season before producing even less in the playoffs. He also only recorded one assist in 13 postseason games while playing over 10 minutes only four times. With the young talent pushing for spots, and a couple of other players proving their worth, he is a prime trade candidate to free up valuable cap space.

Foegele plays physical, at least, but for what he is paid, he should be on the third-line producing more consistently than he did last season, when the only time he showed a flash of his potential was with Nugent-Hopkins in that role.

Not all of the Oilers’ contracts are ideal, but some are worth paying while others will be easier to move. All in all, the Oilers aren’t hampered by bad contracts.

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