Keith Gretzky Q&A: On McDavid, Puljujarvi, trade deadline

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Los Angles Kings' Dion Phaneuf (3) defends against Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (98) during second period NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday November 29, 2018. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — Between Connor McDavid’s hearing with the Department of Player Safety, Jesse Puljujarvi seeking a second, possibly season-ending medical opinion, and Monday’s pending trade deadline, interim Edmonton Oilers general manager Keith Gretzky needs three hands and an extra battery for his cell phone.

He spoke Friday morning in Edmonton on all of the above, and Sportsnet was there to ask some questions and record his answers. Here’s a look into how a brand new, temporary GM approaches the beginning of another rebuild in Edmonton. (Hint: Very carefully.)

Sportsnet (SN): What is the story with Jesse Puljujarvi and his injury?

Keith Gretzky (KG): We came back from the trip and one of the reasons he sat out the one game against the Islanders was he’s had a bit of a lower-body injury. We looked at it this week and we have a couple of options for Jesse. Jesse and his agent (Markus Lehto) are going to have a second doctor look at it.

SN: There’s a sense of there being tension as to where Jesse feels he should be and where the team does — and his future being up in the air. Where’s the organization at with his development?

KG: We need to get him healthy first, that’s our main focus. He’s injured to where he wants a second opinion, which is his right. He’ll get that next week on Tuesday and then there are different avenues to take.

SN: Does the injury have a bearing on how he was playing?

KG: It’s been there for a while and hasn’t improved. They’ve tried different things and this is the route we’re looking at. We have to gather all the information with our doctors and the second opinion. It’ll be the end of next week. He’s going to a doctor in the U.S.

SN: After the stealth moves you made last week, how are the trade talks coming as the deadline approaches?

KG: We’re looking to improve the club now but we’re not doing a short-term fix if it costs us an arm and leg. We’re listening to everything that’s being offered.

SN: Do you have last say on trades?

KG: I talk to Bob (CEO Nicholson) and we feel like (we know) what’s best. We made the trade with Cam (Talbot). I went to Bob and said, ‘OK, here’s the team, and this is what we can get.’ It really helped us out. With Sam (Gagner), we’d been talking about Sam for a long time. There was a little hiccup before because of salary — we couldn’t budge from what (Vancouver) wanted, and they wouldn’t budge — but when we were able to move Cam that opened up some room.

SN: When moving money, does it have to be at the deadline?

KG: It can be in the summer. The biggest thing is improving the club. We’re not going to give away a player just to save a little bit of money. We’re trying to make the club better for today and tomorrow. We still have a chance for the playoffs.

SN: Are you looking to trade for players with term remaining?

KG: Yes … but if it’s a deal that we think will hinder the development of our kids in the minor leagues, we won’t do that.

SN: Are you in the rental race?

KG: No, we’re not getting those guys. But, we still have talks going on, and why wouldn’t we? We’re playing well … we’ve had one bad game out of the last seven or eight.

SN: McDavid’s hearing was this morning. Did you find any angles that may have helped McDavid’s case?

KG: The way Connor plays, he’s a smart player who steals pucks. If you look at it, the defenceman Leddy stumbled with the puck a little bit. Connor didn’t skate into him, or take a stride. He adapted when he saw (Leddy stumble), he tried to get the puck, and even when they made contact he lifted his left leg to get out of the way, to avoid the collision.

SN: Did you use video of any other players in the hearing?

KG: We just talked about Connor. We didn’t want to make it about anyone else. We felt like we had a strong case.

SN: What priority is it to get Anthony Stolarz the 10 NHL games he requires to remain an RFA?

KG: That’s up to the coach. He’s going to put the best team out (on the ice), and we’ve told him that. If it means that he doesn’t get those 10 games, there’s nothing he can do. We’re trying to win.

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