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WWYDW: Darnell Nurse’s contract – bridge or long term?

With Ryan Strome signing last week, it seems like one of the last bits of housekeeping the Oilers have to get done is a new deal for defenceman Darnell Nurse. In this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday, I’m asking you what you would do with Darnell Nurse’s next contract?

Since being drafted 7th overall, Darnell Nurse has spent the last three years steadily climbing the Oilers defensive depth chart and has since found himself playing some major minutes in the top four. So far in his young career, the former 7th overall pick in 2013 has played in 197 games for the Oilers and has put up 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points with this past season being his biggest step forward to date. During the 2017-18 season, Nurse averaged 22:15 per night with 19:24 coming at even strength and the rest on special teams, mostly the penalty kill. Needless to say, the Oilers will need Nurse to continue his progression into being a complete, well-rounded defenceman if they hope to get back to the promised land.

Looking ahead, ol’ Darryl will be expected to play a major role for the Oilers on their blue line, but before we can get there he needs to be re-signed first and that’s where you come in. After finishing up his entry-level contract, Nurse is looking for a new deal and I need you to put your GM hat on and make the call on what that should look like. Would the Oilers be wiser to try and go with a short-term bridge to make Nurse show them that he’s worth it while also delaying a bigger payout, or do they use a big chunk of what’s left of their $4.9 million in cap space to try and get him signed for the long haul? There could be benefits either way.

BRIDGE OR LONG TERM DEAL?

Regardless of what kind of the deal the Oilers and Nurse settle upon, there are going to be pros and cons that go along with it. What this negotiation really boils down to is whether the Oilers want to gamble on a long-term deal and assume that Darnell Nurse is going to keep developing the way we all hope he does, or sign him to a ‘show me’ type of bridge deal to make sure of it before committing long term. Will they try to save money now because their cap space is so thin or will they try to spread that saving out? Which answer is the right one?

Part of me thinks that a bridge deal would be best for Nurse because it will give the team some insurance against overspending on a somewhat unproven commodity. It would allow them a larger sample of seeing if Nurse is the real deal and able to handle the rigours of playing in the top four on a nightly basis. Another part of me believes that Darnell Nurse has the toolbox required to keep developing into the stud defenceman we so desperately need, and locking him up long term would be the best way to keep him cost controlled for the next eight years.

When thinking about Nurse’s next contract, I thought we should first look at some players with a similar draft pedigree from the defenceman-heavy 2012 draft and see what they signed for after their ELC was over. Here are some of the blueliners’ post-ELC deals:

  • Ryan Murray (second overall, 2012) – Two years, $2,825,000 cap hit
  • Morgan Rielly (fifth overall, 2012) – Five years, $5,000,000 cap hit
  • Hampus Lindholm (sixth overall, 2012) – Six years, $5,205,556 cap hit
  • Matt Dumba (seventh overall, 2012) – Two years, $2,550,000 cap hit
  • Jacob Trouba (ninth overall, 2012) – Two years, $3,000,000 cap hit
  • Cody Ceci (15th overall, 2012) – Two years, $2,800,000 cap hit
  • Olli Maatta (22nd overall, 2012) – Six years, $4,083,333 cap hit

So what should the Oilers do? I don’t have the answer. Fortunately, this feature depends solely on what you guys think and I’m asking what you guys would do in this situation and how you would handle Nurse’s upcoming contract. Would you go with a short-term bridge deal that gives the organization some insurance and leaves Nurse hungry, or would you look at something like an eight-year deal to try and keep his cap hit as low as possible over the better part of the next decade?

What do you guys think?

DARNELL NURSE’S CAREER SO FAR

Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/- GP G A Pts PIM
2014-15 Edmonton Oilers NHL 2 0 0 0 0 -2
2015-16 Bakersfield Condors AHL 9 0 2 2 7 2
2015-16 Edmonton Oilers NHL 69 3 7 10 60 -13
2016-17 Edmonton Oilers NHL 44 5 6 11 33 0 13 0 2 2 6
2017-18 Edmonton Oilers NHL 82 6 20 26 67 15
NHL Totals 197 14 33 47 160 13 0 2 2 6

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  • toprightcorner

    The way contracts are increasing significantly each year, the best play it to try and sign him long term. What is valued at $4.5 mill this year will be $5.5-$6 mill in 2 years when the bridge is done, and that is if Nurse just stays the same.

    Last year, Calvin De Haan got $3.3 for 1 year. He missed most of the season so didn’t really play enough to show improvement and signed for $4.55 over 4 years and he is older but a close comparison to Nurse. That was a 1 year with no proof of improvement.

    If you sign Nurse to a bridge for 2 years, he will command closer to $5-$5.5 with marginal improvement and $5.5-$6 with some improvement.

    If the Oilers could sign Nurse to a 5-8 year deal to around $4.7 mill, that will be a value contract long term. Even if Nurse has reached his peak, it will be an easy contract to trade at any time.

    To make cap room, you can trade Kassian, sign someone for $1 mill and still have some room.

    If that cannot get done, the best bet is to sign Nurse to only a 1 year bridge. Russel and Sekera can be traded next summer, so you trade 1 or both of them, then sign Nurse long term. It will cost a little more, but still less than if he has a 2 year bridge. This gives you cap flexibility this year and gives you best value for Nurses cap hit long term.

    • DavidMcDavid

      Good thoughts here. My thought incrementally is that the AAV on a short term deal will be less than that on a long term term.

      The reality is that if we can not clear cap space, we will be limited to an offer that is south of $4.5M a year.

      Knowing that, I think the best strategy is to present two offers.
      – A long term deal in the range of $4.0M to $4.5M AAV range for six to seven years. Olli Maatta comparable, similar value to Klefbom and Larsson as well so it doesn’t disrupt the team.
      – A short term deal in the range of $3.0M AAV for three years ideally, but he may only take two years (betting on himself).
      The former will be great value as Darnell at worst projects as a top 4, and at best will be a top 2 Dman. The latter gives us flexibility to get through the contract years of Sekera and Russell if we can’t move one of them out.

      Signing a long term deal only makes sense for the team if the value is good.

    • puckle-head

      Agreed. The Oilers also have maximum leverage before he hits UFA status. There downsides to a bridge deal are much higher than the downsides to a long term deal.

  • Bond

    Wehave developed and dumped far too many nhl players, Stoll, Greene, Brodziak, Petry to name a few. Darnell is young, tough, a great skater with a mean streak and nothing but upside. He is just reaching the point where young defenceman start to shine. SIGN HIM LONG TERM, he’s one of ours and if we lose him who replaces him?

  • Bills Bills

    Nurse was over his head in year one and should have been in the AHL. But anyone who is saying he has hit is ceiling is either dumb or a troll. He has shown inconsistencies like most young players that are playing above their weight class, yet he has still improved year over year. I would bridge for 2 years at 3-3.5 million. In that time Sekera and Russel are long gone and Bouchard will still be on his entry level contract. (This GM is sending him back to junior this year).

    It leaves some cap flexibility and if Darnell shows that he is still improving and warrants a bigger raise, the money is there and I am happy to pay it.

  • lee

    I would bridge him around 3 million, Nurse has not showed that he is a top 40-50 d man yet. The Oiler’s simply have to stop over paying everyone.
    Two years from now the Oiler’s defense will look a lot different than it does now, will Nurse be a top 1-3 d man in that time?
    Time will tell.

  • BendingCorners

    Nurse is probably a top-pair or even a #1 defender by the time he is 25. For cap reasons the Oilers will need to bridge him on a 2 or 3 year deal at 3.0 or 3.5 per year. Chiarelli normally overpays for players he likes but his own cap mismanagement likely forces him to behave responsibly this time; too bad for Nurse but good for the Oilers.

  • Big Nuggets

    Its weird that there as so many Nurse naysayers. All evidence points to a player who has not yet peaked, he already plays in the top 4 as a really young defenseman, not to mention he brings the toughness and willingness to scrap that Oilers fans typically love. Personally he is one of my favourite Oilers.

    The charges against him are pretty weak. ‘he has peaked’ – obviously not true, ‘he lacks hockey intelligence’ – Also not true and is a typical charge against black athletes that smells of racism, and ‘he’s not an offensive player so doesn’t deserve to be paid’ – His 5 on 5 scoring was good for a young player and he didn’t recieve any PP time. I don’t know what his offensive ceiling is but he isn’t getting any worse so locking him up long term before he has any sort of offensive breakthrough could be prudent.

    If I was GM I would have locked him up long term already, assuming he is willing to make a deal. Mucking about with this bridge deal to add another 4th line player just doesn’t sound worth it. Cap savings will be more important when McDavid and Drai are 24 and 25 yrs old and we can potentially put together a contending team.

    • Gordie Wayne

      6 x $4 or 4.25 million is perfect…think about it…

      If you bridge him, what is the deal? Let’s say 2 years at 3 million per?
      It is doubtful that he underperforms at that price, he is good enough to be earning those dollars already, isn’t he?

      Then after 2 years you would have to qualify him at what, 3.3 million at the least? So what happens if he has 2 excellent years in what would be considered his prime years coming up (likely), then you have to pay him something like 6 million a year???

      Too much upside to not sign him to a 6 x 4.25 million dollar contract right now. Even if he “underperforms”, he is a tradeable asset at that price.

  • Tonya Harding Compete Level

    Consistently improves year after year. Mean on the ice. Skates exceptionally well. We know he’s going to be here long term – might as well sign him long term while there is financial benefit: 8×4.8mil

    • the reasonable person

      I’m very puzzled by this too. Why not sign Nurse before those others? Long-term as we can’t possibly afford to lose him. Bridge him and you’ll pay more next time or lose him and have a hole to fill (a perpetual problem here in Edmonton).

      • Glencontrolurstik

        We really have to trust the scouting on this one…
        And based on what I’ve seen lately, “In Keith we trust”…
        At least let’s hope so? What worries me about Koskinen in a round about way is the fact that Ben Scrivens was the KHL’s #1 goalie last year, i think?

  • puckle-head

    If the space is there, sign him long term. That’s the type of gamble more teams should be making. When you bet on a promising young player, the risk is minimal (moving a 25 year old on a bad contract is a lot easier than moving a 30 year old) and you could win the gamble in a big way. When you bet on an older, more accomplished player in FA, it’s not really a question of winning or losing. You’re going to lose, you’re just gambling when.

  • GotYouPegged

    What they should do: sign him long term if they can get him at under $5mil (4.5 idealy). This is an opportunity to get value long-term. The risk/reward index on Nurse leans heavily to reward. In two years we could be looking at 6-7 mil range. What a savings that will be. Nurse has incredible tools (size, meanness, skating, reach, puck control etc) that are just coming together and will be desired by others. Lock him up.
    What they will do: bridge-him at 3+mil. and in two years give him 6+mil long-term. They’ll miss this golden opportunity because they are in budget trouble now. Dumping a salary like kassian is needed to make the long term deal work.

  • Goaltender Interference

    Cap issues will most likely force a bridge but if that issue wasn’t there Nurse should be inked long-term.

    Might be slightly higher than he deserves the first year but a long-term signing would be viewed as a value-contract in as short a time as a couple years from now. This is exactly how smart teams manage their cap situations and for that reason it’s something the OBC would never think to do.

    But yeah – given the criminal mismanagement of our cap dollars over the past couple of years we don’t have the capability of offering Nurse anything except a bridge.

  • OilersBro

    I’d give him the same deal we gave Klef, long term at 4.1MM but realistically, we’ll have to bridge him to ensure we can afford to pay for potential bonuses this season. I think Nurse will eventually be our #1 D-man because of his athleticism and the fact that he’s shown consistent year over year improvements in his decision making.
    I have a bad feeling that after 2 years, he’s going to look really good and want $6MM+ AAV.

    • the reasonable person

      I agree with your line of thinking. So it perplexes me that money was thrown at Koskinen and Caggiula, both of whom we could do without, while Nurse is a RFA at the best point in time to sign him long-term. Long term at 4.1 would be fine, long-term at 5 would be fine. If that can’t be done now, it will cause future problems guaranteed. For Koskinen and Caggiula short term.

  • JEG

    If we can lock him up for under 4 long term you pull the trigger, outside that make the bridge deal for cap reasons, knowing full well his long term deal will be significantly increased

  • tanoslick

    Make him the centerpiece in a trade for Karlsson.

    Otherwise bridge, he is not as good as Rielly, Lindholm, Trouba or Dumba. If Ceci signs long term at $4mm why would Nurse get that much more on his second contract, same caliber player.

    I wouldn’t puke if he got the Maatta deal but, he has to stay under Klefbom and Larsson.

  • Redbird62

    In terms of comps, while Nurse has been showing very good development, I don’t believe that Nurse at this stage is at the level Rielly and Lindholm were at when they signed their post-ELC contracts. Its hard to compare Nurse today against Klefbom from 2 years ago, because injuries limited Klefbom’s sample size, and others’ injuries in 2 of Nurse’s 3 seasons had him playing above his ideal status. I can see offering Nurse at most a comparable contract to Klefbom’s for a long term deal, which with cap inflation would be around $4.5 x 7. Unfortunately, that would leave only just under $500,000 of cap space for this season w/o moving out someone else. Given that, unless you can get him for 6 or 7 x a $4 million cap, I would more likely try and get him on a bridge, of 2 x $3.0-$3.2 which is similar to Trouba and Murray with cap inflation.

    From the player’s perspective, the risk of a bridge deal cuts both ways. If Klefbom had taken a bridge deal and his next contract was negotiated at the end of 2017, he could have gotten a bigger long term raise. However, if his bridge deal ended in 2018, maybe his next deal is not nearly as good.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      I would sign Nurse to 8 yrs x 5.75M. Locked up long term.
      He is a cornerstone D-man. In a couple of yrs as the cap goes up, it will be very good value for a young defenceman.

  • CMG30

    I like Nurse and I believe that he’s going to continue to improve and eventually reach ‘very good defenseman’ level.

    However, until he took a bit of a step forward last season there was some room for concern. I suspect that Nurse will continue his pace of slow but steady improvement hitting his peak by his late 20s. Considering that he’s 23 now, I suspect that any long term contract we sign him to will be a substantial over payment for at least 3-4 years. If the Oilers go that route, then I would expect a max length contract. Myself, I think a 2 year bridge deal is a smarter option right now since I believe that he will still be improving when the time for the next deal comes along. At that point you go for the max length deal.