The Edmonton Oilers have been pushed against the salary cap this season. They had some room to breathe and hold more players on the roster when Evander Kane suffered an injury that kept him out for a while. Upon his return, Kailer Yamamoto swapped places with Kane on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR), and the Oilers were given a little more time to think about who they must move off the roster.
Once the Oilers are healthy, they have to make two moves upfront, whether via trade or waivers. General manager Ken Holland spoke with Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic to discuss his plans for when Yamamoto returns from injury.
“If Yamamoto is going to play Sunday, I’ll have to make some moves…” said Holland. “We’re going to have to move two players – two forwards – probably on waivers. I’ll reach out and see if there’s some interest…” (from ‘Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland in ‘win-now’ mode ahead of NHL trade deadline: Q&A,’ The Athletic, Feb. 8, 2023).
That statement reveals a lot. The Oilers like Yamamoto and his game, despite his inconsistent play, so he’s sticking around. There is a good chance two players are waived, but a trade could follow soon after for one of those players.
Who is Moved Off the Roster?
With Yamamoto expected to return as soon as Sunday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Oilers still have one game to make any final decisions – on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. I don’t imagine any changes to the lineup as they run 11 forwards and seven defencemen. Jesse Puljujarvi and Devin Shore have been watching from the press box lately as Warren Foegele has played too well to be taken out of the lineup.
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Because Holland must move players with a higher average annual value (AAV) off the roster, it’s most likely going to be one of Puljujarvi’s ($3 million AAV) or Foegele’s ($2.75 million AAV) to offset Yamamoto’s $3.1 million AAV. However, Foegele has recently been one of the most noticeable Oilers, working, finishing, and playing hard. It also seems that he, Ryan McLeod, and Dylan Holloway have found some great chemistry, combining for three of the Oilers’ five goals in their win over the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 7. Though you can argue whether Puljujarvi or Foegele works harder, what can’t be argued is the results. Depth scoring is a must, and Foegele provides that at a cheaper cost.
So, who will be moved? The best bet is Shore and Puljujarvi. Shore is a guarantee; he’s already been waived this season and hasn’t played many games. When he has, he plays very little and contributes very little, as well. He has recorded just three assists in 29 games, all before the new year, and he’s logged over 10 minutes of ice time in only six games. He is a fringe NHL player at this point and best used as a call-up to serve as a healthy scratch and possibly play if the team runs 12 forwards. With very little room to earn any more playing time this season, Shore’s demotion seems inevitable.
Meanwhile, Puljujarvi has just four goals and 10 points in 49 games this season. What’s amazing about this is that he spent a great deal of time on the top line with the league’s leading scorer, Connor McDavid early on. The stats when the two players are on the ice together versus when one is on the ice without the other is astonishingly different. In 186 minutes together, the expected goals for percentage (xGF%) is 53.5, but the actual goals for percentage (GF%) is 35.71, with five goals for and nine against. The difference comes down to Puljujarvi’s inability to finish plays, with just four goals while being set up by a 94-point player.
A fair amount of McDavid’s five-on-five ice time was wasted with Puljujarvi, so let’s really see the difference when McDavid is on the ice without Puljujarvi in comparison, then and the other way around. Puljujarvi has played 386 more minutes this season, being on the ice for 11 goals for and 17 against, and he has a 52.96 xGF% and a 39.29 GF%. McDavid’s xGF% is 57.45, and his GF% is 56.16, having been on the ice for 41 goals for and 32 against. This is well above average in both stats, but his production isn’t hampered when he is playing with someone other than Puljujarvi. It’s no wonder Puljujarvi finally got demoted to the fourth line, except it took far too long.
Chris Johnston also chimed in on the situation in Edmonton, saying, “it’s even possible that maybe we see him put through waivers, because if that happens, I think he’s a more tradeable chip, because he’ll be able to go down between the AHL and NHL.” Since Puljujarvi’s cap hit won’t be completely cleared by sending him down to the AHL, the Oilers can make some room before clearing his cap hit completely out in a trade. A potential trade seems long overdue for Puljujarvi, but Yamamoto is the clear choice to stick with the club. He will likely enter back into the top six, and the Oilers will be fully equipped for their stretch run.