Oilers tying themselves in knots by not placing Puljujarvi on waivers

Edmonton Oilers winger Kailer Yamamoto speaks about being ready to make his return and is only waiting to get the green light from the Oilers' medical staff to get back on the ice for the first time in over a month with an undisclosed injury.

EDMONTON — A young girl earned the applause of 18,000-plus at Wednesday’s Edmonton Oilers game when she correctly spelled the name P-U-L-J-U-J-A-R-V-I in a scoreboard contest during a TV timeout. 

Well, if she’s so smart, maybe she can help us all figure out what’s going on with the Bison King now, as the Oilers tie themselves into knots trying to avoid their most obvious roster move: placing Jesse Puljujarvi on waivers. 

Let’s start with what we know: 

Head coach Jay Woodcroft says Kailer Yamamoto will be coming off of long-term injury reserve for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers. In order to facilitate that, Edmonton will have to clear space to accommodate Yamamoto’s $3.1 million cap hit. 

They currently have $1.975 million in cap space, according to our good friend Hart Levine at Puckpedia.com, and need to clear $1.125 million more before activating Yamamoto. The expected move was to place Puljujarvi on waivers Thursday but that did not happen. 

So, if Yamamoto is indeed playing Friday, we expect Vincent Desharnais and Dylan Holloway to be assigned to AHL Bakersfield on Friday. Neither player requires waivers and that will leave the Oilers with a cap-compliant, 20-man roster for the Rangers game, one that will include both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi. 

And they’ll have to operate at 19 players for as long as it takes to clear the cap space to bring Desharnais and Holloway back up. 

Unless a player making roughly $1.125 million or more is traded or placed on waivers and demoted, there will not be enough room to activate the two rookies. The problem is, the only players Holland has on his roster with a cap hit of $1.125 million or higher all require waivers to be sent down. 

So now he would be choosing to risk losing another player on waivers in order to avoid what we consider the very low risk of losing Puljujarvi to waivers. 

Look, Holland is clearly exhausting every strategy in his GM’s toolbox before exposing Puljujarvi to waivers. The smartest GMs have always operated by the mantra, “If you have time, use it.” 

However, a 19-man roster means he’s running out of time, and if his team stays healthy it is unlikely he’ll want to operate at 19 players for very long. And remember, if a player gets hurt Friday but does not go on LTIR, the Oilers have to play one game with 18 before they can call anyone up. 

With the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3 — and Puljujarvi’s $3 million salary almost certainly a prerequisite in any trade Holland hopes to make — it is probably about 95 per cent sure Puljujarvi will be another organization’s property by suppertime on March 3. 

But why wouldn’t Holland want to lose Puljujarvi on waivers and weaponize the $3 million in cap space that would open up? 

Word is out the Carolina Hurricanes would send Ondrej Kase to Edmonton — he’s been on LTIR all season with a concussion — in exchange for Puljujarvi, but only after he clears waivers. The Hurricanes do not want to trade for a player and lose him the next day when they put him on waivers in order to send him to the AHL.  

Does this indicate Holland believes Puljujarvi has positive trade value? That his presence in any deal could enhance Edmonton’s haul from the trade? 

We are highly skeptical of that as the evidence is Puljujarvi actually has negative trade value: Holland would have to enhance any trade that sees a team taking on Puljujarvi’s $3 million cap hit. At worst it’s a wash — a team will take Puljujarvi to facilitate a trade, but will not consider him to be an actual asset. 

But really, isn’t that the same scenario as picking a player up on waivers? 

The scenario also exists that Holland could put Puljujarvi on waivers just to test the waters. If he clears, you do not have to demote him to the AHL. If he gets picked up, now you have $3 million in cap space. 

“But then you might lose the player for free,” you point out. 

Well, if there is a draft pick out there for Puljujarvi, we would advise Holland to snap that up because of the roster drama being undertaken for a player who has 11 points this season. 

There was a time, back when Puljujarvi returned home to Finland, Holland would have accepted a first-round pick for the right winger. When Puljujarvi came back and struggled, the asking price was a second-rounder.

Today, it is fair to debate if he is worth a seventh-round pick or if draft picks must be included to move the player to another team. 

The Oilers have kicked this can nearly as far down the road as it can go. 

The road ends on or before March 3. 

And so, thankfully, will the drama.

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