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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Selling high on Darnell Nurse

I wrote last weekend about the Oilers’ logjam on the blueline and how the organization is in an interesting situation with six NHL-quality defenders and a wealth of prospects pushing their way up onto the roster. Something I suggested was the possibility of selling from this position of strength in order to fill an area of weakness. The player that makes the most sense in this scenario is Darnell Nurse.

Nurse is coming off of a breakout season in which he recorded 41 points in 82 games while logging just a shade under 24 minutes per game. His underlying numbers weren’t spectacular, but Nurse took on the largest role of his career as Edmonton’s No. 1 defender while Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera were both injured.

There are a few reasons dealing Nurse makes sense for the Oilers. First and foremost, is his contract. Nurse has one more year left at $3,200,000 on the two-year bridge deal he inked right before the start of last season. If he puts up another 40-point season, he’ll be in line for an extension well north of $6 million.

Beyond that, the Oilers have a glaring need for another play-driving forward and the reality is you have to give in order to get. Nurse’s breakout season would give the Oilers an opportunity to sell high and acquire a quality, young, controllable forward, which is something they badly need. With prospects like Caleb Jones, William Lagesson, and Dimitri Samourokov seemingly not far from regular NHL duty, there’s no better time than now to sell high.

With that in mind, who could the Oilers target as a return for Nurse?

Remember, I’m not suggesting to deal Nurse just for the sake of doing it. Nurse is an excellent player and the only reason I suggest it is because he’s good enough to warrant netting the Oilers another good player in return. What I’m looking for in a swap is a forward of a similar age who’s cost-controlled and produces at a high level.

William Nylander: This is the first one that comes to mind. Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas knows Nurse well from his days with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Nylander had an underwhelming season after his contract holdout, racking up just 27 points in 54 games as he struggled to get up to speed. That said, he recorded 61 points in back-to-back seasons as a rookie and a sophomore and has some of the best underlying numbers of any Leafs forward. This would be the prime example of selling high on Nurse’s breakout year and buying low on Nylander’s tough year. It’s a trade I don’t think the Leafs would have considered this time last year.

Timo Meier: Like Nurse, Meier is another former top-10 pick who enjoyed a breakout season this year. The 2015 ninth overall pick scored 30 goals and 66 points this year in an increased role with the Sharks and has played a big part in the team’s playoff run. San Jose has a lot of players hitting free agency this summer so there’s a good chance next year’s group could look quite different from the team they’re icing right now. Specifically, if the team doesn’t re-sign Erik Karlsson, the Sharks will have a pretty big hole on the blueline that could make Nurse an attractive target.

Jonathan Huberdeau: Doing a one-for-one trade involving Nurse and Huberdeau probably isn’t realistic, but there’s some logic behind a deal involving both players. It’s well known the Panthers are in on free agents Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin and they need to move out some contracts in order to get both players signed. If they add Panarin, Huberdeau, who scored a career-high 92 points last year, can be moved to fill the team’s glaring need on the blueline. Huberdeau is signed at an absurdly team-friendly $5,900,000 cap hit for four more seasons.

Kyle Connor: The Jets failed to go on a deep playoff run this spring and are now in a position to potentially make substantial changes to their roster. Winnipeg has Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, and Kyle Connor in need of new deals and only eight players signed beyond the 2019-20 season. Rumours about the team moving Trouba have been going on for years. Could the Jets move out Trouba and bring in Nurse as a replacement? If they were interested in doing so, the Oilers would certainly be interested in Connor, who recorded 66 points last season.

Alex DeBrincat: Like the Huberdeau suggestion, this is a stretch as a one-for-one. Chicago is in no rush to deal DeBrincat, who has predictably been the steal of the 2016 draft. DeBrincat broke out for 41 goals last season and now has 128 points in 164 career NHL games. Duncan Keith isn’t getting any younger, Brent Seabrook is already an albatross, and the Blackhawks badly need somebody who can grow into a top-pairing role on the blueline along with top prospect Adam Boqvist. Is there something here? Or am I just dreaming of reuniting DeBrincat and Connor McDavid?

Adding any one of those five aforementioned forwards would be a massive boost to Edmonton’s offence. Pairing one of those guys with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and continuing to roll McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would give the Oilers the one-two punch up front they’ve so badly lacked the past two seasons.

The key, of course, is whether the Oilers’ blueline can survive the departure of Nurse. Klefbom and Sekera have had a difficult time staying healthy and it’s a big risk to assume that Jones, Lagesson, Bouchard, or Samourokov are ready to step in and take on a big role at the NHL level. Still, logic suggests this is the kind of thing for the Oilers to explore.

What say you, Nation? Should the Oilers explore the idea of selling high on Nurse to acquire another elite forward? Which players should they target? 

  • RJ

    So does Klefbom really own a share of this site?

    It’s the only logical explanation for why the writers on this site hate him. If I was trading one LHD, it would be Russell. But if I was trying to add the way this article suggests, it would be Klefbom (who can’t stay healthy, who can’t break 40 points).

    And as for that stupid comment about doing to with McDavid, where do people think Klefbom’s best season coincides with? McDavid.

    • Arfguy

      I never understood the love for Klefbom over Nurse. I like Klefbom enough. I think he is a solid defenceman. However, if I had to choose between Klefbom or Nurse, I would easily choose Nurse. He’s a better skater and shooter. Klefbom’s best season was when the coaching team basically handed him the power play. Nurse’s best season thus far exceeds that of Klefbom and that was still after Klefbom came back from injury and Hitchcock put Oscar back on the PP for some reason.

      • Ben918

        Klefbom is great. He is a more consistent two way player and has a HUGE shot. However Nurse is more valuable. He is young and improving every year. He plays a big game and can add an offensive edge. Maybe Kelfbom is better now but that depends on which Klefbom shows up each night. He is often playing injured… when he is not out with an injury. One of these times an injury is going to severely reduce his ability to play or completely end his career. He is the obvious player to trade but he has no value because of all this. Russel and Sekeras would also be great to trade but their contracts make it almost impossible.

        Oilers should be trying to trade any and all of their top 4 paid defensmen. They are not getting the job done with a 20 mil cap hit. If the Oilers could trade them they could use the salary to sign a guy like Karlsson to play with Nurse. Then run Bouchard, Jones, Benning and Samkurov/Bear. Maybe not the perfect blue line but it would be better than what they got now. Sekeras and Klef are gone at least half the season every year, Larsson is good but not good enough and Russell is a joke.

        Oilers should be looking to trade up to draft Byram. Him and Bouchard would make an incredible top 2 in a few years. Byram already at 200lbs at only 17, is huge for his size. Having played in the CHL since 15, he is going to be ready for the NHL faster than most young draft picks. Might only need one year in the minors although I think his talent would argue that he could play this year.

  • SnowMan8

    Larsson is the one a bet gets moved. All the talk about nurse poor decision making but leaving out the fact that Larsson was pretty horrid in that regard last season. That said I believe he has some good value and if Philly is looking for toughness as some suggest then I would say a trade based on Larsson and for gostisbehere would be great.

    • TKB2677

      I totally agree with you. You don’t get better as a team by trading away the few good players you have. If you look at the bulk of the players that made up their bottom 6.
      Kharia-3, Brodziak-6, Cave-2, Rieder-0, Gagner (25 games)-5, Rattie-4, Puljujarvi – 4. Gagner was the only guy on pace to score over 10 goals. That’s pathetic. How about going out and getting 2-3 guys who can score you 10 goals a piece. Go take Benning who’s a decent 3rd pairing guy, he’s a right shot so he would have value and trade him for a bottom 6 forward. For as wonderful as some stats guys make Benning to be, even they admit he’s a 3rd pairing guy that had 17 pts. Are people telling me you can’t replace a 3rd pairing dman who scores 17 pts? Come on. Jones a rookie, playing way to many mins had 6 pts in 17 games. That’s a 29 pt season in 82 games and he skates way better and moves the puck way better.

  • TKB2677

    Every time I see someone mention trading away Nurse it blows me away.

    The NHL has moved to having lots of guys who can skate, rush the puck, move the puck and provide offense on defense. The defensive dman who gives you 10-20 pts, isn’t a good skater, at times struggles to make a 10 ft pass and has to fire the puck off the glass to get it out are becoming obsolete. The Oilers LACK ALL of what the NHL has gone towards. Nurse is one of the few guys that can do all of that and people want to trade him.

    I fully understand that the Oilers need some wing help but they need more depth guys. Guys who can score 10 goals. Rieder was supposed to be that guy, he had ZERO while making 2 mill. The Oilers this season scored 232 goals while allowing 274. In 2016-2017 when they had 103 pts, the Oilers scored 247 goals and allowed 212. If you look at the 2016 stats, the Oilers got:
    – Klef 12, Sekera 8, Pouliot 8.

    For this season, give Rieder Pouliot’s 8 goals which is still a crap year. Klefbom missed 21 games with broken fingers. He had 5 goals, give him conservatively a couple more if he doesn’t break his hand. Sekera had ZERO goals. Give Sekera in a full season or a somewhat offensive replacement if he is traded 3 or 4 goals conservatively. If you add them up, they would have scored the same amount of goals as 2016-2017 without changing anyone.

  • The Dave

    No, Cam, and you should feel both bad and stupid for suggesting this. You are the Edmonton Oilers of bloggers. It isn’t as simple as “sell high”. You don’t trade players who are consistently getting better unless you get compensation that matches their projected ceiling. What you are proposing is a scaled down version of the PK Subban trade Montreal made. You’re trying to trade an asset that is still appreciating.

    Darnell Nurse is good but he isn’t as good as he is going to be. And for crying out loud the number of times I hear that he “makes bad reads” or ambiguous crap like that astounds me. That is a media talking point that was attached to him early in his career and doesn’t make any sense any more. Every defenceman makes bad reads – that’s how they end up being on the ice for goals against. His reads are fine. Another nice ambiguous “sounds true but has little evidence” bit of verbal trash you dropped is “his underlying numbers aren’t great”. Yeah, his CF% rel is -2.2. That’s not great. Did you know Nuge has a CF% Rel if -3.3? And Brodziak’s was only -2.9, so I guess Brodziak has better underlying numbers than Nuge. I mean when I put Nuge’s name in there everyone who writes for the nation thinks “That’s ridiculous, Nuge generates more points, plays more minutes, and plays tougher competition”. All of those things are true of Darnell Nurse too.

    I’d also like to bring up one big intangible about Darnell that matters: The dude is a late bloomer. In every stage of his career he has been a bit slower to develop. Part of that is the nature of the position he plays, and part of that I think is just part of who he is as a player. He plays a much more difficult type of game than a traditional D-man like Kris Russel (who is currently being given much more money to play much worse hockey). It’s going to take Nurse longer to develop, he doesn’t just chip the puck in, he is constantly pinching and wheeling and circling in the offensive zone and that’s not a simple way to play D at the NHL level.

    So… let’s not trade away a guy who is consistently improving despite the organization really doing everything they could to screw up his first two years of development, okay? Especially for Nylander. I cannot stress enough how terrible an idea that is. And for crying out loud Cam, Toronto already has too many left shot D. Just… think before you type stuff. Like… properly. With logic and well thought out ideas.

      • Jaxon

        Nurse won’t be -5 on an improved Oilers. You keep bruning up his minus stat. Oh no! -4?!? Burns -16 in ’17-18. Reilly -4 in ’17-18, -20 in ’16-17. Giordano -5 in ’15-16. Josi -3 in ’15-16. Carlson 0 in ’17-18. Karlsson -25 in ’17-18. Klingberg +2 in ’16-17. Barrie -3 in ’18-19, -34 in ’16-17. Hamilton -14 in ’15-16, 0 in ’18-19. Gardiner -15 in ’15-16. Spurgeon -6 in ’17-18, -1 this year. Keith -29 in ’17-18. Muzzin -21 in ’16-17. Pietrangelo -2 in ’15-16, +2 this season. Hedman +3 in ’16-17. Yandle -17 in ’18-19. Seth Jones -9 in ’15-16, +1 ’18-19. Hanifin -20 in ’17-18. Orlov +3 in ’18-19. Manson -8 in ’18-19.

        Plus/Minus is more a reflection of the competition faced, the goaltending, the entire team’s season. Top D often have bad +/-, especially on poor teams with poor goaltending. They’re facing the elite all night every night (McDavid, Kucherov, Marchand, Matthews, Gaudreau, Malkin, Kane, Crosby, Panarin, Marner, etc).

        Yup. Trade all them minus players, or below +3 players. Good idea, good stat.