On Wednesday, May 4, the NHL announced that Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse has been nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
The award is annually presented “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Each of the league’s 32 teams selects one nominee, from which three finalists will be named for the 2021-22 NHL Awards.
Nurse is greatly deserving of his nomination, an it’s nice to see him receive such recognition considering he isn’t always truly appreciated in Oil Country these days.
The 27-year-old blueliner has become something of a lightning rod in Edmonton. His play hasn’t quite been at the level as during his breakout campaign last season, making him an easy target for detractors critical of the eight-year, $74 million contract extension that Nurse signed last August.
Fans can be mad at the size of the extension (which begins next season), but that was the going rate for top-pairing defensemen after the market was set early last offseason when the Colorado Avalanche re-signed Cale Makar for six years at $54 million and Seth Jones signed an eight-year, $76-million extension with the Chicago Blackhawks. Is Nurse’s deal going to prove a gross overpay? Could it actually end up being a bargain? Something in between? Only time will tell.
All of which is beside the point. The fact is, there is much to celebrate now about Nurse, someone who the Oilers as a team and Edmonton as a city are lucky to have. That’s what the King Clancy Memorial Award highlights.
Nurse’s Leadership On and Off the Ice
The 2021-22 season was Nurse’s third serving as an alternate captain for the Oilers, and he is increasingly showing traits worthy of wearing the ‘C’ as a leader by example.
Before the arrival of Evander Kane, who joined Edmonton after signing as a free agent on Jan. 27, Nurse was the only Oiler who could be counted on to stick up for his teammates. Nurse continues to be a workhorse, leading the Oilers in ice time at a whopping 25:03 per game, including 21:08 at even strength which is fourth in the NHL. He’s unafraid to throw himself in the line of fire, leading the Oilers in blocked shots (132 in 71 games), as well as hits (196).
There was a stretch early in the season when the Oilers spiraled with just two wins in 15 games between Dec. 3 and Jan 20. Edmonton’s post-game media availabilities grew increasingly tense as the same unpleasant questions were asked over and over and over. Nurse was perhaps most often trotted out to take the questions, which he handled with unfailing composure and a degree of candor.
Nurse’s Contributions to the Community
Edmonton has been home for Nurse ever since he was recalled from the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League (AHL) early in the 2015-16 season. He’s put down roots in Edmonton, and now the Hamilton, Ont. product is giving back to the community.
In the last year, Nurse partnered with Free Play for Kids, an organization that offers sports programming to disadvantaged children in Edmonton and is supporting getting more youth from marginalized communities the opportunity to play hockey. Additionally, the Free Play for Kids “Darnell Nurse Captain of the Week” gets to chance to go to an Oilers game.
Free Play For Kids founder Tim Adams is detailed in Edify magazine article as being amazed by Nurse’s passion for the program, which is not the case of a pro athlete supporting a charity just for positive PR: “In every meeting we’ve had, his authenticity shines through,” Adams said.
Nurse hasn’t forgotten about Hamilton, either. He created a program at his old high school, St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary, that awards two $40,000 scholarships each year to students needing ﬁnancial assistance for their post-secondary education.
Celebrating Nurse for Personal Qualities
There’s no shortage of top-earning players who didn’t want to be in Edmonton because of the type of scrutiny Nurse now faces. The 27-year-old blueliner knew what he was getting into when he signed the extension but is showing that he’s committed to Edmonton – team and town.
It’s a fair comment to say a player isn’t performing up to his contract. It’s not fair to judge or treat the person under the helmet on their performance as a player. What’s great about this award is allows a player to be recognized for their quality of character.
Finalists for the 2022 King Clancy Memorial Trophy will be announced on May 20. The award has been won by an Oilers player on three occasions: Kevin Lowe in 1990, Ethan Moreau in 2009, and Andrew Ference in 2004.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.