Ken Holland just crossed off the biggest item on his to-do list for this summer. He signed Darnell Nurse to a 2-year extension with an AAV of $5.6 million.
At $5.6 million, Nurse will be the 33rd highest paid defenceman in the NHL next season according to Sportrac. That means he is being paid like a number 2 defenceman. Here is where Nurse ranks in some key stats among defencemen this season thus far:
EV TOI: 10th
I know that +/- is a flawed stat, so I’m not putting a lot of weight in it. He ranks quite highly in the other areas though! I feel confident in saying that Nurse is the 2nd best defenceman on the Oilers right now behind Klefbom. His blend of physicality and a little bit of offence is a great mix, and he is a great asset for the Oilers. $5.6 million feels like it is fair compensation for Nurse.
He’s not a perfect player by any means. His struggles with moving the puck have been well documented. He could be much better on the offensive side of the puck. He will need to improve there if he ever wants a long-term contract with an AAV similar to Jacob Trouba’s $8 million.
Nurse is in the final year of his first bridge contract, and he just signed another bridge contract. This is a really interesting contract because it is rare for a player of Nurse’s pedigree to sign two bridge contracts.
This tells me a couple of things about Nurse. First off, a bridge contract means that you take a little bit less money in the short-term with the understanding that you have the chance to earn a much bigger AAV on the next contract. Nurse has now done that twice. This shows that he feels that he still has room to grow and that he isn’t at his peak yet. That’s a great attitude to have.
It also shows me that he wants to help the team win in whatever way that he can. It was reported that he would be seeking something close to Trouba’s $8 million AAV on a long-term deal, but he took less than what he wanted this time around. That is honestly way too high for what Nurse provides. The Oilers couldn’t afford to give him that kind of money right now, especially with the cap not expected to jump up for another year or two. This bridge deal is going to help the Oilers add more quality pieces over the next couple of seasons. The timing of Holland getting this cost certainty for next season could mean that Holland could add someone with term as soon as the February 24 trade deadline.
Here is the updated salary cap outlook for next season:
Neal ($5.75M) McDavid ($12.5M) Kassian ($3.2M)
Nuge ($6M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Yamamoto ($894,000)
Benson ($808,000) 3C Chiasson ($2.15M)
Khaira ($1.2M) 4C 4RW
Klefbom ($4,167,000) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Nurse ($5.6M) 2RD
Russell ($4M) Jones ($850,000)
Buyouts: Sekera ($2.5M), Pouliot ($1,333,333)
Retained: Lucic ($750,000)
Total Cap Hit: $68,868,999
Cap Space ($83M cap): $14,131,001
Once again, we don’t know what the cap for next year will actually be at this point, but this gives you an idea of where the team stands.
They still need to make decisions on impending RFAs Ethan Bear and Matt Benning. Even after those decisions, there should still be enough room to add quality depth pieces in the bottom 6. If Holland wants to make a significant upgrade to his top 6, then he will likely have to move Kris Russell or James Neal, but there is nothing that will totally stop Holland from being able to upgrade the roster for next season.
The one argument that I’m hearing against this contract is that the Oilers are “walking him to unrestricted free agency”. The frustration lies in the fact that Nurse will have had three contracts by the time this new one ends, and he will be in his first year of unrestricted free agent status eligibility when it expires.
Honestly, I think this is a stupid take! Anyone that signs a contract that ends with them becoming an UFA is being walked to unrestricted free agency!
Connor McDavid will be an UFA when his contract ends. What a dumb contract that was (rolls eyes). Leon Draisaitl will also be an UFA when his contract ends. Wow, another dumb contract!
It doesn’t matter if it’s the player’s 27-year old season or his 29-year old season. All of these guys will be performing at or near their peak capability when their contracts expire, and they will all have the choice to sign elsewhere if they choose. That doesn’t make the term on the contract dumb.
We also can’t just assume that the player is automatically going to leave when his contract expires. I don’t care that Nurse will be an UFA once this contract is done. If he wants to play here, then he will sign here. All reports indicate that he loves being an Oiler and that he, McDavid, and Draisaitl are great friends. Let’s just put the “walking him to unrestricted free agency” argument to bed.
The other thing we have to consider about all of this is the organizational depth at left defence. Oscar Klefbom has 3 years left on his deal. Caleb Jones just got a new 2-year deal. The Oilers also have William Lagesson, Dmitri Samorukov and Philip Broberg developing in the pipeline.
How many of those guys will be ready when Nurse’s contract expires?
Jones could potentially be ready for 2nd pairing duty by then. Lagesson doesn’t have the ceiling to pass Nurse on the depth chart. Samorukov is a complete wildcard at this point. Broberg is the guy to keep an eye on. He could be NHL ready by the time Nurse’s contract ends. That would be at the end of Broberg’s draft+3 season. The question would be whether or not he could be 2nd pairing ready by that time.
The point is that Holland didn’t hamstring himself by signing Nurse long-term. If it looks like any of the young guys could fill his spot on the roster before Nurse’s contract expires, then the Oilers could move Nurse while his value would still be high. If they want to re-sign him long-term, then they could do that instead.
Ultimately, this is a good deal for both sides. Nurse will get an AAV that matches his on-ice capabilities, and the Oilers get added flexibility for the next couple of years and some more time to evaluate their LD prospects. Everybody wins!