The Same But Different

Yesterday the Oilers sent Jesse Puljujarvi down to the AHL, finally owned up the fact that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL even though they cleared a spot for him and sheltered him as much as possible. But we’ve seen this a lot from the Oilers. It’s basically the exact same thing that they did with Leon Draisaitl and he turned out fine, great even! So what’s the big deal?

Well, when it comes to what the Oilers did with Puljujarvi versus Draisaitl, the similarities are striking. However, there are some key differences. They are the same, but different.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before

The Edmonton Oilers get enamoured with an 18-year-old forward who was blessed with a man’s body and from the moment they draft him they dub him “NHL ready” regardless of any evidence to the contrary. A spot on the team for the position that he plays suddenly becomes open and there is almost no depth there to push the kid, who was taken in the top five of the draft. The player is clearly talented and shows some flashes of what makes him special early. However, he’s not up to the grind of the NHL yet and struggles offensively despite being sheltered. Roughly halfway through the year the team decides that the experiment has failed and demotes him to the next lowest available league.

This is the story of Leon Draisaitl, who was drafted third overall and was deemed NHL ready despite the fact that he himself said he needed another year in Junior. Then GM Craig MacTavish traded Sam Gagner, the team’s de facto 2C, for a winger, and there was nobody else at camp with the skill level to play regular second line minutes. Draisaitl played 37 games and finally the team makes the call to send him to the CHL, where he killed it for the remainder of the year.

Draisaitl scored at a pace that matched some of the best players in the CHL, was named the Western Hockey League playoff MVP and then the Memorial Cup MVP in a losing effort. He came back to the Oilers in the fall and after a brief demotion established himself as an NHL scorer. Now he’s the second best offensive player on the Oilers and everything is coming up Milhouse.

So why is everyone so upset about what Chiarelli and the Oilers did with Jesse Puljujarvi when things worked out so well with Draisaitl?

It’s all about the differences in how they were handled and the options that were available to the Oilers.

One last time for the similarities, though. Here are the two players in some key stats.

2014-2015 Draisaitl: 37GP, 2-7-9, 52.1% CF (first among Forwards), 44.0% OZFO (first among Forwards), Sent to WHL Jan 4th, 2015

2016-2017 Puljujarvi: 28GP, 1-7-8, 53.2% CF (fourth among Forwards), 36.4% OZFO (third among Forwards), Sent to AHL Jan 9th, 2016

Here are the big differences between how the Oilers handled both players:

1) Leon played more hockey

2) The Oilers burned a year of club control with Jesse

3) The Oilers had way more flexibility with Jesse

When Edmonton committed to playing the 18-year-old Leon Draisaitl, they at the very least committed to playing him. He played in 37 of the first 39 games of the year. With Jesse Puljujarvi the Oilers were content to play him sparingly. The Finn appeared in just 28 of the first 42 games of the season. So while Draisaitl saw 95% of the available games, Puljuajrvi saw just 67% of them. Within the games themselves, Draisaitl played nearly a full minute more per game at 12:41 per game versus 11:15 per game for Puljujarvi.

The difference in terms of total playing time between Draisaitl and Puljujarvi over what is essentially the same time span is that Leon played 469:44 NHL minutes between October and early January and Jesse played just 315:07. Maybe not everybody sees that as a lot, but 154 and a half minutes in the NHL based on his TOI average is the equivalent of 13 and a half games for Puljujarvi. I think it’s significantly fewer minutes for the big Finn who had even less experience playing in North American rinks than Draisaitl did at the same age.

We’re talking about playing time for the youngest player in the NHL this year. Hard to argue this was best for his development.

The biggest difference between how these two young forwards were handled, though, was with regards to the 40 game question. Both players burned the first year of their entry-level contracts after they played their 10th games, but with Leon Draisaitl the club sent him down to the WHL the morning before the team’s 40th game. Even though Draisiatl had only played in 37 games, being on the roster for 40 games would have meant that he had accrued one NHL season played and the clock would begin ticking on when he reaches free agency.

Draisaitl was sent to the WHL before the 40th game so he did not accrue the season. Instead of becoming a UFA at 25, Draisaitl cannot become a UFA until 26 years of age. Club control has now and will always mean money saved on contract negotiations. Every year “bought” of free agency makes potential deals cost more money. Let’s not forget the position the Oilers were in when Sam Gagner was going to become the league’s youngest UFA. The team was leveraged into signing a contract it almost immediately regretted. Had they another year of club control, that could have been avoided.

Every advantage matters.

With Puljujarvi, the Oilers played him in 28 games but didn’t send him down to the AHL until the 42nd game of the season. Jesse Puljujarvi’s countdown to UFA status has begun. This is a team that will need every advantage possible to retain players for as little on the cap is possible because we know it is a certainty that Connor McDavid will be able to command double digits if he wants it. Every single dollar saved will matter for the Oilers. In this case, the Oilers gave an asset the most powerful bargaining chip it could have to use against them. It’s a ticking time bomb and we can’t possibly know its ramifications for years.

Why is this so frustrating?

This is maddening because it was avoidable. One of the biggest differences between Draisaitl and Puljujarvi is which leagues they were drafted out of. By virtue of being drafted from the CHL, Draisaitl was subject to the transfer agreement between the CHL and NHL. Long story short with him, it was either all NHL or no NHL. Once a player is sent down they can’t come back up.

By being drafted out of Europe, Puljujarvi is under no such limitations. Jesse Puljujarvi can be sent to the AHL at any time and returned to the NHL whenever his team wants. In addition to this, playing in the AHL would NOT burn a year from his ELC nor burn a year of club control. In other words, Puljujarvi could have played every single game in the AHL this year and his contract would have slid to next year and he couldn’t be a UFA until he was 26 at the earliest.

Jesse Puljujarvi isn’t a bust in January 2017 any more than Leon Draisaitl was in January 2015. He could still be the best RW on the team next year and become a game breaking player for the Oilers. The problem for the team now is that if he does do this, then it will cost them more money, quicker. That’s why what has transpired here with Puljujarvi is not the same as what happened with Draisaitl. They played him less and mishandled their asset more, and they did it to themselves when they had other options.

You might not care about that now. You might think highlighting the differences is splitting hairs. But, in a few years when Chiarelli has to find ways to keep all his good young players, these decisions will make all the difference in the world.

  • camdog

    Some North American people still think you can own a European players rights as listed in the CBA. The truth is if you feel at home in Europe you can go home whenever contract expires (aka at the end of 3 years) play at home and make good coin. Or you can do what Radulov did and just leave and come back when you want.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Don’t always agree with you Matty but it’s good to see another article from you.

    You haven’t written enough lately. I was getting worried.

  • kiaora

    I think this is clearly a deal with the players Agent. We saw talk before year end of his KHL rights – he could have gone to the KHL and got more money. The Agent cut the deal- keep him in NHL for 40 games, in return for giving up a year of NHL entry contract, my player gives up a year of KHL contract and will go to AHL then. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure it out, but the team can’t discuss as its private agent agrement. I’m happy about that, I’ll take it over him playing in Europe, which he had the right to do, any day. Keep him happy, let him learn English, let him learn the game, and good things will come.

  • Hemmercules

    I think there has to be more to it. Why would they wait until game 42, only 2 games over the limit, to send him down?. Chia doesn’t always make the best decisions but this whole thing seems unusual. Hard to judge sometimes when we have no idea what happens behind closed doors.

    I think Jesse will be fine and this likely wont hurt the Oilers. He got to experience the NHL for a few months and now he can go light it up in a lesser league for a bit. Now he knows what it takes to play in the best league and I’m sure he will be hungry for it sooner than later.

    • Clarkopolo

      My guess is that the Oilers aren’t overly concerned with the 42 games on the roster. I imagine their plan is to give Jesse 10-15 games in Bakersfield, then call him back up to the NHL providing that he is playing well. Therefore, he probably ends up being on the NHL roster for 60-65 games and the 40-game mark was never a concern.

      • OilHorse

        Isn’t keeping him in Edm where they can have complete control of 90+% of his development preserving club control?

        They can do it all face to face, not just with Facetime or Skype.

        I believe that they see this kid as important enough to give up a year of contract control to make sure he develops exactly as needed in basically every aspect.

        This is, as I see it, and as mentioned in the article I gave the link for, more than about developing a hockey player. This is equally about developing a human being.

        That is the part you are not thinking enough about.

      • camdog

        Having a hard line on players aka the Kevin Lowe years didn’t always work. We’ve tried that model before. Hockey players are people first a commodity second. It’s time for Edmontoninas to start treating our hockey players as people first, hockey players second. We won’t have to worry about losing Jesse a year early if he’s happy in Edmonton…

  • Kal Tire

    It’s hard to take any argument seriously from the guy who called the Larsson-Hall trade the worst trade in franchise history and wrote a 2 part article on why Kris Russell is the worst d-man on our team.

    Ever think that there is more to the development of an 18 year old foreign kid than ice time in some random American town? Just for once give our GM a little bit of respect. He knows what he is doing and is far better at it than you ever could be.

  • vetinari

    I would be more concerned about the loss of a year of control on a player but I highly doubt Draisaitl and Puljujarvi’s next contracts will be less than 5-6 years each.

    This means that they will exit their ELC’s at age 21 or 22 and will likely be signed to a term that will take them to their mid to late 20s. If the team does decide to go with bridge contracts, they can sign them to a second contract of one or two years and still have them under control for an extension that could extend until they reach 30.

  • camdog

    A lot of people are making their own stories here.
    Nobody was in the room when Jesse Puljujarvi, his agent and PC negotiated that contract, nobody. If I knew the exact details of those conversations, then I’d be able to make a fair evaluation of the scenario. Since I don’t, I’m choosing not to leap to conclusions based, largely on my personal beliefs on the GM.

  • OilBlood

    There was something going on behind the scenea, likely a gentlemans agreement PC and puljujarvi camp that Jesse signs if oilers guarantee he will burn a year of RFA status.

    Nothing else makes sense, I really don’t think Chiarelli is an idiot so there was a reason for this. I don’t buy the learning the language and league bs, how much did he gain being here those extra 2 games that burned the RFA year?

    • “So why is everyone so upset about what Chiarelli and the Oilers did with Jesse Puljujarvi when things worked out so well with Draisaitl?”

      Everyone… is a somewhat arbitrary concept that also includes those that are not upset. They damn well should be, evidently. So work on that… those who are not upset.

    • camdog

      Thanks for offering that up. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve read on Oilers players, right up there with Gregor’s stories. I think one thing is clear, the first 40 games were about integrating Jesse into the North American game and culture, not simply playing the game, sometimes this is lost on people. There are reason to question many moves made by this GM, this is not one of them, because well, nobody really knows the entire story here, we just pretend we do.

      • DiscoBiscuits

        There is absolutely no logic to “the first 40 games” being about “integrating Jesse into the North American game and culture” when it could have been “the first 39 games” and one more productive year on a bargain-basement ELC. You don’t pay millions of dollars and run the risk of putting yourself in cap hell just to make sure a kid feels warm and fuzzy. Never mind that it’s silly to say Jesse can’t get integrated to the North American game and culture in California. For crying out loud, Bakersfield is 100 miles from LA and has a metropolitan area almost the the size of Edmonton.

        While there is considerable benefit, on a social level, to keeping Puljujarvi around Edmonton as long as possible, the difference between game 39 and game 40 is a negotiated financial decision, and that’s it. Yes, the GM most certainly put a lot of thought into that decision, and yes, this probably is very much about what’s best for the player—but that includes all the advice he’s receiving about what’s best for his career, including financially. This is not a knock on Chiarelli, Puljujarvi, or his agent, merely an observation of something that I feel is closest to reflecting the reality on the ground, the same as for each and every player that makes it to the NHL.

        • camdog

          My best friends’ brother used to live in Bakersfield. Trust me when I say this, Edmonton and the new rink is a better place for a young Fin than Bakersfield. Other than being close to LA (which serves no benefit for most) it has no benefits, especially if you don’t speak English. You don’t spend that high of a draft pick on a player from Europe and then cast them off to the AHL.

          The Oilers made agreements with the young Finn when they signed him. Contrary to popular sentiment you don’t “own” players the way you did 20 years ago.

          • DiscoBiscuits

            On your advice I did a quick look at what Google autocompletes for “Bakersfield is…”

            “Bakersfield is a dump” came up as the 2nd result.

            Needing some sort of control sample, I checked what Google autocompletes for Edmonton and got the same result.

    • Just facts

      Exactly. While Leavins may not have the specifics all correct it is far more likely that the GM (who has the team solidly in the playoff picture and who has won a cup) has a thought out plan rather than he’s less knowledgeable the average blogger.

      • Why does looking at the differences in how Puljujarvi and Draisaitl were handled with a critical eye mean that Chiarelli doesn’t have a plan or that he’s less knowledgeable than the average blogger?

        Is it truly impossible for me to question decisions without you assuming I’m attacking the organization? Come on, guys.

        • Harry2

          Can you blame us?

          Your “articles” on Russell were nothing short of a witch hunt and your belly aching about Hall is insane considering how much better Edm is playing defensively this year.

          One would think that going from the gutter to top 3rd in the entire league would warrant a more positive outlook.

          • Harry2

            Come on Matt. You wrote a 2 part article on one player! Stating how he is the teams worst defenceman. Yet Chiarelli and MacLellan game after game keep throwing him out there and Edm is winning games and maintaining in the standings. Your evidence is purely subjective and cherry picked.

            Your hate on for Chiarelli is confusing considering what hes done for this club in a very short period of time.

          • Gregggggg

            What does his previous blogs have to do with this one?

            Kind of Ironic how people on this site talk about how negative Henderson is yet post negative comments on every one of his blogs.

            He just provides stats and an opinion. I didn’t see anything hateful towards Chia in the blog.

          • Harry2

            His previous blogs point to the fact that hes constantly down on this team, the management and their decisions.

            Perhaps hate was to strong a word but as others have pointed out Matt doesnt like Chiarelli because of Hall and thats unfortunate because hes shaping Edm into a damn good hockey team.

          • Hemmercules

            I recall articles that were upbeat regarding Nurse and Benning. Even his article about how terrible Pouliot is doing this year was somewhat positive in that he expects/hope Poo gets out of his funk. Last article was about being buyers/sellers at the trade deadline. You must only be reading the negative ones so you can raise a stink about the writer.

          • I wrote a 2 part article about a player receiving praise from his GM and Coach despite very poor results.

            He *is* the team’s worst defender and in that article I used 17 different pieces of evidence to establish that, which you now call “cherry picking”. If it was 1 or 2 then maybe, but 17 is cherry picking?

            My “hate” for Chiarelli isnt there. You’re imagining it. My hate for refusing to ask questions is real. That’s where you’re confused.

          • I wrote a 2 part article about a player receiving praise from his GM and Coach despite very poor results.

            He *is* the team’s worst defender and in that article I used 17 different pieces of evidence to establish that, which you now call “cherry picking”. If it was 1 or 2 then maybe, but 17 is cherry picking?

            My “hate” for Chiarelli isnt there. You’re imagining it. My hate for refusing to ask questions is real. That’s where you’re confused.

          • Harry2

            Hockey is not a game of numbers on a page. If you dont know that by now theres no hope at all.

            When your articles are constantly down on management its not hard to draw the conclusion that your not a fan of Chiarelli.

          • DiscoBiscuits

            I don’t think you know what “subjective” means if your only metric for evaluating a player is the number of W and L in games they participated in…

        • Hemmercules

          I think when some people read this article they see “Oilers management are idiots because they clearly mismanaged this player and ruined a year of his ELC”.

          I thought the article was decent but it seems to completely discount the fact that there may be other factors at play similar to what was outlined in that Journal article someone linked. To me, its just way to close to the 40 game mark to be anything other than an agreed on move prior to the season, just my opinion.

          I think Jesse could be a solid player, but I dont feel too worried about the whole contract thing or his development. If he’s too good that they can’t afford him when the times comes, they trade him for an asset.

        • ImAnonymous

          I think it bugs him more that you called him “just an average blogger”
          Which to be honest is a funny cheeky way of bugging him. I’m gonna give you a prop for that!

  • Spydyr

    Keeping Puljujarvi here past forty games then sending him down makes little sense. Perhaps there was a process running in the background that we are not aware of.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      Theres always a process in the background that people not in the NHL are unaware of.

      Everyone brings up how we should have signed johnson or enroth this off season but negotiations are more than just money. Most goalies want an opportunity to play games and it seems like the plan this year was to play Talbot as much as we can to see what we have in him.

      I think Gustavson was one of the only goalies who was fine playing maybe 8-10 games this year because of how bad he is. That’s just a theory though.

  • Johnnyo

    Sometimes I think we–collectively–forget we’re discussing a human being, not just a player and a team. Perhaps, maybe, the organization surrounding Jesse, including him, his agent, his family, his coach, his GM, etc., made a decision together that what would be best for his development into an NHL pro is exactly what’s unfolded? Part of learning to play the game at this level is learning to live like an NHL pro, not just play 19 minutes in all situations.

    I may be delusional, but I like to think the human factors played a large role in what’s happened here with Jesse. It makes me respect the people in the organization a little bit more. It may come back to bite them at some point and at some level, sure. But I don’t think that’s reason enough to toss an 18 year old kid into the AHL for solely on ice development or cap era contract management reasons.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Dead bang on the money Matt. I’ve watched them mishandle JP all season so far in absolute amazement. I give him lots of credit but this is one that Chia Pete boned up big time this year. For sure we’re going to regret it in a few years…

    The excuse that he needed to work on his English is bizarre… What – they don’t have language tutors in California? Something else was going on here that hasn’t been made public.

    Anyways – glad they finally made the right call and will give the kid some steady playing time to get his legs.

  • Burns14

    Here’s a thought. Maybe burning a year off a highly touted prospects contract isn’t a bad thing. Would you rather have had to extend Draisaitl this past summer or this coming summer? It may save them some cashola down the line. I really don’t think it matters in grand scheme of things. If he’s a quality player, one shorter year of club control doesn’t matter.

  • ImAnonymous

    I may be wrong. So correct me if I am. But this article seems out of sorts. Does the year of UFA eligibility not come along sooner once the 42nd game is played? Meaning up to 41 games played, ELC gets burned but UFA eligibility remains the same. He was injured one game which means he was not on the roster for 42 games but only 41. So the frustration Henderson is for nothing?

      • ImAnonymous

        Yikes! Well okay. Thanks for correcting that. Everybody’s wrong sometimes.
        There may be other factors involved that are not known. Could have been a gentlemans agreement between agent, player, and GM.
        It is hard to believe a league GM even if considered Tambi dumb could so easily make such a blunder. Additionally. Our GM took us from the gutter to contention in two years, the man ain’t no dummy.

    • CMG30

      Is it more the fact that he sometimes posts negative articles or the fact that he tends to slay your sacred cows…?

      If you only want to read the slobbering coverage go to the Oilers website. Me, I like a diversity of opinion.

    • Chongler

      I am patiently waiting for the organization to give him no choice but to write a positive article.

      I used to find the constant negativity maddening, I even briefly stopped following him on twitter because of it. The reality is, the club still is heading in the right direction, but they can’t completely ignore their mistakes…Mistakes that, at this time, could be more costly in the long run.

      As an Oiler fan, I am very excited to see things start to turn around. As an Oiler fan, I am also extremely nervous, almost waiting for the other shoe to drop and see them plummet to the bottom of the league. This may never happen, but it saddens me that this is what my instinct is trying to prepare me for.

      Until we see not only improvement, but fewer of these bigger organizational mistakes, there needs to be constant reality checks along the way keeping us fans from sailing too far into the clouds.

      • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

        Until the Oil win a cup there will always be something to be negative about.

        I have no problem with writers on this site pointing out shortcomings, but if one were to only read Hendo’s posts you would think we should be discussing a top 5 pick.

    • Will

      I was going to say, this article is taking a rather negative slant, must be Henderson.

      You would think this is the worst iteration of the team they have ever iced. I like how he talks about how it’s so much worse simply because Puljujarvi didn’t have to go back to junior. As though having the ability to sign guys, or not trade guys, but do anyway leaving no one for the role but an underage kid is somehow better management.

      The one thing I haven’t read, are theories as to why this might have been done intentionally. My guess is a combination of making the kid feel comfortable, he had a great training camp and earned a spot, McLellan loves the ability to sit guys if they aren’t producing and having Puljujarvi on the team could keep guys like Eberle trying harder, and finally burning a bad year of the ELC might actually help in negotiating a bridge or second contract. How many dollars do you think the first year of Draisaitl will save Chirelli? None? Some? Lots? I think if it went to arbitration, that year would count towards a final number.

      • Spaceman Spiff

        I appreciate the original comment was cheeky and required some sort of pithy retort but I haven’t the vaguest notion as to why you’d conduct a drive-by shooting on the staffers at the Journal (a couple of whom have spots in the writers’ wing at the Hockey Hall of Fame) while penning your remark. It does no credit to your work you do.

          • Spaceman Spiff

            Yes, thank you. I picked up on that. As someone who once worked in the working print media (including sports, for a time), it puzzles me why hill people can’t get along with the valley people. Bloggers ripping traditional media is a tad passe, no?

          • MessyEH!

            Attacking a blogger because you feel he’s a little bit critical of management is a little passe, no?

            There are two sides to this story. The fact that Matt has caused this discussion to take place means the article, and it’s content, deserves credit.

            Would you like a refund?

      • TruthHurts98

        It was a well written insightful article that addressed all the questions I’ve had this season. Unless PC had a deal with JP from the beginning.. but it still makes no sense to freely hand away your bargaining power. Might end up costing this team dearly.

  • Anton CP

    It is indeed puzzling about why handle Puljujarvi in such questionable manner. Maybe Chiarelli and MacLellan have different views or lack of communication between them? Or some unknown locker room issues that we are not aware of? Must have a reason right?