So, the Edmonton Oilers opened their 2018 training camp today with physicals and defenceman Darnell Nurse wasn’t among the players pumping the bike and being poked and prodded with the ink still damp on the two-year bridge deal everybody expected to be done by now. How does this happen?
Even as August turned to September without Nurse and agent Anton Thun having worked a deal with Oilers’ GM Pete Chiarelli, I was sure getting a bridge contract done was a certainty and so were many of you. With Chiarelli having painted himself into a cap corner by over-spending on other contracts, two years with an AAV of something in the $3 million to $3.25 million range made sense. Nurse, who doesn’t have arbitration rights, seemed fine with two years. A new deal, it seemed, was a formality.
“It’s a funny process,” Nurse told Post Media Aug. 28. “It’s very educational. I’m learning a lot through this whole contract process. It takes time. I have a lot of faith I’ll be there in camp…I know for me personally, I want to be there with the guys when camp starts. Those guys are like brothers to me, like family to me so it’s important.”
It’s a process to be sure. Funny? I’m not sure fans would describe it that way today with Nurse, who had been in town skating with his teammates, a no-show on Day 1. Nurse said he wouldn’t come to camp without a contract and he hasn’t. Unless Nurse and Thun have thrown the Oilers an unforeseen curveball in negotiations and are being outright unreasonable, Chiarelli has to wear this and it’ll look worse on him with every passing day because there is no good reason for it to have dragged on this long.
Maybe the ink gets done today or tomorrow or the next day and all the angst disappears. Maybe not. If there’s any truth to speculation the parties are only $200,000-$300,000 apart a season on a two-year bridge, why hasn’t this already been agreed to and signed? What, Chiarelli is going to play hardball with Nurse after playing fast and loose with money on other deals, like the $2.5 million he handed a back-up goaltender? Really?
I’d like to think it’s not possible Chiarelli has bungled things so badly that this becomes a drawn out holdout by Nurse, who has now flown out of Edmonton with no talks scheduled for today, but we can’t be sure. The Oilers, after all, lost a player for less of a difference than we’re talking about in discussions between Thun and Chiarelli – Ryan Smyth. Get the ink done, already. Get Nurse into camp before things get raw and something stupid happens.
THAT LEFT SIDE
With Nurse and Andrej Sekera not in the picture on the blue line right now, I’m looking forward to seeing how Caleb Jones fares in main camp and how much of a push he can put on to stick around on the back end. Beyond Oscar Klefbom on the left side, things, for the time being at least, are pretty wide open. Might Jones turn that into something?
Unless Kris Russell moves over to the left side, I see Jones in the mix behind Klefbom with Jakub Jerabek, Kevin Gravel, and Jason Garrison, who is here on a PTO. I’m not saying Jones makes the roster to start the season, but at the very least he’s likely going to get a longer look based on how he performed in rookie camp and who isn’t here right now. He’s worth keeping an eye on.
JUJHAR OR SCOTTIE?
On left wing, it looks to me like the battle for a job on the fourth line comes down to Jujhar Khaira and Scottie Upshall, who is here on a PTO. If the first three spots belong to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic and Drake Caggiula, that leaves Khaira and Upshall, a proven vet who has history with Kyle Brodziak, looking for one roster spot. Is Pontus Aberg a fit for a fourth-line role? I don’t think so, but I’ve been wrong before. My guess is Khaira has the inside track because he’s bigger and younger and is trending up, but Upshall will push him.