Contract comparisons for Edmonton Oilers forwards Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto

Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto they will get significant raises when they sign their new deals. Both right wingers carried a salary cap (AAV) of $1.175 million last season, but Puljujarvi’s actual salary was $1.45 million, while Yamamoto it earned $1.175 million.

What kind of average annual value (AAV) will they be ordering this summer?

To maintain their rights, the Oilers must offer both ends a qualifying offer by Monday, July 11 at 3 pm MT. Both will be qualified. Yamamoto and Puljujarvi are eligible to file a request for arbitration and have until July 18 at 3 pm MT to file. Unless an agreement is reached sooner, I expect both to file for arbitration.

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In officiating, goals, assists, points, points per game (PPG), and time on ice are the most commonly used statistics. Any analytics used must come from within the NHL, and those stats aren’t as detailed or in-depth as those compiled by individual NHL teams, so the analytics don’t play much of a role in arbitration hearings. Several NHL management people who have been involved in arbitration told me that the previous season carries the most weight, followed by the previous two seasons. If a player jumps from 25 points to 50, that will be seen, but often if a player goes from 50 to 25, then the second season hurts them more, I was told.

Filing for arbitration gives notice to both parties and often leads to an agreement before going through the actual arbitration hearing. If a player requests arbitration, the team has the option of choosing a one-year or two-year contract for the referee. They can’t elect a two-year deal if a player is just one year away from being an unrestricted free agent.

Here is the list of forwards who requested arbitration in the past two offseasons. Tyler Bertuzzi was the only player to go through an arbitration hearing. The others reached an agreement with their club before the hearing date.

2020:
– Sam Reinhart went 22-28-50 in 69 games with 0.72 PPG. He signed a one-year, $5.2 million deal with Buffalo.
– Ryan Strome went 18-41-59 in 70 games with 0.84 PPG. He signed a two-year, $4.5 million AAV deal with the New York Rangers.
– Connor Brown went 16-27-43 in 71 games (0.60 PPG). He signed a three-year contract worth $3.6 million AAV with Ottawa.
– Tyler Bertuzzi went 21-28-48 in 71 games (0.67). He was awarded a one-year contract worth $3.5 million with Detroit.
– Chris Tierney went 11-26-37 in 71 games (0.52). He signed a two-year contract at $3.5m AAV with Ottawa.
– Victor Olofsson went 20-22-42 in 54 games (0.77) and signed a two-year deal worth $3.05 million AAV with Buffalo.
– Andrew Mangiapane went 17-15-32 in 68 games (0.47) and signed a two-year, $2.45m AAV deal with Calgary.
– Warren Foegele went 13-17-30 in 68 games (0.44) and earned a one-year, $2.15 million deal with Carolina.
– Ilya Mikheyev went 8-15-23 in 39 games (0.58) and signed a two-year, $1.65 million AAV deal with Toronto.
– Brendan Lemieux went 6-12-18 in 59 games (0.31) and signed a two-year, $1.55 million AAV deal with the New York Rangers.
– Nick Paul went 9-11-20 in 56 games (0.36) and signed a two-year, $1.35 million AAV deal with Ottawa.

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Olofsson and Mikheyev had only played one season in the NHL, and despite having a higher PPG than others, they ended up with a lower AAV. Toronto and Buffalo management were able to leverage the lack of games played and experience to their advantage.

2021:

– Jakub Vrana went 19-17-36 in 50 games (0.72) and signed a three-year, $5.25 million AAV deal in Detroit.
– Kevin Fiala went 20-20-40 in 50 games (0.80) and signed a one-year, $5.1 million deal with Minnesota.
– Andrew Copp went 15-24-39 in 55 games (0.71) and signed a one-year, $3.6 million deal with Winnipeg.
– Jason Dickinson went 7-8-15 in 51 games (0.29) and signed a three-year, $2.65 million AAV deal in Vancouver.
– Adam Erne went 11-9-20 in 45 games (0.44) and earned a two-year, $2.1 million AAV deal in Detroit.
– Zach Sanford went 10-6-16 in 52 games (0.31) and landed a one-year, $2 million deal with St. Louis.
– Zach Aston-Reese went 9-6-15 in 45 games (0.33) and signed a one-year, $1.725 million AAV deal with Pittsburgh.
– Ross Colton went 9-3-12 in 30 games (0.40) and earned a two-year, $1.125 million AAV deal with Tampa.

Dickinson’s deal seems high when you compare his production to that of other players who had been featured. Minnesota might have been better off going to arbitration with Fiala, just so they could have opted out of a two-year deal. His cap impact probably would have been similar to the one he signed anyway, but at least they would have him under contract for this season. He produced 85 points last year and is an RFA again and will get a significant raise.

YAMOMOTO AND PULJUJARVI AAV?

Yamamoto produced 20-21-41 in 81 games (0.51 PPG) while Puljujarvi went 14-22-36 in 65 games (0.55 PPG). The NHL management guy told me that goals carry a little more weight. They were very close this season and even in the last two years. Puljujarvi is 29-32-61 in 120 games (0.51 PPG) and Yamamoto is 28-34-62 in 133 games (0.47 PPG).

This season Yamamoto averaged 16:52 TOI/match while Puljujarvi averaged 16:14.

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The interesting thing is when you compare its production and use with Jay Woodcroft and Dave Tippett.

Under Tippett:
Puljujarvi: 10-15-25 in 42 games (0.59 PPG) and averaged 16:58/game.
Yamamoto: 8-8-16 in 44 games (0.36 PPG) averaging 16:23/game.

With Woodcroft:
Puljujarvi: 4-7-11 in 23 games (0.48 PPG) averaging 14:54/game.
Yamamoto: 12-13-25 in 37 games (0.68 PPG) averaging 17:27/game.

Puljujarvi had a better start to the season, while Yamamoto had a better second half. Puljujarvi also got injured and had COVID in the second half and never looked so comfortable when he came back.

The Oilers have to be careful about recency bias. Puljujarvi had a strong start and a weaker finish, while Yamamoto struggled early but finished very well. Puljujarvi turned 24 in May, while Yamamoto turns 24 in September. They are the same age, but have very different styles and different strengths and weaknesses.

Puljujarvi is big and he still doesn’t know how strong he is. He is a good forechecker and uses his range to knock down pucks and keep plays alive. He looks great, but he has yet to show the ability to finish consistently. Yamamoto is a very tenacious and cerebral player, probably because he had to be due to his lack of size. Woodcroft, and Tippett before him, mentioned how his teammates, specifically Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, like to play with him. It’s because he’s predictable. He reads the ice well and knows how to use his lanemates.

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Puljujarvi has more upside, IMO, but needs to improve his puck skills and edge/balance work. Both of these are things you can work on, and should be a focal point of your off-season training. Yamamoto is more versatile in the eyes of the trainers than him. He is used in the penalty kick, and had 166 starts in offensive zone and 148 starts in defensive zone in 5×5, while Puljujarvi had 183 starts in offensive zone and 105 starts in defensive zone.

I disagree with the notion that Puljujarvi is a great defensive player due to his GA or XGF% on ice. He had the highest Sv% on ice of the Oilers at .941. As Mike Kelly pointed out earlier this week in our discussion on GF% and xGF%, a goalkeeper’s Sv% can drastically alter both of those stats for a striker. Puljujarvi has yet to be used in the PK, and he had a lot more offensive zone than defensive starts, so based on usage, neither Tippett nor Woodcroft saw him as a dominant defensive player. At least not to this point.

When you look at the recent signings of players who have filed for arbitration, it’s realistic to expect Puljujarvi and Yamamoto to command a salary of between $2.6 million and $3.2 million. Andrew Mangiapane was paid $2.45 million and had played 1.5 seasons and averaged 0.47 points per game. He is similar in size to Yamamoto. Chris Tierney averaged 0.52 points per game the season he requested arbitration, but he had also scored 48 points the year before. Ottawa signed him for $3.5 million, but they were also a team with a lot of cap space and in a rebuild. Teams with more cap space and rebuildings will often pay a little more than contending teams, and that’s why the Oilers could play a little harder.

Yamamoto and Puljujarvi are not fundamental pieces. Both are solid complementary forwards, and if they want to land a contract similar to Tierney’s, they could leave Edmonton. The challenge for the Oilers is that they signed Warren Foegele for $2.75 million when he was 25 and hadn’t produced like Yamamoto and Puljujarvi. I’m sure Yamamoto and the team at Puljujarvi will see that deal and say we deserve more. It’s all part of the negotiation process.

If the Oilers can sign them for a combined $6 million, then Edmonton should get good value for their investment. The challenge is that to do that, a few other pieces have to be moved.

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