Contracts have been signed at quite the rapid pace since the month of September started, mainly with restricted free agents (RFAs). Teams are rushing to get their RFAs signed or extended long-term before the beginning of the season. This ensures that the players can either just play or not have to worry about contract talks throughout the season. A trend that has evolved over the past few days is the extending of defensemen.
Over the last three days, three key RFA defensemen have signed contracts. Those being Ivan Provorov, Josh Morrissey, and Zach Werenski. Provorov was extended for the next six years, averaging a cap hit of $6.75 million. Morrissey was extended for the next eight seasons, averaging a cap hit of $6.25 million. Lastly, Werenski was extended for the next three seasons, averaging a cap hit of $5 million.
This perfectly sets the tone for Edmonton Oiler defender Darnell Nurse, who’s coming up on restricted free agency after the 2019-20 NHL season. He was recently extended for two years at $3.2 million per season after the 2017-18 season in which he collected only 26 points in 82 games. The Oilers saw potential in his game and decided to give him a bridge deal to determine whether he can take a leap in his progression.
This was a decision that the Oilers have now probably come to regret. In the first year of the extension, Nurse had a breakout year and totalled 41 points in 82 games. While he still has this upcoming season to prove whether or not that was a fluke, he’s planted his feet in the organization as a top-four and key defenseman.
Understanding the Market
Nurse may be the beneficiary or may end up paying for a trend that has recently been making the rounds for RFA contract extensions. Essentially, a team buys in on the potential that a player may have but hasn’t exactly quite hit yet.
For example, Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller was recently extended for eight years at an annual value of $7.15 million. For Keller, his career-high is only 65 points and recently dropped off last season, only hitting 47 points in 82 games. However, he’s still just 21 years old, having lots of time to develop and make improvements in his game. This contract is one that Arizona likely won’t have many regrets about.
Related: Arizona Coyotes Ink Clayton Keller
These types of deals could be fantastic for a team like the Boston Bruins with David Pastrnak. He currently only makes $6.66 million per season for the next four years. Or this type of deal could be terrible for a team like the Detroit Red Wings with Danny DeKeyser. He currently makes $5 million per season for the next three seasons.
The Oilers are almost certainly going to take this route with Nurse and attempt to lock up one of their best defenders long term.
Nurse and the Oilers Situation
When looking at history, teams are almost always benefitting off these types of deals. Nathan MacKinnon signed for $6.3 million per season and is arguably one of the best centers in the entire league. Aleksander Barkov signed for $5.9 million per season and like MacKinnon, is also one of the best centers in the league. Morgan Rielly signed for $5 million per season and is a top offensive threat on the blue line. This list goes on and on.
The recent Provorov and Morrissey deals are an insight as to what Nurse will almost certainly receive soon. Provorov has a career-high of 41 points just like Nurse, and Morrissey’s is 31 points in only 59 games. All three are well-rounded defenseman and can defend their own zone. It is completely reasonable to assume Nurse will make about the same as the other aforementioned defensemen.
This works perfectly for the Oilers, who are projected to have over $20 million of cap freed for the next offseason. Nurse would take up an extra $3-4 million on his $3.2 million already, leaving the Oilers with roughly $17 million to work with. This is all while having no major extensions until 2021-22 when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Adam Larsson hit unrestricted free agency.
This is all provided that the salary cap doesn’t increase which most likely won’t happen. This will leave the Oilers with even more room to work with to sign some of their younger talents in the future like Tyler Benson and Evan Bouchard. Not bad for a team that was supposedly in salary cap trouble after committing $20 million into Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.