Jesse Puljujarvi wants a fresh start and he’s made it clear he’s willing to spend next season in the Finnish League as he waits for the Edmonton Oilers to provide him with the chance to continue his NHL career elsewhere.
Amid a contract stalemate between the restricted free agent winger and the Oilers, Puljujarvi’s former Finnish League club, Karpat Oulu, announced Tuesday that they have inked the 21-year-old to a one-year contract. However, the pact doesn’t necessarily lock Puljujarvi into a season across the pond. Per the team’s announcement, the deal includes an NHL out clause that would allow Puljujarvi to head back to the NHL if he can come to terms on a new NHL contract before the beginning of December.
That Puljujarvi has signed a contract in Finland isn’t altogether surprising. Throughout the lengthy back-and-forth between the 2016 fourth-overall pick and the Oilers, Puljujarvi and his camp have made it clear that returning home was an option if no NHL deal could be reached. Last week, Puljujarvi’s agent told Helsingin Sanomat that such a move to the European circuit was no bluff, and Tuesday’s announcement makes that abundantly clear. Karpat is the obvious fit for Puljujarvi, too, as he came up through the program – playing with their U16, U18 and U20 squads – before spending a full season in Karpat’s Finnish League side ahead of his draft year.
Prior to Puljujarvi’s signing in Karpat, it seemed as though there was at least a slim possibility he would return to the Oilers next season, particularly with new management and a new coaching staff in place. While not an entirely fresh start for Puljujarvi, who bounced between the AHL and NHL throughout his three-year, entry-level deal, playing under coach Dave Tippett and GM Ken Holland represents a change from the past three campaigns, which were helmed by deposed coach Todd McLellan and GM Peter Chiarelli. Ken Hitchcock replaced McLellan early last season and finished out the campaign behind the Oilers’ bench. However, it now seems as though the only way Puljujarvi will return is if he’s moved along, which is supported by Lehto’s insistence to Helsingin Sanomat that the negotiations are in no way related to money or term. Rather, it’s about a shot at a clean slate for Puljujarvi. And that leaves the Oilers with two options.
The first, of course, would be to simply attempt to wait Puljujarvi out. With his out clause set to expire on Dec. 1, Edmonton could let him spend the first couple months of the NHL campaign overseas and see if he can’t be persuaded to return when the threat of missing the entire season looms. The risk, however, is that if Puljujarvi decides not to return, an asset that has already lost significant value could depreciate even further. There’s been little in Puljujarvi’s first three NHL campaigns, across which he has scored 17 goals and 37 points in 139 games, to suggest Edmonton will receive a top-tier return for the winger, and teams may be even less inclined to pay the Oilers’ requested price for Puljujarvi if he spends an entire season in Finland at an important time in his development.
And the threat of seeing his trade value plummet could be what forces Edmonton’s hand and pushes Holland and Co. to move Puljujarvi at some point before December. With each passing day, it’s not unreasonable to think the amount of bargaining power the Oilers have with other clubs is diminishing and you can bet offers aren’t going to get much better as the clock ticks towards the expiration of Puljujarvi’s out clause.
That’s not to mention that the Oilers have almost nothing to lose in moving Puljujarvi. It’s clear – clearer than ever, in fact – that he has no interest in returning to Edmonton and would rather spend the season in Finland than play for the Oilers next season. If that’s the case, hanging onto Puljujarvi serves no purpose and does nothing whatsoever to improve Edmonton’s outlook heading into the upcoming season. There’s almost certainly more to be gained by trading his rights to the highest bidder, moving on from what has now become a pretty sizeable distraction for the organization and using whatever assets are recouped in a swap to start taking steps forward.
Either way, though, the ball is now squarely in Edmonton’s court. Either persuade Puljujarvi to return or move him along. Those are the only options. No matter what, Puljujarvi will be playing next season, but whether that’s in the NHL or overseas will seemingly come down to what the Oilers decide is the best course of action.
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