Six games into 2019-20, the Ken Holland era in Edmonton is off to a successful start.
With a 5-1 record so far, the future certainly looks bright for the Edmonton Oilers — but questions still remain as to whether that future will involve estranged winger Jesse Puljujarvi.
Holland said during an appearance on Hockey Central on Wednesday that he doesn’t know what the future holds for the club and their 2016 first-rounder, recounting the events between the Oilers and Puljujarvi that have unfolded over the past few months. First a conversation with agent Markus Letho back in May, followed by a one-on-one with Puljujarvi himself after the hiring of head coach Dave Tippett a few weeks after that. Both conversations featured the same sentiment from both agent and player: “that Jesse wanted fresh scenery and it was time to move on.”
Then came free agency, followed by a big trade to bring in James Neal… and another conversation with Puljujarvi.
“I reached out again in late July/early August to Markus to want to talk to Jesse … hoping that he might change his mind and want to join us, but nothing changed,” Holland said.
Pulujujarvi, of course, signed with Oulun Karpat of the Finnish Elite League and is thriving there. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported on Saturday that the Finn is “comfortable staying all year in Finland” and has made great strides in re-gaining his confidence after yo-yoing between the AHL and NHL.
Throughout the process, Holland’s phone has been ringing, but the GM has continued to preach patience.
“I did talk to a lot of teams through the month of August. There were some offers of intrigue but it wasn’t quite enough or wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger. Got into September, it’s kind of gone quiet, everybody’s into training camp,” he explained.
“I’ve had a few calls here in the last week, and obviously we’ve got until the end of November so if there’s a deal there that makes sense for the Edmonton Oilers, I’ll do it. And if not, I’ll just stay status quo and we’ll see where things go. But for now, obviously there’s still six weeks to go and I’ll take it a day at a time.”
History tells Holland that things can change in a hurry.
“Can things change going forward? Sure, why not,” said Holland, referencing the series of events that saw Igor Larionov leave Detroit in 2000 only to return before the end of the season.
More recently, the GM successfully mended the relationship between the Red Wings and forward Andreas Athanasiou — an RFA in 2017, Athanasiou made no secret of his desire to be dealt away but eventually re-signed with Detroit a few weeks into the 2017-18 season. Less than a year later, he inked a two-year extension with the Red Wings and followed it up with his best statistical season.
“I think about Athanasiou,” Holland said. “He wasn’t a happy camper and eventually we got him signed to one contract and then got Andreas signed to another contract in Detroit. So history tells me that you never really know what the future will bring — just make sure that you treat people with respect and as you go forward things might change, things might not change. But you don’t want to burn bridges because you never know in this game what might change.”