I’ve got to admit I hadn’t given Jesse Puljujarvi much thought since last August – even with what seemed like daily updates about his progress playing in Finland from JP Fan Club president Dustin Nielson – until yesterday. For me, it was out of sight out of mind, at least until Puljujarvi appeared to soften his stance about the possibility of returning to the Edmonton Oilers by saying, “Never say never.”
That caught my eye because just a few days after writing that I thought it was inevitable he’d be traded in August, I used the exact same words – never say never – regarding the possibility Puljujarvi and Oilers’ GM Ken Holland might actually be able to patch things up, as unlikely as it seemed at the time.
Even back then, with Puljujarvi and agent Markus Lehto seeming so determined not to try to make a go of it here despite a new GM in Holland and a new coaching staff, some fans and media types in town were in an “enough already” mode, rolling their eyes and worn down by the ongoing saga. He’s not here. Move on – at least until there is a meaningful development. That’s understandable.
I don’t know if yesterday’s reports out of Finland (most of it is behind a paywall), where Puljujarvi put together an impressive season playing with Karpat, qualify as something meaningful, but here we are today. It seems to me it makes sense for both sides to explore the possibility, no matter how unlikely, of coming up with a win-win solution rather than a lose-lose standoff.
Whether you believe Puljujarvi is a sulking whiner who never did very much to earn a place high up in the line-up before stomping his feet and going home to play or you think the Oilers completely botched his development, fixating on what happened in the past rather than focusing on what comes next, does nothing.
I happen to fall into the middle of the two camps and I believe that there’s plenty of blame to go around, but that matters not at this point. If Puljujarvi lets pride dictate staying with Karpat when he knows a return to the Oilers is his best chance to get back to the NHL, he’s cutting off his nose to spite his face.
The Oilers will be doing the same thing if they let Puljujarvi twist a bit just to make a point that unproven prospects don’t get to dictate where they fit into the plans. I don’t see Holland going that way because guys who are more into dick-measuring than finding ways around impasses like this one in the name of pride don’t have the success he’s had. It’s business.
What’s best for Puljujarvi and best for the Oilers might be the very same thing. If Puljujarvi wants out of Edmonton, as he and Lehto insisted last summer, his fastest track back to the NHL likely means returning to the Oilers. If he can prove to GM’s around the league his season in Karpat was no one-off, he’ll draw interest. That, if a trade is the end-game (I think it is) makes more sense for Holland than being stubborn and getting nothing in return.
THE WAY I SEE IT
I’m not sure Puljujarvi will ever become the kind of player that will justify being drafted fourth overall, but maybe I’m wrong about that (I don’t think so). I don’t see Puljujarvi as better than a third-line winger in Dave Tippett’s line-up – a lot in life he wasn’t happy with under Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock before he went home. At this point, that doesn’t matter.
I think Puljujarvi should come back and try to shove it up the backsides of the critics who don’t think he can hack it in the best league in the world. If he can do that for 20-30 games, Holland’s phone will start to ring with something more than sucker deals and boat anchor offers. If Holland and Lehto haven’t re-visited the possibility already, you can bet they will.
If Puljujarvi can’t build on what he did with Karpat, which is a distinct possibility, and he ends up packing his sticks and heading back home again, so be it. At this point, the reality is nothing ventured, nothing gained. Win-win should be the end-game for both sides, so let’s get on with it.