There still appears to be solid interest in Edmonton Oilers’ young forward Jesse Puljujarvi and even more so now that he is signed for next season and is under team control after that. Ken Holland stated during the 2021-22 end-of-season press conference that he has things to figure out with Puljujarvi. Though he was signed for one season, that doesn’t guarantee he won’t be on the move at some point, as teams like knowing exactly how much money they will be taking on in a trade to work things out on their end as well.
Puljujarvi could either spend next season with the Oilers or be traded beforehand. I previously wrote about the interest the Montreal Canadiens have and what the Oilers would get in return, but now we turn our attention to the Toronto Maple Leafs who have serious interest in the Oilers’ forward as well.
Heading the other way could possibly be another defenceman the Maple Leafs have been trying to get rid of considering the logjam they have. Their bottom-six is weak and Puljujarvi may benefit from a change in scenery while being able to help out offensively and defensively in Toronto. Let’s dive into all the problems a trade involving Puljujarvi and the Maple Leafs’ Justin Holl would solve for Edmonton.
Oilers Would Benefit by Paying a 3rd Pair Defenceman Less Money
The Oilers got a stroke of luck when Duncan Keith retired because it cleared up a nice amount of cap space to bring in and bring back who they needed to. Their defence looks solid but there remains one area that can be fixed, the third pairing. Last season they were paying next to nothing for Brett Kulak since they got the Canadiens to retain some salary. He was excellent beside Tyson Barrie on the third pairing where he helped him out defensively. Right now, Barrie is set to be paired with rookie Philip Broberg and Kulak on the second pairing. Broberg and Kulak are on different levels right now when it comes to defensive play and the third pairing may be a liability in the defensive end even though they should do well offensively.
As it stands, the Oilers are paying Barrie $4.5 million for the next two seasons, while Holl has a cap hit of just $2 million for next season. That said, they would free up $2.5 million next season if they trade him somewhere and bring in Holl while also freeing up $3 million more from Puljujarvi’s salary. That is more than enough to work with this offseason to finish re-signing and signing players.
Holl may have had a down season in 2021-22, but was very good in 2020-21. The Oilers would be banking on a return to form from Holl if they do execute the deal, and more than likely some extra assets back in a trade. Holl would also benefit from being in a third pairing role instead of playing against better competition on the second pairing in Toronto. Cody Ceci and Evan Bouchard have the top-four locked down, and Holl’s defensive mindset would work well beside Broberg who still needs to learn and adjust to the NHL.
Oilers Still Have Players to Sign and Little Cap Space to Work With
The Oilers have done nice work signing their restricted free agents (RFA) thus far. Puljujarvi was locked up at $3 million, Kailer Yamamoto at $3.1 million, and Tyler Benson was just signed at $750,000. Ryan McLeod is their last remaining RFA to sign and even with a bridge deal, they need to free up some more cap space.
With a 23-man roster, the Oilers project to be $500,000 to $1 million above the cap with McLeod unsigned. They should still be looking at the remaining unrestricted free agents to see if they can find an upgrade over fringe players like Greg McKegg, Devin Shore, and Benson. Unfortunately, that will cost some money, which is just another reason why this trade could help out.
Oilers Have Some Prospects Pushing for Spots
Now looking at the other side of the trade. If Puljuajrvi were to head out before next season, that would mean there would be a spot on the third line right wing up for grabs. It’s best for teams to insert top prospects into the middle-six or higher when first getting their shot in the NHL. Otherwise, there is a huge change and it could affect their confidence.
That being said, the Oilers have a few prospects that will be pushing for roster spots this season including Dylan Holloway, Xavier Bourgault, and Raphael Lavoie (from “Lowetide: For Oilers forward Dylan Holloway, the future may come early”, The Athletic, July 13, 2022). I would give Carter Savoie and Tyler Tullio some more time to adjust to the pro game before thinking they will earn a spot ahead of one of the first three players mentioned.
Holloway can play all three forward positions, but he is a left-handed player, so the left wing in this Oilers lineup is most likely since McLeod has the third-line centre spot locked down. As for Bourgault, he is right-handed and is a centre, but will likely get his start on the wing as well. In this case, it would be on the right wing. The third option is Lavoie who progressed in the American Hockey League (AHL) throughout last season and is a right-wing. I would compare his situation more to Benson in that it did him no good to be inserted in on the fourth line when he first got his start in the NHL. Look at him now, struggling to find a spot on the Oilers at age 24 as a high second-round pick since he was given little chance to succeed alongside better players.
It would be great to get a look at at least one of the rookies the Oilers have as they should be able to help out and gain NHL experience while saving the team cap space. Every contender needs players outperforming their contracts, and those rookies are prime candidates to do so.
Holl May as Well Join the Rest of the Former Leafs in Edmonton
The Oilers and Maple Leafs rarely find themselves trading with each other, but former Maple Leaf players always find their way to Edmonton and end up having success. Over the past two seasons, Barrie, Ceci, and Zach Hyman have already got at least a season with the Oilers under their belt and have done very well. While Jack Campbell and Greg McKegg just joined the Oilers this offseason.
Barrie led the league in points by a defenceman two seasons ago for the Oilers and even though he played the majority of last season on the third pairing, he still recorded 41 points and was effective on the power play, while Ceci was elevated to the top pairing and found chemistry with Darnell Nurse. He is solid defensively with the ability to contribute offensively and is a good placeholder until Bouchard develops into a top-pairing defenceman. Both struggled greatly in their time with the Maple Leafs, and since Holl just experienced a down season, the change in scenery and a lesser role could really help him and the Oilers. Not to mention there is a familiarity with a number of the players already on the team, which is big for players coming into a new environment.
A trade involving Puljujarvi and Holl would do more than you may have thought to begin with for the Oilers next season and beyond. With all the trade interest for him, the right deal needs to be made if they are going to pull the trigger and finally part ways with the 24-year-old forward.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.