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Contract comparisons for Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto

Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto will be getting significant raises when they sign their new deals. Both right wingers carried a $1.175 million cap hit (AAV) last season, but Puljujarvi’s actual salary was $1.45m while Yamamoto made $1.175m.

What type of average annual value (AAV) will they command this summer?

To maintain their rights the Oilers must offer both wingers a qualifying offer by Monday, July 11th at 3 p.m. MT. Both will be qualified. Yamamoto and Puljujarvi are eligible to file for arbitration and they have until July 18th at 3 p.m. MT to file. Unless a deal is reached prior I fully expect both will file for arbitration.

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In arbitration, goals, assists, points, points-per-game (PPG) and Time On Ice are the most commonly used statistics. Any analytics used must come from the NHL, and those stats aren’t nearly as detailed or in-depth as the ones individual NHL teams compile, so analytics don’t play much of a role in arbitration hearings. I was told by multiple NHL management people who have been involved in arbitration and the previous season carries the most weight, followed by the previous two seasons. If a player jumps from 25 points to 50 that will be looked at, but often if a player goes from 50 down to 25, then the second season hurts them more I was told.

Filing for arbitration puts both sides on notice and often leads to an agreement prior to going through the actual arbitration hearing. If a player files for arbitration then the team has the option to choose a one or two-year deal for the arbitrator. They can’t choose a two-year deal if a player is only one year from being an unrestricted free agent.

Here is the list of forwards who filed for arbitration the past two off-seasons. Tyler Bertuzzi was the only player to actually go through an arbitration hearing. The others agreed to a deal with their club prior to their hearing date.

2020:
– Sam Reinhart produced 22-28-50 in 69 games with a 0.72 PPG. He – signed a one-year deal for $5.2m with Buffalo.
– Ryan Strome tallied 18-41-59 in 70 games with a 0.84 PPG. He signed a two-year deal at $4.5m AAV with the New York Rangers.
– Connor Brown scored 16-27-43 in 71 games (0.60 PPG). He signed a three-year deal worth $3.6m AAV with Ottawa.
– Tyler Bertuzzi produced 21-28-48 in 71 games (0.67). He was awarded a one-year deal worth $3.5m with Detroit.
– Chris Tierney scored 11-26-37 in 71 games (0.52). He signed a two-year deal at $3.5m AAV with Ottawa.
– Victor Olofsson produced 20-22-42 in 54 games (0.77) and signed a two-year deal worth $3.05m AAV with Buffalo.
– Andrew Mangiapane scored 17-15-32 in 68 games (0.47) and signed a two-year pact at $2.45m AAV with Calgary.
– Warren Foegele scored 13-17-30 in 68 games (0.44) and earned a one-year deal at $2.15m with Carolina.
– Ilya Mikheyev tallied 8-15-23 in 39 games (0.58) and signed a two-year deal at $1.65m AAV with Toronto.
– Brendan Lemieux produced 6-12-18 in 59 games (0.31) and signed a two-year deal at $1.55m AAV with the New York Rangers.
– Nick Paul scored 9-11-20 in 56 games (0.36) and signed a two-year deal at $1.35m AAV with Ottawa.

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Olofsson and Mikheyev had only played one season in the NHL, and despite higher PPG than others, they ended up with a lower AAV. Toronto and Buffalo management were able to leverage the lack of games played and experience to their advantage.

2021: 

– Jakub Vrana scored 19-17-36 in 50 games (0.72) and signed a three-year deal with a $5.25m AAV in Detroit.
– Kevin Fiala scored 20-20-40 in 50 games (0.80) and signed a one-year deal at $5.1m with Minnesota.
– Andrew Copp tallied 15-24-39 in 55 games (0.71) and signed a one-year deal worth $3.6m with Winnipeg.
– Jason Dickinson scored 7-8-15 in 51 games (0.29) and signed a three-year deal for $2.65m AAV in Vancouver.
– Adam Erne produced 11-9-20 in 45 games (0.44) and got a two-year deal at $2.1m AAV in Detroit.
– Zach Sanford scored 10-6-16 in 52 games (0.31) and got a one-year deal at $2m with St. Louis.
– Zach Aston-Reese scored 9-6-15 in 45 games (0.33) and signed a one-year $1.725m AAV deal with Pittsburgh.
– Ross Colton tallied 9-3-12 in 30 games (0.40) and earned a two-year, $1.125m AAV contract with Tampa.

Dickinson’s deal seems high when you compare his production to other players who had filed. Minnesota might have been better off to go to arbitration with Fiala, just so they could have opted for a two-year deal. His cap hit likely would have been similar to what he signed for anyways, but at least they’d have him under contract for this season. He produced 85 points last year and is an RFA again and will be getting a significant raise.

YAMOMOTO AND PULJUJARVI AAV?

Yamamoto produced 20-21-41 in 81 games (0.51 PPG) while Puljujarvi scored 14-22-36 in 65 games (0.55 PPG). I was told by the NHL management type that goals carry a bit more weight.  They were very close this season and even over the past two years. Puljujarvi has 29-32-61 in 120 games (0.51 PPG) and Yamamoto scored 28-34-62 in 133 games (0.47 PPG).

This season Yamamoto averaged 16:52 TOI/game while Puljujarvi was at 16:14.

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What is interesting is when you compare their production and usage under Jay Woodcroft and Dave Tippett.

Under Tippett:
Puljujarvi: 10-15-25 in 42 games (0.59 PPG) and averaged 16:58/game.
Yamamoto: 8-8-16 in 44 games (0.36 PPG) averaging 16:23/game.

With Woodcroft:
Puljujarvi: 4-7-11 in 23 games (0.48 PPG) averaging 14:54/game.
Yamamoto: 12-13-25 in 37 games (0.68 PPG) averaging 17:27/game.

Puljujarvi had a better start to the season, while Yamamoto had a better second half. Puljujarvi also got injured and had COVID in the second half and he never looked as comfortable when he returned.

The Oilers need to be careful of recency bias. Puljujarvi had a strong start and weaker finish, while Yamamoto struggled early, but finished very well. Puljujarvi turned 24 years old in May, while Yamamoto turns 24 in September. They are the same age, but have very different styles and different strengths and weaknesses.

Puljujarvi is big and still doesn’t know how strong he is. He’s a solid forechecker and uses his reach to knock down pucks and keep plays alive. He gets many good looks, but has yet to show an ability to finish consistently. Yamamoto is a very tenacious and cerebral player, likely because he had to be due to his lack of size. Woodcroft, and Tippett before him, mentioned how teammates, specifically Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, like playing with him. It is because he’s predictable. He reads the ice well and knows how to use his linemates.

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Puljujarvi has more upside, in my opinion, but he needs to improve his puck skills and his edge work/balance. Both are those are things he can work on, and should be a focal point of his off-season training. Yamamoto is more versatile in the eyes of his coaches. He is used on the penalty kill, and he had 166 offensive zone starts and 148 defensive zone starts at 5×5, while Puljujarvi had 183 offensive zone starts and 105 defensive zone starts.

I don’t agree with the notion Puljujarvi is a great defensive player because of his on-ice GA or XGF%. He had the highest on-ice Sv% on the Oilers at .941. As Mike Kelly outlined earlier this week in our discussion about GF% and xGF%, a goalie’s Sv% can drastically alter those two stats for a forward. Puljujarvi has yet to be used on the PK, and had way more offensive zone to defensive starts, so based on usage neither Tippett or Woodcroft viewed him as a dominant defensive player. At least not to this point.

When you look at recent signings for players who filed for arbitration, it is realistic to expect Puljujarvi and Yamamoto to land a salary between $2.6m-$3.2m. Andrew Mangiapane got $2.45m and he’d played 1.5 season and averaged 0.47 points/game. He’s similar in size to Yamamoto. Chris Tierney averaged 0.52 points/game the season when he filed for arbitration, but he’d also scored 48 points the previous year. Ottawa signed him for $3.5m, but they were also a team with loads of cap space and in a rebuild. Teams with more cap space, and in rebuilds will often pay a bit more than teams who are contending, and that’s why the Oilers could play hardball a bit more.

Yamamoto and Puljujarvi are not foundation pieces. They are both, solid complementary forwards, and if they want to land a contract similar to Tierney they might price themselves out of Edmonton. The challenge for the Oilers is they signed Warren Foegele at $2.75m when he was 25 years of age and hadn’t produced like Yamamoto and Puljujarvi. I’m sure Yamamoto and Puljujarvi’s camp will look at that deal and say we deserve more. It is all part of the negotiating process.

If the Oilers can sign them for a combined $6m then Edmonton should get good value on their investment. The challenge is in order to do that, some other pieces need to be moved out.

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