In one of the more intriguing transactions in recent memory, the Edmonton Oilers have signed European free agent Joel Persson but announced that he will be loaned to Vaxjo of the SHL for the 2018-19 season. The contract is an entry-level deal for just one year, meaning the Oilers are essentially buying his exclusive rights for the 2019-20 season and beyond. Persson will become a restricted free agent after his one-year contract expires, at which point he can negotiate a new deal that isn’t limited by the entry-level system.
A move like this to circumvent the entry-level system isn’t normal, and could actually be grounds for looking closely at the rules in the next collective bargaining agreement. We’ve seen transaction trickery be squashed quickly in years past, and this fits into that category. From the Oilers perspective though, it is a savvy move to get a player that may not necessarily want to come to North America right away. GM Peter Chiarelli released a statement on his new prospect:
We are excited to have Joel join our organization. He has progressed rapidly in the last year and has shown a very good offensive side to his game which is compatible with some of our needs. The plan is for Joel to remain with his club team next year. We have the right of recall but want to see him develop his game thoroughly in what will be his second year in the Swedish Elite League
Persson, 24, is fresh off an SHL Championship with Vaxjo after exploding for 34 points as a rookie. That was good enough for second in the entire league among defensemen, only behind the recently signed Lawrence Pilut (Buffalo Sabres). If Persson can continue to show that he’s an elite puck-mover at the professional level in Sweden, Edmonton could sign him to a multi-year contract next summer to help the right side of their defense. That group was notoriously weak this season, and needs to add more skill and quickness to play the type of game that best suits Connor McDavid’s play.
With Persson staying in Sweden for this season though, the Oilers still have work to do on their defense. Just yesterday we released our Offseason Keys for the team, which noted that it will be difficult to land a big fish on the free agent market without moving out some salary. Either way, the team needs to do something to support their young superstar and vault themselves back into the playoff picture.