The Edmonton Oilers may currently be going through something the St. Louis Blues experienced last season. Though the team calls it unsubstantiated, there are rumors going around that Jesse Puljujarvi has asked for a trade.
Puljujarvi is scheduled to be a restricted free agent. However, he does have arbitration rights this summer, so it is up in the air if the Oilers wish to go through that process.
According to some pundits, it’s a 50/50 proposition. Puljujarvi’s stats leave something to be desired, never playing more than 65 games and having career highs of only 15 goals and 36 goals (not in the same season).
The counter argument is that his advanced analytics are quite good. He’s a decent defender, responsible with the puck for the most part, has good zone exits and all that stuff that is harder to define.
Of course, that’s the stuff Puljujarvi’s agent will bring up if there is an arbitration case. No doubt, the Oilers will point to the traditional statistics, should it even get to that point.
Maybe it does not get to that point. Whether Puljujarvi asked for it or not, this type of information does not originate from nowhere.
Maybe the team leaked the information to gauge interest. Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is that Puljujarvi is definitely not one of the untouchables for Edmonton.
That doesn’t automatically mean the Blues should be interested though. St. Louis has a log jam in the middle six anyway, so getting another guy with potential but has not proven is quite risky.
There is one way the Blues might be smart to risk it. That one way is to trade Ville Husso for Puljujarvi.
Before you balk at the idea, go into it with the idea that Doug Armstrong would present this deal just to see if the Oilers will bite. It is more likely that a veteran GM like Ken Holland would hang up immediately, but it’s worth a roll of the dice.
The plan behind such a trade is to give both sides a chance to negotiate prior to the free agent period. While it does not make sense to us fans, many general managers are all about getting in on that exclusive negotiating period if it does not cost them much.
There have already been whispers that the Oilers are interested in Husso. Whether Husso can get the Oilers to the next step remains to be seen, but he is certainly an upgrade over Mikko Koskinen and likely an upgrade over Mike Smith too.
You may ask why the Oilers would not simply wait until free agency rolls around. Honestly, they probably should, but it is a risk.
If Edmonton waits, you run the risk of getting outbid by other teams once Husso can talk actual money with other franchises. If nothing else, you run the risk of the Blues talking him into staying at a discount to earn even more money in 2023-24.
By trading for Husso’s rights, the Oilers become the team that can try to get him at a cheaper price then market value – maybe offering him a longer term – or hoping they can impress him enough before he knows if any other team is willing to over spend.
Conversely, the Blues gain the power in the Puljujarvi situation. While the agent would still argue the advanced stats, you wonder if that works against a team that was not even in the equation. The Blues could easily say those stats are great, but they weren’t done with us and here is our offer.
In 2021-22, Puljujarvi produced on par with his contract, having a cap hit of $1.175. Even if he won arbitration, I can’t see him getting more than $2.5 million, making him a decent priced third line player.
However, as pointed out by SportsNet, the question for any team interested (including the Oilers) is whether Puljujarvi will hit his potential in his prime or whether this is as good as it gets.
The reason it might be as good as it gets is because Puljujarvi played a good chunk of his time with Connor McDavid and still only managed 14 goals in 2021-22. The reason he might turn things around is because he’s been compared to Victor Nichushkin, who scored 25 goals in consecutive seasons after getting a change of scenery.
Puljujarvi is a disappointment given his projected talent and the fact he’s been in the league parts of five seasons. However, he’s only 24 and had plenty of growth disrupted by the pandemic and also playing on a sometimes dysfunctional organization.
In a vacuum, I’d say the Blues should not go after Puljujarvi. I just don’t see the upside there if you’re losing a player or a draft pick.
If Husso is the piece going, you pull the trigger. Whether it’s good or not, it feels unlikely the Blues can bring Husso back another year. So, if you can get any compensation instead of him leaving for nothing, you try it.
Maybe the Blues get lucky and Puljujarvi turns into another 20-goal scorer. That would definitely help push Ivan Barbashev back to the fourth line, where he would be more beneficial in the playoffs.
All of this is less than likely, but Armstrong has pulled bigger rabbits out of his hat.