August is typically when NHL front offices shut off the lights until September. They escape with their families to their vacation spots for the only quiet time of the year. Not this year, though. Plenty of teams are still over the cap, and quality players remain unsigned. Expect 2022 to bring perhaps the busiest August the NHL has ever seen.
The Minnesota Wild’s situation is no different. Bill Guerin still has work to do before he can conceivably unplug before training camp in September. With one roster spot remaining on the depth chart, it’s obvious the Wild are looking for a forward amongst the many available. With Kevin Fiala‘s departure, the only glaring hole remaining is his vacant spot on the right wing of the second line, most likely beside Matt Boldy and incoming rookie Marco Rossi.
The Athletic’s Michael Russo has reported that Guerin has been actively looking for a forward on the trade market, perhaps due to not having much appetite for any remaining free agent options. If Guerin is indeed looking for a trade, there is one player in particular who would fit onto the roster beautifully. And better yet, he might be available.
Edmonton Oilers right wing Jesse Puljujarvi recently signed to a 1-year, $3 million extension. He is the ideal forward to complement the Wild lineup. The 4th overall pick in 2016 has largely disappointed Edmonton with his inability to finish scoring chances in the NHL. While that certainly can be frustrating for a fan base who believed he would be a perfect fit next to Connor McDavid, his ability to impact games in other ways should catapult him to the top of Minnesota’s wish list.
A big, strong-skating, right-handed winger with that kind of defensive impact would be a perfect fit next to Boldy and Rossi. A two-way player to add to youngsters with strong two-way play. Not only would adding a right-handed shot in their Top-6 be extremely helpful, but Puljujarvi has the forechecking prowess that could greatly benefit his line.
His impact would go beyond what he could do in a scoring line role. As great as Minnesota’s forward depth chart fit together last year, it was far too concrete, lacking flexibility among their forwards. Never was this more true than with the highly coveted “GREEF” line. Remove any of the Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, or Marcus Foligno trio, and one of the best defensive lines in hockey looked somewhat pedestrian.
Puljujarvi could offer Dean Evason the lineup flexibility he really needs. Sure, his ideal role would be filling the current hole on the second line. But Greenway will likely miss the beginning of the season following off-season surgery. In the meantime, plugging Puljujarvi into his spot could allow that line to continue being a dominant 5-on-5 line.
After thinking about it for a moment, though, the “PEEF” line doesn’t sound nearly as appealing.
No matter. Being an above-average skater at a towering 6’4″ with stalwart defensive instincts is the perfect mix for a player to fill in on that line and thrive.
Puljujarvi also could help on the power play, where the Wild severely lack right-handed options on both units to run their system effectively. Acquiring a right-handed forward with skill to fill out the last spot on their roster should be towards the top of Guerin’s priority list.
Puljujarvi hasn’t provided inspiring results on the man advantage playing alongside the likes of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. However, his ability to hound loose pucks and offer a right-handed look should play nicely for one of the Wild’s top power play units. But why would Edmonton, a team gunning for another run at the Stanley Cup with two of the best players in the world, look to trade a reasonably-priced power forward they used a top-5 pick on in 2016?
Well, first, because they might be forced to. The Oilers currently sit $6 million over the cap, with third-line center Ryan McLeod yet to sign as a restricted free agent. Sure, the combined cap hits of injured Oscar Klefbom and Mike Smith will go to LTIR as soon as the season begins. But it won’t be enough to relieve their cap crunch entirely, leaving the Oilers still needing to move money. Puljujarvi’s $3 million cap hit at just one year might be the easiest contract to move.
Secondly, Oilers management has made moves the last two years that signal they have lost faith in Puljujarvi’s ability to play in a Top-6 role next to either McDavid or Draisaitl. Trading for Zach Hyman and Evander Kane last year pushed Puljujarvi down the lineup. Then, he and Kailer Yamamoto entered restricted free agency this summer. However, the Oilers only gave the latter an extension past one year. The writing seems to be on the wall for Puljujarvi’s time in Edmonton.
If Guerin calls up Oilers GM Ken Holland, he would be negotiating with some leverage. The Wild have the cap space to take on Puljujarvi without shipping any cap space back to Edmonton, something not many teams actively trying to win can say. And while Holland would want some value back for the former 4th overall pick, his value isn’t nearly what it was at the 2016 Draft.
Guerin should be able to acquire his second-line right wing this upcoming season at a depreciated value. And with that, his work would be done. Then he can spend August like a true Minnesotan, with his feet kicked up and the sun in his face at a cabin up North.