Virtanen PTO May Indicate Oilers Closer to Puljujarvi Decision

That the Edmonton Oilers signed Jake Virtanen on Monday is not an indication or guarantee that he will make this team. In fact, the odds are not in his favor and it’s more likely that he’s a warm body to play at camp and in preseason so the organization can get through what will be a taxing preseason schedule. Still, Virtanen is on the ice with the Edmonton Oilers today and that could hint that GM Ken Holland is working on a plan.

While fans are mixed, many are not happy about the news that Virtanen was given a PTO deal. What should be more concerning than the fact Virtanen is being considered, is why.

Could Virtanen Coming In Mean Puljujarvi Leaves?

According to a thread by Mark Spector of Sportsnet, one player to watch in all of this is Jesse Puljujarvi. Talk is already out there that he’s the logical choice to be moved as the Oilers try to figure out a solution to their salary cap concerns. Spector is adding fuel to the fire that Puljujarvi could go because Virtanen might be an option to replace him.

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

Spector writes, “EDM can not trade Jesse Puljujarvi for anything of value, and do not have the depth at RW to make a deal for a draft pick. If Virtanen sticks at NHL minimum and can play, would Holland move the $3M Puljujarvi? Not sure on that, but possibly. It would infuriate some fans.”

Yes, it absolutely would.

Why Is This a Bad Idea?

While Puljujarvi is not universally accepted as a great player or an on-ice solution for the Oilers, he is widely adored by the fan base and considered a friend of the analytics community. He’s been dubbed “The Bison King” because his loveable dog got awfully close to a very large bison at a National Park and he’s embraced the moniker ever since. Almost everything Puljujarvi does on social media goes viral because it appears so innocent and likable. He’s also a pretty decent hockey player if you look at his underlying numbers.

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Moving out Puljujarvi will sting. If he goes and Virtanen is his replacement, the fans will be vocal about it.

Jake Virtanen Vancouver Canucks
Jake Virtanen, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Virtanen is just two months out of a non-guilty verdict in a sexual assault case that saw him playing in the KHL last season because the NHL and its teams weren’t going to touch him with a ten-foot pole. The Oilers — who are known as a team that takes on reclamation projects — are doing so again. It’s worked in the past with Evander Kane and others, but the difference here is that potentially leaving is a player fans adore.

For many, it feels like a lose/lose situation. If Virtanen comes in and plays well, fans will quickly forgive and forget. That’s often the way it works in sports and that doesn’t necessarily sit well with everyone. At the same time, if Virtanen plays well, it also ups the chances Puljujarvi is moved.

The Oilers Have to Do Something

When it comes to money, this is a trade-off that seems logical on paper. If Virtanen arrives and meets or exceeds expectations, puts up solid numbers in a depth role, and meshes well with his linemates over the preseason, he’ll cost nothing more than the league minimum to retain. If he earns a spot, good for him. The Oilers may feel they have a bottom-six, skilled winger who could assume the role Puljujarvi was most likely to play if he didn’t stick on the top line.

And, from a purely financial perspective, if Edmonton trades Puljujarvi for a song, the money problem is solved as the Oilers get under the cap.

The downside here is the optics of moving in a player that has a questionable history and hasn’t produced much outside of one 18-goal season in 2019-20, especially if you do so for someone that has such a bright future. If the Oilers move Puljujarvi, it’s a move that has the potential to sting. He could go elsewhere and reach his potential. If they do so and Virtanen is his replacement, that’s a decision that some fans will hold against the Oilers. Even worse, if Puljujarvi goes, Virtanen comes in and doesn’t play well, only to be shipped out for nothing and deemed a failed experiment, that’s really going to get the supporters of this team riled up.

Many will look at Holland and say, ‘Yes, we get that you had to do something… Couldn’t it have been anything other than this?’