Oilers & Nurse Victims of Circumstance

For a general manager who has shown little regard towards future cap space issues, Peter Chiarelli appears to be finally changing his tune. Though a good chunk of Edmonton Oilers fans are in full out panic mode over the status of negotiations with Darnell Nurse, the club’s general manager is doing exactly what he should be doing. It may not be a popular opinion among the masses but at this stage of the game, he has little to no choice in the matter.

Edmonton Oilers defensemen Darnell Nurse
Edmonton Oilers defensemen Darnell Nurse (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

After signing a variety of players to what can only be described as “head-scratching” long-term extensions, the time to play hardball at the negotiating table has arrived. With this being the first of eight years that Connor McDavid will be taking up $12.5 million worth of space on the Oilers cap, the days of spending like a drunken sailor are in Chiarelli’s rearview mirror. Unfortunately for Nurse, he gets to take the first kick at the can and it hasn’t been easy.

Nurse in a Tough Spot

Obviously, the player is hoping to cash in on a long-term extension and the team is trying to save a few bucks via a bridge deal, to help lighten the load on the cap. Though the two sides probably came to an agreement on hammering out a two-year pact some time ago, getting pen to paper is never as easy as some seem to think. With camp now officially opened and still no contract in hand, Nurse has decided to head back home to Toronto for the time being.

Not exactly the news anyone wanted to hear but depending on what report you read, the two camps are somewhere in neighbourhood of $200,000 to $500,000 apart. One would think to close such a minute gap wouldn’t be that difficult but at the end of the day, we are talking about the potential for an extra $1 million. From the standpoint of the player, it is obvious as to why Nurse wants every penny he can get and rightfully so.


Though it has yet to be confirmed, chances are we are talking about an annual salary in and around the $3 million to $3.5 million mark. With that said, when a team mismanages the cap to the degree Edmonton has in recent years, an extra $500,000 can be the difference between leaving an organization some wiggle room or being right up against it. Not exactly an ideal scenario for either side but there is nothing that can be done about it now.

Finding Common Ground

Had the general manager shown some restraint and forward thinking prior to inking the likes of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell to the term he did, the chance of making subsequent moves to free up space would have been a possibility. As things currently sit, it isn’t even a realistic option to consider. Same goes for overspending on netminder Mikko Koskinen this past summer and to a lesser degree, signing Leon Draisaitl the previous year.

Anyone who was paying attention knew 2018-19 was going to be a crunch on the cap, which made the Koskinen decision all the more curious. Especially when the club was already working with just over $1.6 million in dead money, thanks to buying out Eric Gryba and Benoit Pouliot. On the plus side, it was only a one year deal but as we have seen, every dollar counts and Chiarelli painted himself into a corner with the moves he has made.

General manager Peter Chiarelli
CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 23: General manager Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers speaks onstage during Round One of the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

When it comes to Draisaitl, I had no issue with the move at the time and still don’t. In my mind, the decision to go out and buy future free agent years is likely going to save the organization a bunch of money in the long run but not without a short-term sacrifice. There is no question the 22-year old is being overpaid for what he brings to the table today but you can’t have it both ways. If you want the security of extra term, the player has to be compensated.

Cap Space, Cap Space, Cap Space

There are those who still suggest the club would’ve been better off inking the talented German to a lower number and shorter term and that is a completely reasonable take. The extra room under the cap would be a huge plus in the here and now but at the opposite end of the spectrum, his $8.5 million hit could turn out to be a bargain if Draisaitl manages to reach his full potential. For me, it’s a simple matter of risk and reward but some would disagree.

Regardless of any of the that, the reason the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in this spot is of their own doing. Peter Chiarelli handed out the deals he did, knowing full well he was going to need to come up with a plan of action that would allow him to fit everyone else around his captain. This particular negotiation was always going to be step one and the organization can ill-afford to get this one wrong and give Darnell Nurse more than he is worth.