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?