Oilers and Penguins Could Make 1-for-1 Trade Hints NHL Scribe

Jonathan Willis certainly isn’t saying there’s a trade in the works, but the NHL journalist for The Athletic has connected the dots and suggested there might be a fit for both the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins as trade partners. Noting that each team has a winger that is underperforming based on expectations, perhaps the two clubs could make a one-for-one trade that would benefit everyone involved.

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Willis tweeted that he thinks Jesse Puljujarvi headed to Pittsburgh for Kasperi Kapanen makes some sense. He writes, “He [Kapanen] comes in at the end of this list (and after a more Oilersy target in Reaves), but Kapanen is a guy I wonder about as a change-of-scenery flip for Edmonton. Similar money to Puljujarvi, signed a year longer, better 5v5 scoring & finishing history, worse possession metrics.”

Willis was referring to an article by Frank Seravalli that listed a number of potential trade targets in the NHL. Kapanen was on that list and Seravalli wrote, “Of all the term handed out by GM Ron Hextall last summer, the extra year to Kapanen might be the most painful at this moment in time. Kapanen has struggled. His warts in compete and effort are there for all to see. And he’s not an inexpensive contract to offload given the circumstances, as Hextall has been one of the more active GMs out there trying to find a landing spot for him.”

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Meanwhile, there’s been plenty of chatter in Edmonton, and for more than a year, that the Puljujarvi could be moved.

Why Kasperi Kapanen for the Oilers?

If GM Ken Holland was considering a deal like this, it would be because he’s identified a need for more top-nine scoring outside of the superstars on the Oilers’ roster. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are doing all of the heavy lifting, with Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins regularly chipping in. Puljujarvi is among the guilty parties in Edmonton that isn’t putting up points and should be. The expectation is that he’d contribute and this season, the scoresheet doesn’t often include his name.

Kasperi Kapanen Pittsburgh Penguins
Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Kapanen has a much more proven track record of scoring. He’s inconsistent, but he’s got a goal and four assists on the season, plus has a 20-goal campaign on his resume. As Willis points out, Kapanen has shown he’s better at finishing, whereas Puljujarvi seems to struggle, often out of position and clumsy. At the end of the day, Holland isn’t adding Kapanen based on what he’s shown so far this season. He’d be doing it based upon a hunch that Kapanen would welcome a change and produce alongside his stars in a new environment. Think of it like a jolt to get some of the old Kapanen back.

What Would the Oilers Be Trading Away?

If Puljujarvi were to go the other way, Edmonton is trading the better-possession player in the deal. Puljujarvi’s underlying numbers are solid, even though he doesn’t score as often as he should based on those numbers. The risk here is that sending out the player means sending out someone who could potentially break out over the next season or two. If that happens, and it isn’t with the Oilers, there will be a period of seller’s remorse and a lot of “I told you so” coming from the analytics community that has been bullish on Puljujarvi’s potential.

The other risk Edmonton runs here is that moving Puljujarvi in a one-for-one deal takes him out of the running as a piece that could be included in a larger trade that could be an option for Holland later this season. One commenter wrote in Willis’ thread, “I’ve always felt that Jesse is going to be the guy that goes the other way for a Horvat/Kane/Meier type player where they need to make the money work even after the other team eats half, but also opens space for the summer.” This person is onto something as Puljujarvi could be the swing piece in a bigger deal.

While the market for Puljujarvi isn’t great, there may be a GM that believes if he’s a throw-in as part of a rental trade, that team is getting a potential difference-maker. Holland loses that weapon in his arsenal as Kapanen wouldn’t be viewed in the same light.

Can the Oilers Even Do This Trade?

If both sides are willing, this is a fairly simple trade to make in a league where it seems trades are harder to come by. When it comes to salary, the two players are almost identical (Kapanen makes $200K more). That could be an easy retention by the Penguins or a roster shuffle by the Oilers to close that gap. When it comes to a contract, the Oilers will actually get a player locked in for one more season at that number, thus avoiding more contract issues with Puljujarvi, something that seems to be a regular occurrence.

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Neither player holds trade protection in their respective deals and both would likely be open to a fresh start. Both play the same position and both are viewed as players who should be playing a similar role for their respective teams.

Personally, I don’t love the trade from an Oilers’ perspective, but it makes some sense if Puljujarvi’s struggles continue. There comes a time when the team — one that is in win-now mode, but struggling — has to give up waiting for a player to who they’ve given plenty of time. Puljujarvi has to start putting points up. If he doesn’t trade scenarios like this one will pop up a lot more frequently.