What They’re Worth: Contracts for Nurse and Kassian

Bob McKenzie said on the most recent episode of TSN Insider Trading that the Edmonton Oilers have begun contract negotiations with both Darnell Nurse and Zack Kassian. This is good news considering both have played pivotal roles with the team this season and if possible, the Oilers shouldn’t be looking to rid themselves of useful players.

While talks are preliminary, it’s never too early to take a look at what these contracts might cost the Oilers and how their deals might impact the roster should either be paid too much.

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Darnell Nurse’s Deal

For Nurse, he’s continued to play an important role on the Oilers blue line. He ranks third on the roster in time-on-ice per game and second for defensemen behind Oscar Klefbom. He’s been tasked with key minutes and also with providing some guidance for rookie Ethan Bear as a defense partner. There’s been some hiccups but he’s done well with the responsibility.

A restricted free agent at the end of this season, he’s two seasons away from unrestricted free agency. McKenzie called this deal the “tougher nut to crack for the Edmonton Oilers” and there’s a number of reasons for this.

Edmonton Oilers Darnell Nurse
Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Like any team would with an RFA, the Oilers have some control in negotiations and Nurse wants to stay. That said, defenseman like Nurse don’t grow on trees and a six, seven or eight-year deal is likely off the table because of the numbers in the first few seasons where the cap issues for Edmonton would prevent them from heavily investing in Nurse. Simply put, if he’s a $6 million-or-more valued defender, the Oilers can’t really afford to give him that kind of money yet.

Instead, Edmonton may try to get him signed on a deal that pushes back the bigger-ticket contract. This next deal could be anywhere between a two-year and a four-year pact and salary arbitration rights could play a role.

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Zack Kassian’s Deal

McKenzie said he could verify that the agent for Kassian, Rick Curran, was in Dallas when the Oilers won a close game over the Stars. Curran met with Oilers GM Ken Holland to begin talks.

Zack Kassian
Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian celebrates a goal with the bench. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

There’s no huge rush here, especially for the Oilers, but McKenzie said, “Kassian is going to try and parlay some strong play on Connor McDavid’s line into a multi-year deal. I’m sure they’ll go back and forth.” McKenzie suggested the term will likely be the big negotiating factor.

There is a risk in the Oilers going well beyond the $1.95 million Kassian is making this season if the deal is a long one. When McKenzie says Kassian is going to parlay some strong play into a deal, he isn’t kidding. From the winger’s perspective, this is the ideal time for Kassian to get hot and need a new deal.

Would the Oilers be comfortable with two years at $3 -$3.5 million per season? Maybe three seasons at $2.5 – $3 million per season at most? A good chunk of fans would probably say this sounds great based on the season he’s having but what happens if his play regresses? Being stuck with a $3 million contract doesn’t cripple the team but it doesn’t help if he ends up playing in the bottom-six again.

What Does Kassian Want?

The key here might be figuring out the trigger for Kassian — as in, what does he really want? If it’s to stay on McDavid’s line and continue to take advantage of one of the greatest gifts any player can be given to help boost their numbers, he might want to choose his battles and not try and hit a financial home run.

Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If he’s looking for $4 million per season, expect the Oilers to say goodbye, or at the very least, negotiations to take some time. Kassian may be able to get what he’s after from another team willing to overspend but that shouldn’t be the direction Holland takes.

All in all, Edmonton should want to keep both players but need to tread carefully when offering too much time or salary. In Nurse’s case, it’s more about how his next deal will affect the team’s ability to make moves going forward. In Kassian’s case, it will be about not overpaying for production that may or may not continue.

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