Jesse Puljujarvi’s arbitration hearing is set for next Friday, giving Ken Holland, Bill Scott and Puljujarvi’s agent, Markus Lehto, one week to find common ground or let the arbitrator decide. We rarely see players reach arbitration. Tyler Bertuzzi did in 2020 with the Detroit Red Wings. Bertuzzi’s camp asked for $4.25m AAV, while the Red Wings countered with $3.15m. The arbitrator awarded Bertuzzi $3.5m AAV. Since Bertuzzi opted for arbitration, the Red Wings had the option to decide on a one or two-term, and they choose one year.
Bertuzzi and the Wings agreed to a two-year extension on July 31st, 2021 with a $4.75m AAV, so there was no hard feelings after his arbitration hearing, but neither side wanted to go through it again.
I’ve been told by agents and multiple NHL managers that analytics don’t factor in much in the arbitrator’s ruling. The main points are goals, assists, points, points-per-game, and time on ice. The two most recent seasons carry the most weight, with last year being a bit more, and finally the overall career of the player. If a player had a really good season three or four years ago, it won’t matter as much to the arbitrator as his more recent play.
Puljujarvi’s camp will be looking for $3-$3.3m after the recent RFA signings this summer. Lehto will gladly use Kasperi Kapanen’s two-year, $3.2m AAV as a comparable. He knows that contract intimately as he represents Kapanen. Kapanen’s arbitration case was set for July 30th, but the Pittsburgh Penguins and Lehto agreed to a deal yesterday.
Other players who were arbitration eligible this summer, and were not qualified and became UFAs, agreed to a deal with their teams or signed at the end of the season include Dylan Strome (one year, $3.5m), Denis Gurianov (one year, $2.9m), Luke Kunin (two years, $2.75m) and Dominik Kubalik and Oscar Lindblom (both two years at $2.5m).
Here’s a quick look at their stats, ranked by points, from last season, along with Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto.
Strome had the most goals, points, PTS/GP and TOI and got $3.5m. I don’t see how an arbitrator could award Puljujarvi as much as Strome, but Lehto could argue Puljujarvi deserves as much as Kapanen. But keep in mind Kapanen did score 30 points in 40 games in 2021 (0.75 pts/GP). The Penguins likely factored that in and believe he can produce more than the 32 points he did last season. He has a better track record, but will the arbitrator look at that more than recent success? That is the risk for both sides. Puljujarvi’s camp will want to, the Oilers won’t, but neither knows what the arbitrator will look at.
I’m sure the Oilers will use the Kubalik and Gurianov deals as reasons why Puljujarvi should come in under Kapanen, while Lehto will say he must be higher than Kubalik and Gurianov.
Edmonton is looking at somewhere in the $2.7 to $2.9m range. They aren’t far apart, but when you are up against the cap every dollar matters.
Once Puljujarvi has a contract it will be easier to facilitate a trade. The team who acquires him will know what his cap hit is. Having spoke to numerous people I sense that both sides think a trade is beneficial. The relationship between Puljujarvi and the Oilers isn’t strained or malicious, just one where a parting of the ways would be welcome. Ken Holland won’t give him away, but it seems unlikely he will acquire a player of similar skill in return.
And that’s where the trade becomes more than just the return. It will be about the draft pick Holland acquires and then who he signs with the cap space from moving Puljujarvi. For example, if Holland moves Puljujarvi and manages to sign Evan Rodrigues, then one could argue the deal was essentially Puljujarvi for a draft pick and Rodrigues. Rodrigues scored 19 goals and 43 points in Pittsburgh last year. It was his most productive NHL season.
However, his previous two years in Pittsburgh were very similar. He only played 35 games in the shortened 2021 season, and he produced 5-7-12 at 5×5. This past season he tallied 9-20-29 in 82 games. He had a 1.69 points/60 in 2021 and 1.65 points/60 in 2022. He did produced seven power play goals last year and that really bumped his goal totals. Maybe he could split net front duty with Evander Kane on the top unit in place of Puljujarvi and be produce similar PP goal totals in Edmonton.
Rodrigues is one UFA option, while Phil Kessel, Danton Heinen, Sonny Milano are some others. Heinen and Milano shoot left though. The point is the Puljujarvi trade, if it happens, might just be for a draft pick, or prospect, and thus it won’t look great one-for-one. Holland will have to make a corresponding acquisition with the new cap space to make the moves more appealing to Oilers fans.
KANE ON TKACHUK…
Matthew Tkachuk was a main reason the Battle of Alberta finally had some animosity again. He was the perfect villain. Skilled, mouthy, annoying, and agitating. His hit(s) on Zack Kassian, Kassian’s response, and then their fight a few games later added a much-needed spark to the BOA. Tkachuk’s departure is brutal for the Flames and to a lesser extent the BOA.
As great as Tkachuk was at re-igniting the BOA, Evander Kane was equally as impressive as negating Tkachuk in the playoffs. After game one Jay Woodcroft changed his top two lines, and mainly wanted to have Kane out against Tkachuk. Kane basically neutered Tkachuk. He was a non-factor in games two, three, four and five.
I asked Kane how he was able to negate Tkachuk in the series.
“I think a big part of playoffs, just because you play each other every other night and the battle intensifies, that a big part of playoff hockey is the mental game,” said Kane. “And I think that it gets overlooked a lot, especially in today’s game, and that can definitely be a useful tool against other teams, and especially other players. I think he’s a guy who likes to talk and yip and yap and make gestures. Nobody can say anything to me that I haven’t already heard, so it’s no skin off of my back, but, sometimes when the shoe is on the other foot, people have a tough time handling it. I think that the mental aspect of maybe us competing against each other deterred him a little bit.”
Essentially Kane believes he got in Tkachuk’s kitchen and was rattling his pots and pans. It’s too bad Tkachuk won’t be in Calgary this season, because I’d assume he’d want to atone for his poor performance in the playoffs. But whichever team he plays with, when they play the Oilers next season it will be interesting to see the verbal sparring that goes on between Kane and Tkachuk.
Kane’s on-ice confidence and persona is something the Oilers lacked and will need more of in the future. It is an element that goes beyond goals, points and analytics. It is almost impossible to track or calculate, but we should always remember how much of the game is mental. Getting an opposing player off their game can be a huge benefit.
I’ve been asked if Phil Kessel would help the Oilers. Kessel scored 52 points last season. Yes, he only had eight goals, but he also had a career-worst 4.6 shooting%. If Kessel played in the top six with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, I have no doubt he’d score as much as Puljujarvi and Yamamoto did. However, he doesn’t forecheck like them. He’s a different style of player, but he’s more offensively skilled than both. Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman are responsible defensively, so Kessel would be fine in Edmonton. Does he want to play in a hockey-mad market is the question. He’s been in Arizona with no pressure, but also little chance to win. Kessel produced quite well in Toronto, on teams that didn’t have loads of offensive skill.
I wouldn’t be opposed to a one-year deal. Kessel has won two Cups, and he should have won the Conn Smythe in 2016. He turns 35 in October, so he isn’t the same offensive force he was through 2010-2019 when he scored the ninth most points in the NHL, but he still has the offensive instincts of an elite point producer. He’d also give the Oilers a right-shot option on the PP if they wanted a different look on the half wall.
This is an interesting off-season with many UFAs still unsigned: Nazem Kadri, John Klingberg, Patrice Bergeron, Paul Stastny, Kessel, Rodrigues, Milano, Heinen, Calvin de Haan, Anton Stralman, PK Subban, Victor Rask, Sam Gagner, Michael Raffl, Ryan Donato, Sam Steel, Derek Stepan, Evgeny Svechnikov, Jimmy Vesey, Tyler Motte, Dominik Simon, Alex Chiasson, Daniel Sprong, Alex Galchenyuk, Riley Nash, Derick Brassard, Tyler Pitlick, Riley Sheahan, Zach Aston-Reese, Cody Eakin, Tyler Bozak, Loui Eriksson, Brian Boyle, Juho Lammikko, Andy Greene, Kris Russell, Jack Johnson, Robert Hagg, Keith Yandle, Joe Thornton and Zdeno Chara.
It is rare to see so many experienced players unsigned this late into July. Many teams simply don’t have the cap space to offer players the contracts they want. Once Kadri and Klingberg sign that should open up the market and teams will look for other options, but I think many veterans will end up coming to camp on deals much lower than they were expecting on July 13th.
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