Bear’s Return to Edmonton Puts Trade By Oilers Under Microscope

The Edmonton Oilers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday (Dec. 11), when Ethan Bear will be back at  Rogers Place for the first time since being dealt to Carolina by the Oilers in exchange for forward Warren Foegele during the offseason.

Related Link: Oilers’ 3 Must-Watch Games in December 2021

The 24-year-old defenseman should receive a warm reception from Edmonton fans, many who were saddened to see him go and even more who are missing him now, as the slumping Oilers are on a season-worst four-game losing streak while their blueline has been ravaged by injuries.

Amid increasing dissatisfaction in Foegele’s performance, Bear’s return to the city where he began his NHL career puts the trade squarely under a microscope, and the findings may raise an eyebrow or two.

Bear Settling in Nicely With the ‘Canes

Bear has made 18 appearances with the ‘Canes, returning recently after missing a handful of games because of COVID protocol. On a deep Carolina blueline, Bear is averaging 17:51 ice time, including 2:01 on the penalty kill, both fifth among Hurricanes rearguards.

Ethan Bear Edmonton Oilers
Ethan Bear with the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The pairing of Bear and Jaccob Slavin boasts a 12-6 goal differential at even strength. Bear’s plus-8 rating is second best for Carolina defensemen and sixth among all ‘Canes players. Bear has one goal and five assists, 12 penalty minutes, 25 shots, 17 blocks, and 15 hits. His Corsi is 55.1% and Fenwick is 54.2%.

Across the board, nearly all of Bear’s stats are significant improvements from the 142 games he played with the Oilers. He never finished any of his previous three seasons with a positive plus-minus rating, while his career Corsi and Fenwick coming into 2021-22 were both under 50%.

The 5-foot-11 Bear has consistently provided steady and reliable play on Carolina’s backend. He’s on ice for only 1.56 goals against per 60 minutes at even strength, and despite being one of the team’s most frequently used penalty killers, Bear has only been on the ice twice when the opposition has scored with the man advantage.

Bear is certainly benefitting from his surroundings with the ‘Canes, who surrender the second-fewest goals (2.20 per game) and allow the fewest shots (27.2) in the entire NHL. As the youngest member of a highly apt defensive unit, Bear is utilized in situations that play to his strengths and not being asked to step outside his comfort zone.

Foegele Still Finding His Form in Edmonton

Foegele, 25, is one of seven Oilers forwards that have suited up for every game this season. He’s been a fixture on Edmonton’s third line, which most commonly features Zack Kassian on right wing, and has recently seen Ryan McLeod replace Derek Ryan at center.

Warren Foegele Edmonton Oilers
Warren Foegele, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In 25 games, Foegele has totaled two goals, six assists, four penalty minutes, and 36 shots. He has 43 hits, ranking second among forwards and third on the Oilers overall. His rating of minus-9 is second-worst on the Oilers, better than only center Derek Ryan’s minus-13. He’s fifth among Edmonton forwards in both Corsi (51.1%) and Fenwick (50.1%).

There have been several games so far with the Oilers in which Foegele has looked very good, including Edmonton’s 3-2 loss to Boston on Thursday (Dec. 8) when he tied for the team lead with six shots and created scoring opportunities by driving hard to the net. He can make things happen without the puck, already registering four games with at least four hits.

Lapses defensively are one gripe about Foegele, who has been on ice for 18 goals against at even strength, but where he has most disappointed is his lack of goal production. Through his first 25 outings with the Oilers, it is less than half of what it was over 200 career games with Carolina (0.080 compared to 0.175).

Foegele was one of a handful of offseason additions were hoped to provide Edmonton the depth scoring needed to support Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. But that hasn’t materialized, as made painfully clear during Edmonton’s recent four-game slide in which only one forward not named Draisaitl or McDavid has scored.

An indication of how important Foegele can yet be for the Oilers is the team’s record when he records a point (8-0-0) compared to when he is held without (7-9-0).

Revisiting the Trade

At the time of its consummation, July 28, the Bear-for-Foegele swap was widely viewed as a win-win. After Oilers general manager Ken Holland inked contracts with right-side defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci on the opening day of free agency, Bear became expendable. Adding a left winger in Foegele helped address the Oilers’ biggest position of weakness in 2020-21.

Consider, then, the irony, that just a few months later, on the occasion of Bear’s return to Edmonton, the Oilers are reportedly active in trying to add a defenseman via trade as they deal with a rash of injuries. On Friday (Dec. 10), Kris Russell became the latest veteran Oilers blueliner to go on injured reserve, joining Duncan Keith and Slater Koekkoek.

But while Foegele is yet to perform as hoped or expected for the Oilers, it’s also fair to ask whether Bear could have realized his potential in Edmonton. “I’m looking forward to a new step and a fresh start,” he said in an article that characterized his move south as a “much-needed change of scenery” (From “Bear happy to be moving on after stressful Edmonton Oilers’ season,” The Edmonton Sun, 07/30/21).

The bottom line is that it’s still too early to say which team will end up winning the trade, but Carolina is certainly out in front. At this moment, the struggling Oilers’ biggest concern is simply winning Saturday’s game.

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