You might not like the deal. You might not even like the player. But, based on a variety of factors, the new contract extension the Edmonton Oilers signed with defenseman Darnell Nurse — an eight-year, $74 million contract — is not a massive overpay for a blueliner that brings everything Nurse brings and will bring to the team.
Leading up to Friday’s news that the Oilers had finalized a new contract that would see Nurse stick with the Oilers until the end of the 2029-30 season, there was a lot of chatter about what a new deal would look like. Some reports had the Oilers doing a four-year deal with the defenseman. It was then reported an eight-year deal was more likely. It turned out to be the latter, and a number of fans are surprised at the number.
Here’s why you shouldn’t be.
Market For Defensemen in Their Prime Has Been Set
If you’re one of the many fans who take a massive issue with the contract, it’s less likely you have an issue with Nurse and this specific deal than it is you have an issue with how much top-pair, No. 1 defensemen in the NHL are being paid in general. Just look at what Dougie Hamilton, Seth Jones, Zach Weresnki, Cale Makar and others have been paid this offseason and it’s easy to see the market has shifted.
The Columbus Blue Jackets gave Werenski $9.5 million, the Chicago Blackhawks gave Jones $9.5 million, the Colorado Avalanche gave Makar $9 million and the New Jersey Devils gave Hamilton $9 million. Trailing a little behind, but not much, the Dallas Stars gave Miro Heiskanen $8.4 million. All of these deals can be argued as overpays depending on the angle you take. The reality is, none of them are huge overpays based on the pattern with contracts for defensemen that came before them.
When you also consider that Erik Karlsson makes $11.5 million, Drew Doughty makes $11 million, Roman Rosi $9.059 million, P.K. Subban $9 million, and Alex Pietrangelo $9 million… there’s a history of NHL GMs paying big money for No. 1 defensemen. Not every deal works out to be a huge win. That said, this is the price you pay for a defenseman each respective franchise has committed to as the building block around which the rest of the blue line is built.
Oilers are Paying for 8 UFA Years
Unlike a deal like Makar’s which included four years of restricted free agency, Nurse’s deal covers all unrestricted years. In other words, Nurse was giving away eight opportunities to sign different deals in his best years. Had he exploded as an elite defender next season or the season after, — some would argue he’s on his way to already doing so — he’d have been worth a lot more. Had he signed a four-year deal now and become one of the game’s best blueliners, he could have easily been a $10-$11 million defenseman when his next deal came around.
In Nurse’s case, he’s got one more season at $5.6 million before his new deal kicks in. It’s easy to play it safe and suggest Nurse’s game could regress. If the Oilers had taken the cautiously optimistic approach, they might have saved $1 million or two per season for four years. That said, many of the fans who are arguing this is too much are arguing the Oilers should have locked Nurse up before the team signed the last deal with him.
Sorry, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Arguing Nurse should have been given a long-term deal at $6 million before he’d proved himself, but also arguing the Oilers shouldn’t have locked him up long-term now (while his is proving himself) is hypocritical. Not to mention, the Oilers would have also run the risk the player could leave in unrestricted free agency.
Oilers Paying For What Nurse Will Become
The Oilers have bet on a future asset here, not necessarily a current one. Yes, there’s a lot to like already about what Nurse is offering. Some have argued he should have been in the conversation as a Norris Trophy candidate. This past season is what put Nurse in the conversation of players like Hamilton and Jones. Still, it’s what Nurse will offer over the next number of seasons that the Oilers have based this contract upon.
Nurse took a massive step this past season by weeding out some of the warts in his game. This coming season, the assumption (and rightfully so) is that Nurse will weed out even more warts including some of his shot suppression totals and goals against or goals per game numbers. If he does that, fans will breathe a little easier. Better yet, if Nurse turns out as the Oilers are projecting, there’s a good chance Oilers Nation looks back at this deal and see it in the same way they view the Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid deals.
The way to start gauging what the value of this new deal is would be to factor in the numbers after this coming 2021-22 season comes to a close. The real truth to how smart a bet this was will present itself in 2022 and 2023. By then, everyone will know exactly what Nurse is a complete NHL player.
Part of the Oilers Core
As Bob Stauffer wrote following the news of the deal: “A core piece of the team with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and 2021 signing Zack Hyman… Nurse’s relentless commitment and work ethic has resulted in him becoming a #1 NHL D-Man and on the radar for Team Canada.”
This contract is also about what Nurse is as a human being, a driven member of the Oilers roster and a player who turned himself into much more than most hockey scouts and insiders projected he could become. Nurse’s ceiling as a drafted player was to maybe crack the top two on a team’s blue line. He’s worked extremely hard to become so much more than that. His work ethic and commitment to improving himself as a teammate and a player is the type of thing the Oilers organization wants to have around the rest of its roster.
Nurse is not just a talented hockey player. Nurse is a talented athlete who has learned how to become an elite athlete. There’s no reason to assume he’ll stop working, improving and learning how to take more steps as he ages and becomes more of a professional. The Oilers are betting on that just as much as they are his on-ice talents.
This is a player whose attitude and drive is infectious. This is the type of player you need to have on a championship roster. The Oilers haven’t won anything yet, but they’re now in the business of buying wins and the players who can best help provide them. Nurse is the kind of guy you want going to war with you and you want him going to war for you over the next nine years, not just the next few.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”