Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish certainly set himself up for criticism by talking the talk before walking the walk prior to the NHL Entry Draft and free agency, but unless my ears have failed me completely, I heard MacT talk about making bold moves, not stupid moves.

So, while, like others, I do have some questions about his overall performance at the draft on the weekend– specifically, I’m wondering about how it came to be, exactly, that the Oilers used the seventh pick on Darnell Nurse rather than Valeri Nichushkin – I’m not unhappy with what I saw.

I’ve got no beef with picking Nurse as far as how he projects and what he brings to the table. He’s tough, is diligent in his physical training and, from all accounts, is a character kid who interviewed very well. Teams can never have too much of that. My issue, I guess, is it’s going to take three or even four years before the Oilers know what they have with him.

There’s more risk in Nichushkin, a better chance he’ll be a swing-and-a-miss rather than a homerun, but drafting that combination of size and skill would provide exactly what MacTavish’s forwards lack. He could provide a bigger bang, and sooner, than Nurse. That, framed by the fact the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, made Nichushkin the more tempting pick for me.

I’m wondering if he was also the more tempting pick for Stu MacGregor and his scouting staff and if MacT, at some point, overruled his birddogs. When I hear Nichushkin was the guy as often as I did from people in the know, not the guessers, and Nurse gets selected, I wonder.

No conspiracy theory here because MacTavish wouldn’t be the first GM to make the call on a pick regardless of the team’s scouting list, especially if two kids are rated neck-and-neck, but I’m wondering if MacT went with his gut and took the safer pick over the big swing – that does fly in the face of his talk about being bold.


What I want from a GM, MacTavish in particular, after he’s talked the talked about being bold, is that he puts himself in the middle of the mix on the draft floor instead of waiting around for his phone to ring like a wallflower. That he identifies the players he wants or needs, decides what he’s willing to give up to get them and then starts pitching.

MacTavish, it was plain to see to anybody paying attention, certainly did that in his pursuit of Braydon Coburn in multiple conversations with Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren. Homer, if reports are to be believed, put an unreasonable price tag on Coburn, so MacTavish, wisely, I say, said "no thanks."

Like MacTavish said, no deal is better than a stupid deal. If you’ve actually got a problem with that line of thinking – "But MacT promised he’d make a big deal at the draft" (no, he didn’t) – I suggest you think again.

Trades, at least those that don’t involve one of the parties involved grabbing their ankles, are difficult to make, as MacTavish alluded to on the weekend after failing to make the splash many anticipated. Sucker deals? There’s always one on the table and, more often than not, they are offered up to rookie GMs like MacTavish.

As 630 CHED analyst Bob Stauffer has already suggested, don’t be a bit surprised if MacTavish and Holmgren continue talking about Coburn. I’d be stunned if they don’t.


. . . Funny business, the NHL game. Everybody with a functioning brain stem knows the Oilers need more nastiness and grit on their back end, yet today the Oilers walked away from a bunch of it by not qualifying Colten Teubert, Theo Peckham and Alex Plante (as well as Philip Cornet).

The problem with the three D-men who didn’t get QO’d, of course, is that while they bring qualities the Oilers lack, none of them has proven they can play regular minutes at the NHL level and, as always, there are always a raft of younger prospects on the way.

We know what went wrong with Peckham. When his window of opportunity swing open, he showed up fat and couldn’t fit through it. Plante has tons of jam but foot speed and concussions are an issue. Teubert? I’d really like to find out what went wrong there. Seems a bit early to turn the page on him.

. . . People here know I really like pending UFA David Clarkson and think he’s be a perfect fit here because he brings leadership, toughness and pretty good skill to the dance, but heaven help the Oilers if they even think of offering the kind of money, more than $6 million a season, we heard about today. Clarkson might get that kind of cake from somebody, but it shouldn’t be the Oilers.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    I was thinking Clarkson would get around 5 million and that would be an overpay. 6 mill+? That’s crazy talk, don’t even bother if that’s what he commands.

  • Good article Robin but I think you are underestimating Nurse’s top end potential…… “Right now, Seth is a lock, but five years down the road you’re going to be talking about Jones and Nurse in the same sentence,” said Dan Marr, director of scouting for NHL Central Scouting. “It’s very hard to define. There’s not going to be a big difference between the players.”……National Post
    Nurse stands 6’5′ and is already close to 200 pounds. By the time he fills out he’ll likely play at 215 to 220 pounds. He is big, aggressive and an exceptional athlete. He has good hockey sense, and it is clear he won’t take any shortcuts to reach his goal of playing in the NHL….Jason Gregor…..Oilersnation

    • You won’t hear me knocking Nurse as a bad pick. He’ll play and play a long time. There’s a lot to like about him.

      The question from scouts I talk to to and reports I read is his offensive upside. Most see him projecting as a tough, capable and reliable shutdown guy. Who doesn’t need that? If you get that, it’s a good pick.

  • Rocket

    I don’t have the stats handy but by watching them both play, Nurse & Jones look very comparable. Big, physical, skating. Jones just has a better shot & maybe more offensive upside but that’s what we have Schultz Jr. for. Hopefully Nurse can be a good shut down guy.

    Also, Valeri Nichushkin looks like another MPS. Has all the tools but we’ll have to wait to see if he works out. I don’t think he was clearly better than Nurse & I’m glad The Oilers drafted another big D man.

    • Everything being absolutely equal (which it never really is), I tend to give the edge to the North American player as well. The KHL and the “Russian factor” does come into play. I don’t see the KHL as the boogeyman some do, but it is sometimes a tie-breaker for me.

      I have no information that suggests Nurse is anything but a very solid pick, but I’d have gone with the Russian this time.

      One other thing: Obviously, you can comment and make a reasonable point in fewer than 300-1,000 words. Please do so more often.

  • OilClog

    The fact Mac T actually answers questions in a forthright manner, gives him massive appeal over his predecessor FBI Tamby.

    I’m going to give him all sorts of slack………up until the time he makes a bonehead of a trade, that is. I too was rooting for Nichuskin and feel that all the bad press ( much like Yaks received) is more due to the ” Russian Factor”, and a language barrier that must be more difficult when you have a camera in your face.

    I still do not understand the Peckham thing……….Robin you mentioned his state of physical shape, but all indications were he was ready at training camp. The whole body fat thing is so over-rated, I wonder how all the fat guys like big Bufg, Murray in SJ can play?

  • Truth

    My initial thought was to grab Hartnell if possible, but then I looked and he’s signed until he’s 37 at a cap hit of $4.75M/yr. I don’t know if his style of play will allow the final years to be anything but a disappointment.

    How about their center depth. Giroux, Lecavalier, Schenn, Couturier. Giroux is a 1st line C, Lecavalier a 2nd line C, and then Schenn and Couturier would be 3A and 3B. Not much room for a promotion in the next 3-5 years either.

    I would give them a significant package for Couturier and Coburn.

  • DSF

    MacT gave the 29 other GMs too much information in his multiple “presser”.

    Clearly he learning that negoitation has more to do with listening, having trading variable and silence than tell the local media all your plans.

    Right now the bold move seems to be he has lost all this big tough player…

    • bazmagoo

      He took the Klowe school of general management degree – so far he’s passing with flying colours.

      Can you remember the last time Ken Holland aired his desires/dirty laundry/negotiated through the media? Me neither.

      Even though Tambo’s pro scouting free agency moves blew I actually liked the way he conducted himself with the media/public. Just a shame he didn’t actually do anything!

  • DSF

    I think Holmgren maybe painting himself into a bit of a corner. With the Vincent signing that puts the Flyers into Salary troubles and unless they plan to start Steve Mason they have to sign a Goalie.

    There is probably a dance going on here, with both putting the squeeze on each other.

  • OilClog

    Nurse will be the better player with just as high a ceiling as a defenceman could have. Or do we only read 2 or 3 scouting reports and the first couple lines. Come on now!! Read until the end..

    Didn’t we draft a big hulking Russian centerman that played with Yak? Everyone else was passing up on because of the what if…
    And didn’t we draft the other winger on that line too.. Aren’t those pretty bold moves? Ummmm

    I’d say the draft was a success, and only one day of the trade period sooo.. I don’t know how people can really bash or say MacT has failed at delivering yet.. I’d say he’s doing pretty damn good so far.

  • Citizen David

    The draft is never about which player can impact sooner. It’s about which player will make a better impact. Nine teams thought there was a better player on the board than Nichushkin.

    • Never?

      When two players are rated dead-even on a scouting list, and indications are Nichushkin and Nurse were on the Oiler list, and BPA is a wash, other factors — position and immediacy of impact — come into play.

      Better impact? The Russian is more top-end IF he pans out. Nurse is a safe pick who will definitely play. The question is his ceiling.

      But thanks for playing along.

      • bazmagoo

        Have to disagree here as I read many reports of “The Russian” being a bit of a head case, also that Nurse is quite possibly the best D man in the draft including Jones, once all are groomed.

      • Citizen David

        Top end for Nurse if he pans out is number one defencemen. The only way to get those is by drafting them. The idea that Nichushkin is a lock to be instant impact is a guess. He hasn’t proven much yet. He just looks like he has the tools.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          Amen to that.

          The Predators actually selected Kevin Klein even before selecting Shea Weber. The Preds actually passed him over twice before selecting him with their third selection. I’m sure the 30 teams bypassing Weber in the first round didn’t think he had top pairing potential either.

          Brownlee mentioning he doesn’t see any top pairing potential/comparisons, is also a reach. Got us some pot/kettle stuff goin on perhaps. Having the Pronger potential thing floating around there must come from somewhere credible. Analytics is nothing but B/S when it comes to projections.

        • Now, you’re reaching.

          I must have missed it, so please pass along a link or a scouting/media report that projects Nurse as a No. 1 defenseman.

          Until a player actually plays in the NHL, the idea that anyone is a lock is a “guess.” Many of those guesses are educated. Others, less so.

          • 1st off Robin…I actually agree with you to a point, but Nurse does have some traction when it comes to him becoming a Top pairing D’man.

            I guess it ALL comes down to the semantics of how each person defines a True #1 D’man.

            Because, I would tend to bend towards yours due to his offense, but the Darth Pronger comparisons & how some young D’man blossom with the disc as they get older does make me 2nd guess myself that Nurse just may have the talent to along with his insane work ethic to actually be a #1 some day in the future.

            I’m not a BIG fan of these sites much, but here are a few examples of what you were asking for.
            (for what they are worth)

            As for the pick, I’m thrilled with Nurse, but I wish MacT could have pulled off some kind of swap with the Sabres for that #8 pick as well & taken the Big Red along with Nurse.


            “Darnell Nurse is a big, mobile, gifted blueliner who has a lot of Chris Pronger in his game.
            He’s an imposing presence on the blueline and has the tools to be successful at both ends.He easily projects as a top-two blueliner, although his offensive game may not be refined enough to be considered a true number-one.
            He will be an elite shutdown blueliner who will add at least 25 to 30 pounds of muscle to his 6’5, 200-pound frame. Nurse will be well positioned to be used in all segments of the game (PP, PK, even strength), and his development could rival presumptive first-selected blueliner Seth Jones.”



            “Nurse is arguably the second-best defenseman available in the draft, so anything less than a top-pairing job for the tenacious blueliner would be considered a disappointment. It may take him some time to get there, but he’s the mean, versatile defender that every team covets.”

            I apologize in advance & in post haste for the length of this post…


          • Citizen David

            International Scouting Services “Not only is Nurse an excellent 1 on 1 defender but he adds an intense mean streak to put fear in the opposition. He shows no hesitation in doing what it takes to win from blocking shots to dropping the mitts, Darnell was born to lead. Offensively he brings an arsenal of weapons whether it’s using his vision to find his man up ice or jumping up into the rush he continues to develop in these areas. He shows excellent mobility on the point and has great quickness for his size which makes him very effective in PP situations. He has a heavy shot but could stand to use it more often. Has all the tools to be a franchise defender and captain down the road.”

            OHL PROSPECTS: 1. Darnell Nurse – Defenseman – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
            At this point, Nurse is definitely my top prospect available from the OHL. All season long, I wrestled back and forth between Monahan and Nurse. But it’s clearly Nurse now IMO. He possesses so much potential at the next level. He could be a perennial Norris candidate IMO. The thing I like most about Nurse is how much he improved this season from the last. You need to look at that progression and think about just how good he could be, if he continues to tap into his athletic bloodlines (father was a CFL player), and continues to improve. He’s certainly a potential dynamo at both ends of the ice. His size (6’5, pushing 200lbs), makes him an asset in the defensive end. As does his skating ability. He’s incredibly difficult to get around and he’s physical enough to intimidate. As he gets stronger, I expect his physical game to become more consistent and more effective. He certainly has the mentality to be a bruiser. In the defensive end, he’s still learning a bit. He can get caught out of position at times, but with strong coaching I think this improves. Offensively, he went through the biggest transformation this season. He looked very poised and confident with the puck and took chances in leading and joining the rush. His skating ability makes him a threat offensively. He’s also got an absolute cannon of a shot that will only get better as he gets stronger. His play on the powerplay is improving. This year, with Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller on the point, Nurse was relegated to the 2nd unit. Next year, it’ll be his show to run and I expect very big things from him. When all is said and done, Nurse has the potential to be one of those defenseman who doesn’t really have any holes in his game. He’s the complete package and I think he’s the 2nd defenseman off the board after Seth Jones.


          • Best case is not a projection it’s, well, best case. You will not find consensus on this glowing report by ISS. I’m sure you looked.

            One other thing: if all the ifs with Nurse prove your point because he has a lot of tools and might turn out to be very good, how is it that having all the tools don’t matter when it comes to citing Nichushkin as a top-end player?

          • Citizen David

            The same could be said about Nichushkin. The reason is because Nichuskin has played few games with little ice time and little results. Nurse played a full season which shows more proof.

            The top four in the draft were a concensus. After that Carolina though Lindholm was better, Calgary thought Monahan was better, Edmonton thought Nurse was better, Buffalo thought Ristolainen was better and Vancouver thought Horvat was better. Trust the scouts I guess. Time will tell. I will not be surprised one bit if Nichushkin is a disappointment.

  • Eddie Shore

    Now that Philly’s payroll is maxed from signing Lecavalier I wonder if Coburn will shake loose? Do you think Hartnell could be had too? Something has to give…

      • This is probably a tough question to answer, but given that MacT is a new GM, how much gamesmanship do you think is taking place?

        Holmgren’s been doing this a while – wonder if he thinks he can play chicken with MacT and squeeze him? He’s got plenty of time before he must drop salary, right?

        • Eddie Shore

          I don’t really think he is in a position to play chicken anymore. Any leverage he had is now gone. He’s got to shed some salary as well as sign a starting goalie unless they are going to pin their hopes on Mason. It’s the Flyers though, so you never know.

  • Crackenbury

    There is absolutely nothing in MacT’s past as a player or a coach that gives any indication he is a “bold move” kind of guy. He comes across as intelligent and thoughtful, but bold has never been something in his bag of tricks. I believe he is going to live to regret those comments.

    The bold move was to take Nichushkin. The guy looks like he might be a beast up front. I like Nurse too and I think in the long run he may well be the better pick, but there was nothing bold about it.

    I have very little hope we’ll see anything overly bold this fall. I’m very concerned with the amount of grit that has dropped out of this lineup, when we really couldn’t afford to lose any.

    People can critisize Lowe all they want, but if you want bold roster moves, he was the guy to get it done. .

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Why is Philly such an appealing destination? They seem to be in on every single big name, and they win their fair share. Bizarre.

    Echoing #3, I couldn’t give two squirts about the team in Philly, aside from who this makes available.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    i’m not following why Clarkson and his agent think he deserves 6 million in the least… who is reporting that?

    there is nothing in his game worth even close to that… i could see a 3-3.5 kind of deal (which is still high for a single 30 goal season)… he might get 20 goals a year. he has the ability to finish but expecting 30 a season at this point is hilarious.

    cheaper option: the Oilers trade for Steve Ott. he’d improve the FO% a ton, throw hits, play hard, be a rat, and still puts up solid points. throws way more hits than Clarkson, and put up the same points last year.

    • bazmagoo

      I agree, Clarkson is not worth $6 million, but Bickell is not worth $4 million and he got it.

      I totally agree with you on Steve Ott, I have mentioned it several times , he would be a good pick exactly for the reasons you mention.

      I dont think Buffalo will part with him though, 29 yrs, and salary under $3.00.million.

  • Sean17

    I like the pick given Monahan and Lindholm were gone.

    Offensively, he’s very solid and there’s massive room for growth in that department. He played on the second powerplay unit because the Hounds had two of the best (including the CHL d-man of the year) running the top unit, which got 75% of the time. When he’s on the first unit next year, his stat line will jump.

    Nurse was not asked to score , he was used as a shutdown Dman. Just wait until he puts on 20 to 30 lbs.

    • gr8one

      I’d guess Couturier would be the least expendable, making less than $1.5m, young, good couple of seasons already under his belt, big body, tons of untapped offensive potential and great draft pedigree.

      My guess would be, at least as far as forwards go that Hartnell and B.Schenn could be possible to be shipped out.

      Philly’s cap situation really isn’t as bad as it looks at first glance though, if they can sign a goalie for around $3m-ish and because Pronger’s cap hit won’t count because he’s on LTIR they really don’t HAVE to trade anyone.

      • Counting Lecavalier’s contract and even if you subtracted Pronger’s salary out of it, they only have about $4.5M to sign a decent goalie, a couple of forwards, a top 4 D (if Pronger is not playing)… so they still need to shed a contract or two methinks. Also remember that the opportunity for the amnesty buy out ends next year, so they should pray that Pronger gets out of LTIR for them to buy him out; otherwise that’s $5M committed until 2017 with Giroux, Schenn, Read, and Couturier all FAs in 2014 all expecting hefty raises (not to mention Timonen also a UFA, so they’ll need another top D). Even with the cap going up to $70M in 2014; I think they’re in a crunch to stay under. They’ll have to solve their cap problems sooner than later.

    • Quick, I would HAVE to think the Oiler enquire about both Couturier and Scheen..

      I would suspect Couturier would have to be the player the Oilers desperately need, with Scheen being a distant second.

      The Oilers need to lock that 3rd centre down soon.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Agree with that 100%. Puck Coburn, he’s ancient history. Go after Boychuk or Ference, show Paul he’s not the only game in town.

        If Holmgren calls, it’s all about Couturier, plus a salary dump now. If Coburn is that salary dump, then so be it. Don’t see the need for Coburn to underachieve here, as well as in Philly. Maybe Mezaros would be a shorter nightmare, so to speak.

        • Rocket

          Boychuk or Ferrence would be great on The Oilers but why would they want to leave a cup contender? Plus Boston seems to like big physical defencemen & would probably rather keep them. MacT should still make a call for them though.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Oilers just punted two, rather large robust blueliners today in Tuebert and Peckham. Often guys see the opportunity in a move to hopefully find a larger role on the new team. You’re right though on the players value on being part of a winning culture. I was hoping Ference would be willing to come home and play his last few years. Despite Brads size, the kid can just flat out play, and that’s what the Oilers need right now. The Coke machine element has been well addressed in Marincin,Klefbom,Belov and Nurse. It sucks that Darnells learning curve may still be two years away though.

  • Truth

    If Clarkson wants 6 million he is nuts, if someone gives it to him then the whole reason for sitting out a half season was bollocks…The insanity continues . So basically we lost half a season so the cap could go down 10 million for one year. Pure crap!