Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: The key restricted free agents — Nurse, Benning, and Strome

Earlier this week, hockey statistician Matt Cane released his annual free agent predictions model featuring projected salaries for this summer’s restricted and unrestricted free agents. Of interest for the Oilers are defencemen Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse, who are set to sign their first post-ELC contracts, and Ryan Strome, who’ll be signing his third NHL deal this summer.

Cane’s model and an explanation of how it works can be found above. 

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Darnell Nurse

Cane’s model has Nurse coming in at four years with a cap hit of just under $5 million annually. The four-year term obviously doesn’t make much sense because Nurse has four more years of control left before he can hit the open market. He’s either going to sign a two-year bridge deal to prove himself or he’s going to ink a long-term deal in the seven year range. Eating up four RFA years and no UFA years on a contract just isn’t a thing that happens.

I wrote about bridging Nurse back in April comparing him to other defencemen drafted in the first round back in the 2012 draft. There was a mixed bag with Morgan Rielly, Olli Maatta, and Hampus Lindholm getting long-term deals and Ryan Murray, Matt Dumba, Jacob Trouba getting bridge deals. Based on those comparisons, I figured Nurse was a candidate for a bridge deal given the team’s situation and his style of play.

I think Nurse has a great deal of potential to become a very good defender in the NHL, but he hasn’t proved anything over the course of a full season yet. Last year, he got off to a good start but tapered off towards the end of the season. There are pros and cons to bridge deals, but I don’t think Edmonton is in a position financially right now to invest another big contract into a maybe.

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Nov 9, 2017; Newark, NJ, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates with center Connor McDavid (97) and defenseman Matt Benning (83) after scoring the game winning goal in overtime at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Benning

Cane’s model has Benning coming in at two years with a cap hit just over $2 million annually. That seems about right for Benning who obviously isn’t going to be getting a long-term deal at this point. Defenders of Benning’s ilk, ones who play a solid, under-the-radar game without producing much offensively, don’t tend to get long-term contracts.

When I wrote about Benning back in April, I found a group of similar defencemen in their mid-20s who signed deals that are in line with what Cane’s model is predicting for him. The defenders I found were Derek Forbort, Markus Nutivaara, and Mark Pysyk, all of whom fit the bill of solid defencemen who don’t produce offence at a high level. All of them got deals in the $2.5 million range. I expect Benning to be somewhere below that on a two-year deal.

Ryan Strome

Cane’s model has Strome coming it at two years with a cap hit of roughly $2.5 million annually. Strome is coming off of a post-ELC deal with the Islanders that paid him $2.5 million over two years. Given the fact he had a salary of $3 million last year, he would be entitled to a 10 per cent raise to $3.3 million if he signed a qualifying offer. With that in mind, I figure the $2.5 million figure from Cane’s model is beneath what Strome will end up signing.

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When I wrote about Strome in April, I mentioned how he was slightly underrated by fans in his value as a versatile depth player because he was the return in a really bad one-for-one trade. If you take the trade and what Jordan Eberle does out of the equation, Strome is a fine player. He can play centre, he can play on the wing, he can chip in offensively, and he can kill penalties. There’s certainly value to a versatile player like that. The similar players I found who signed contracts recently were Andrew Cogliano, Nick Bonino, and Lars Eller, all of whom were in the $3-$4 million range.

Strome has two more years of control before he can hit the open market. I imagine his deal will be two years and somewhere around $3 million. Given those aforementioned players who produce at a similar point-per-game clip, that’s a reasonable deal for Strome.

The big picture

The Oilers have about $65 million committed into nine forwards, four defencemen, and three goalies next season. Assume that Al Montoya is buried or dealt and Kailer Yamamoto makes the team and it’s about $65 million for 10 forwards, four defenders, and two goalies. Regardless, Edmonton has about $12-15 million to work with depending where the salary cap ends up.

I think the Strome and Benning deals are pretty simple. Both are players who make sense to bring back on short-term deals. Nurse, though, is the more difficult decision. Do you buy into the potential and sign him to a long-term deal? Can you take that gamble given how many long-term deals the team already has? Or is signing him to a highly-motivating bridge deal that brings him to two years away from unrestricted free agency an even bigger risk?

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  • TKB2677

    I think it’s pretty simple. Given the fact that at best Benning was a #6 last year, didn’t have a good year and was even scratched at times. He should be happy getting a 1 way deal at a shade under 2 mill even if it’s for 2 seasons. Same goes for Strome. No way he can expect a raise. I’d even sign him to a 1 yr deal at 2.5 mill and let him know this is a show me deal.

    I think they need to bridge Nurse. It’s still up in the air what he is. If he is OK to take a Klefbom contract you do it but I doubt he will. Sign him to a 2 yr, around 3 mill deal and find out what he is.

      • Carbonrod

        I don’t think anybody will offer Maroon 5.3. We could only get a 3rd rounder for him, which says to me GM’s were not convinced he could produce away from McDavid. If he gets 4×4 from somebody its a robbery. He’s worth about 3 but UFA’s get payed more.

        Maybe Grabner could be gotten for a reasonable amount? Maybe 3.5? Decent speed and great finishing ability and Drai or McNuge could cover for some of his defensive liabilities.

  • The Whispererer

    If you add Caggiula, who appears to be valued by management and the head coach, at ~ $1.5 short term the Oilers would require ~ $10 million to sign those 4 players. That might be optimistic because Benning, Strome and Cagguila are all eligible for salary arbitration and therefore hold some leverage in the negotiations. We have all seen how Chiareli deals with contracts when he believes the other party has any leverage. Also, isn’t there the threat ( real or perceived ) of an offer sheet on Nurse ? If another team offered Nurse 5 X $6.088 the Oilers would be scruuud. The compensation would be a 1st and 3rd round pick in 2019. There is also the prospect of performance bonuses for JP and KY; for the Oilers to be successful next season those two need to perform, which suggests they would hit at least some of their bonus targets. Lucic also needs to bounce back in a big way.
    Assuming the Oilers could get all 4 under contract for ~ $10 million, they would have 12 forwards, 6 defencemen and 2 goalies with $2/5 million in space remaining to sign three more players to fill out the 23 man roster.
    The center depth would look fine with McD, Drai, Strome, Khaira. Left wing in some order would be RNH, Lucic, Cagguila, Aberg. Right wing in some order would be JP, KY, Rattie, Kassian. An awful lot of things would need to go right for that lineup to make the playoffs.

  • Carbonrod

    Benning should make no more than 1.7million, he’s a number 6 dman who still needs some work, and we need Bear to stay in the AHL for at least one more before bringing him up for good.

    Strome I like as a 3rd liner who can fill in on the second line if there are any injuries. I’d like 2.5million for him but I could live with 3. He has some versatility and can get us 30-35 points. It’s just a shame Chia made such a crap trade to get him

    Nurse I hope we can get for less than 4.5 on a long term contract, or a 2 year bridge deal for 3.5. Chia has a habit of overpaying every contract he hands out by $1 miliion so I could see the 5 million number coming true. A long term deal at 5 mil could be a bargain if he takes another big step forward this and tightens up his D and brings his offence up, but right now that number is a gamble.

  • Redbird62

    $8.8 million for Mark Stone? That seems a little excessive too! He is a dam good right winger and kills penalties too, but given the contracts signed by Tarasenko, Gaudreau and Pasternak over the past two seasons, I would think he would be somewhat less. While Vorecek signed for more than the other 3, at least he was a UFA. And given how cheap Melnyk is, I can’t see this being the number unless someone actually offer sheets him. Of course I thought Draisaitl could be signed for $7.5, but at least there you are paying for some upside and he is supposed to be a center.

    • crabman

      who trashes this? it is absolutely true. a qualifying offer to Strome only needs to he 100% of his latest salary which is $3M.
      I don’t think he should be qualified and a contract in the $2.5-2.75M range on a 2-3 year deal.

  • Kybra

    I think you’re right in the money with all three. If Darnell would take 4.75, I’d lock him up for seven. I see him as a legit number two dman. Really nice progression despite being thrown to the wolves as a rook.

      • crabman

        they did slow play Nurse and allow him to play 2 more years in jr. but in his rookie year he spent much of the 1st half of the season playing over his head on the top line with Sekera playing his off side as his partner. Nurse struggled until they reduced his playing time and moved him further down the roster. I believe this is what Kybra is referring to.

  • HardBoiledOiI

    Let’s sign a bunch of cheap players that gave the oilers cheap results. I can’t wait until the Oilers start to lose with the same lineup and they fired both Chia and Bob.

  • crabman

    I Bridge Nurse 2x$3-3.5M unless he takes a discount to stay longterm at $4-4.5M×7-8. I don’t see that happening. I think Nurse probably sees himself of a player making north of $5M down the road so why sign a discount now?
    Benning was a good bottom pair but needs to be paid like a #6. Even if it is just a 1 year deal it needs to be low. $1.5M or less.
    Strome 2-3 years $2.5-2.75M.
    Chiarelli can’t afford to keep over paying, even slight overlays, if he wants any cap space to try and improve the club over the summer.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Nurse, (along with Larsson) is a cornerstone D-man of this franchise. I would sign him long term.
    Strome does not skate well enough for a team that lacks speed and quickness,
    Benning, is a fill in D-man (6-7) when injuries occur.

  • Make Another Bad Trade or Signing!!

    Long term contract for Nurse! Who else do they have on D that can match his skating, physical play, puck carrying and intimidation? No one, making him the key one to sign up.