As noted in a recent NHL rumor rundown article, according to Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts post, the Edmonton Oilers and Darnell Nurse are beginning to have conversations as it pertains to keeping the blueliner in Edmonton long-term. It’s a wise move considering the trend of restricted free agents holding out and taking a large chunk of the available salary cap as they command more and more attention in today’s NHL landscape.
But, what exactly is Nurse worth on a long-term deal?
Nurse is one year away from free agency as an RFA and two years from unrestricted free agency. Any long-term contract is going to remove a number of years from his unrestricted free agency years that will allow him to cash in big-time on the open market. And, while Friedman didn’t say the Oilers were ruling out a bridge deal, a longer-term contract makes sense now that Edmonton has a better idea of who Nurse is as a player and what he means to the franchise.
Nurse’s Production to Date
Nurse has been eating up big minutes on the Oilers blue line and with eight points in 11 games, appears to be finding an offensive groove. Already a solid d-man with some grit, speed to burn and the ability to stand up for his teammates, the Oilers are hoping he’ll continue to contribute on offense and become their 1B to Oscar Klefbom’s 1A.
And, with 41 points in 82 games last season, there’s no reason to think that’s not possible.
Third on the team in time-on-ice per game (23:47), he’s also fifth in TOI short-handed and in the top-ten in TOI on the power play — two areas that have been excellent for the Oilers this season. Special teams was a major concern for the Oilers going into the season and while defensemen like Ethan Bear have taken on an increased role, Nurse has been one of the team leaders there.
Related: Oilers: Ethan Bear and Opportunity
What Is Nurse Worth?
When comparing numbers to other NHL defenseman in Nurse’s category, the Oilers will probably need to look at players like Jacob Trouba and Thomas Chabot ($8 million), Ivan Provorov ($6.75), and Tyler Myers ($6 million) and hope the team can get Nurse locked up somewhere closer to the Myers numbers.
Minute-munching d-men with offensive ability don’t come cheap but with Nurse wanting to stick around, perhaps the Oilers can convince him to take a team-friendly deal, even if they remove years of his unrestricted free agency.
And, while Oilers fans may point to Klefbom’s deal as a marker for where Nurse ranks on the team, don’t let that fool you. Klefbom’s deal won’t play much of a role since Nurse’s agent won’t be using it as a comparable.
What Term Should Oilers Pursue?
The longer the term, the more years the Oilers knock off of Nurse’s free agency. In other words, Nurse signs a lengthy deal now, he has to wait longer to cash in on an open market. Knowing this, Edmonton will have to offer a number and term that make sense from both a perspective of Nurse having some long-term security, but understanding he’s taking a risk he could explode offensively and leave money on the table while other free agent defensemen are hitting financial home runs.
The Oilers should start at no less than five years. That would put them in around $5 million per season as a base line. If they can get Nurse on a seven or eight-year term, expect the numbers to be closer to $6.5 or $7 million annually.
The trick may be to look at signing a long-term deal right away. If Nurse continues his 2019-20 pace, he’ll wind up with 60 points by the time the regular season comes to an end. If that happens, his numbers shoot through the roof. Add to that any possible playoff contributions (should the Oilers be fortunate enough to make it), and he becomes a valuable “playoff defenseman.”
While the Oilers are at it, the team might want to consider taking a gamble on Ethan Bear. He looks to be the real deal and signing him now to a longer-term extension could wind up providing the Oilers with the best valued contract on the team.