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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Musings: Blues, Nurse and More

Finally, the Stanley Cup Final begins tonight. The Boston Bruins are in their third final in nine years (won in 2011, lost in 2013), while the St. Louis Blues and their fans have waited 49 years to get back. The Blues made the final in their inaugural season in 1968, and again in 1969 and 1970. It is important to note the NHL, for some odd reason, decided to put the Original Six teams in one division in 1968 and the six expansion teams in the other division.

The NHL clearly wanted the expansion teams to have more than a modicum of success. They made it look like they were competitive in the playoffs.

It worked. In 1967/1968 the Blues, who finished third in their “expansion” division, defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games, and then needed seven games to beat Minnesota in the second round. Then they were swept 4-0 by Montreal in the final. All four games were decided by a goal, with two of them coming in overtime.

In 1969 the Blues finished first in the West. They were the class of their division and swept Philly in the first round, Los Angeles in the second, but once again got swept by Montreal in the final. The series wasn’t as close as the previous year. The Blues were outscored 12-3 in the four games.

In 1970 the Blues won the West again, and for the second consecutive year had the fourth most wins in the NHL with 37. They defeated Minnesota in the first round and Pittsburgh in the second round, both in six games, but once again were swept in the final, this time by the Boston Bruins. The Bruins were loaded, led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Somehow the Blues had home ice advantage, but the Bruins spanked them 6-1 and 6-2 in St. Louis, then won game three at home 4-1, and Orr scored the series winner in OT on May 10th, 1970.

That was the last game the Blues played in the Stanley Cup Final until tonight. Forty nine years between appearances. That’s a long road, but I’m happy for Blues fans and the organization they are back in the Dance tonight. I’m very confident they will not get swept again. I see this series going six, maybe seven games. I’m picking the Blues in six, and admittedly 100% of that prediction is based on their 49-year drought.

DARNELL NURSE…

I wouldn’t trade him, and right now the Edmonton Oilers have no interest in doing so. The notion of trading Nurse to acquire a scoring forward seems to be the reasoning, but I wouldn’t do it for a variety or reasons.

Nurse is still improving. He had ten points as a rookie, then he had 11 in 44 games (prorates to 21), followed that up with 26 points and last year jumped up to 41. He was tied for 17th in EV scoring among NHL defencemen with 31 points. Every year he has improved and he’s only played 279 NHL games. He will be better next season.

Yes, he will get a raise after next season. I don’t have a problem paying your top players, and he will be 25 when his next contract begins. If he signs a seven year deal he will be 31 in the final year of the deal. You get him for his prime years. I’d much rather pay a player top dollar for those seasons.

The other factor is Nurse plays a lot, and he plays against top players. Replacing him won’t be easy, even with some quality prospects in the system. None of Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, William Lagesson, Evan Bouchard, Dmitri Samorukov or Joel Persson are ready to take on big minutes against top lines next season.

Here is a look at Oilers blueliners at 5×5 last season.

Player          TOI         GF-GA         PTS          MIN with McDavid
Nurse         1,556       63-73          8-19-27           563
Larsson       1,548      45-77          3-14-17           613
Russell        1,278      50-49          3-11-14           417
Klefbom      1,132      30-45         1-11-12            441
Benning       902       43-34          3-10-13           243
Gravel          466       16-17          0-3-3               121
Sekera         340        15-15         0-2-2                87

Nurse played 1,054 minutes with Russell, and his next most common partner was Larsson at 269. Larsson and Klefbom played 995 minutes together.

Those two pairs played together the majority of the time. Do you want Sekera and Russell as the second pair next season? I wouldn’t.

The other aspect of Nurse is his leadership and personality. He is one of the leaders in the room and I won’t be surprised if he wears an “A” in the future. I know some believe winning cures everything, and no doubt it calms things down, but teams who win consistently, year after year, have strong leaders. Nurse is becoming one of those players for the Oilers.

Even if Ken Holland landed a quality forward for Nurse, his absence would create a massive hole.

The Oilers have to improve their goals against if they hope to become more competitive. Yes, they need some more depth scoring, but it is easier to find players who can chip in 15 goals than it is to find a D-man who can play 24 minutes/game and chip in 41 points.

Trading Nurse is a bad idea in my eyes.

QUICK HITS

1. I’m not sure if anyone reported it or not, but Joakim Nygard‘s one-year ELC does not include any performances bonuses. It is a one-year, two-way deal worth $925,000 in the NHL and $70,000 in the minors. If we see Nygard replacing Tobias Rieder on the roster, that frees up just over $1 million in cap space. The Oilers don’t have a lot of cap space, so saving a million dollars and getting a new player who will produce more is good GMing in my books. Nygard isn’t a flashy signing, and out-producing Reider’s zero goals, isn’t a high standard, but I won’t be surprised if Nygard is much more noticeable on a night-by-night basis than Rieder.

2. Nygard is very fast and a good penalty killer. The Oilers PK has been awful for three seasons, and it needs a lot of help. If Nygard can score 10-11-21 and be good on the PK he’ll be a very good signing. Any more production will be a bonus.

3. Last year the Washington Capitals acquired Michal Kempny at the trade deadline. It wasn’t considered a big move, but Kempny ended up playing in their top-four and was a contributor. Many trade deadline deals don’t work, but this year Charlie Coyle (6-6-12) and Marcus Johansson (3-6-9) have been great acquisitions. Coyle is second on the Bruins in EV scoring with 11 points and Johansson is tied for fourth with eight.

4. This quote from NBA champion Joe Dumars is something that needs to evolve within the Oilers in the coming years. “On good teams, coaches hold players accountable, on great teams players hold players accountable.” It can start on the PK. The players have to be better. You can’t just blame the system, when they’ve had two different head coaches and two different defence coaches. The players are also responsible for a dismal 77.3% PK combined over the past three seasons. It was 80.7% in 2017, then 76.7% in 2018 and 74.8% last year. They need to reverse this downward trend.

5. The Oilers will officially announce Dave Tippett as head coach tomorrow. The NHL does not like teams (who aren’t playing) making announcements on game days during the final, so that’s why the announcement will be tomorrow and not today.

6. Head coach Rocky Thompson has his Chicago Wolves one game from the AHL Final. Thompson is an excellent communicator and he is extremely bright. He will be an NHL coach in the near future. I would have been curious to see what he would have done with the Oilers had they hired him. I’m not saying he’d be better than Tippett, I just think Thompson will be a good NHL coach when given the chance.

Non Hockey thoughts…

The Raptors/Warriors final should be very entertaining. The Warriors are in their fifth consecutive NBA Finals. They are only the second team in NBA history to make five straight appearances, joining the Boston Celtics, who made it an amazing ten straight times between 1957-1966. They won nine titles, including eight in a row from 1959-1966. The Warriors are really good, even without Kevin Durant. The Raptors were dominant in the final four games over Milwaukee. Kawhi Leonard was all-world, but they got great efforts from many players.

How about Fred VanVleet in games 4-6? He shot 14 of 17 (82.4%) from three-point range. That is the highest such percentage over a three-game span in NBA postseason history by a player with at least 15 attempts according to Justin Kubotka from @statmuse.

Toronto is a Raptors city right now, no question about it. I think many basketball fans, and even many non-fans, are caught up in this run. It would be an awesome experience to be at the game, or even outside at Jurassic Park or in a sports bar in Toronto when the series begins on Thursday.

I’ll take Warriors in six. They are a dynasty.

Who do you have winning the NHL and NBA titles?

ULTIMATE SPORTS FAN

My 9th annual Ultimate Sports Fan package in support of charity is here again. On June 22nd and 23rd, I am riding in the 190KM MS Bike from Leduc to Camrose, and I’ve come up with a pretty good package for the diehard sports fan.

Here’s how it works: You make a $125 donation and you get one entry. If you make a $250 donation you get two entries, and so on.

We only take 100 entries and we will raise $12,500 for MS. The draw will be the week of June 14th.

This year’s winner will win the following prizes and more.: The final package is valued at over $6,000.00

  1. The “Oilers experience” at the Oilers home opener in October, which includes tickets, parking, dinner and a behind the scenes tour.
  2. A pair of Edmonton Eskimos season tickets in the lower bowl.
  3. Twenty tickets, and a hot dog and beverage (non-alcoholic), to an Oil Kings home game. Also, you will get an Oil King player of your choice to come to your backyard rink or minor hockey practice for an hour. (Between November 1st and December 15th.)
  4. Four seats in the Edmonton Stingers VIP Hospitality Zone, which includes buffet meal, for one of the Stingers home games of your choice. Also a signed Edmonton Stingers jersey. And your group will receive a pre-game Fan Experience.
  5. A signed Barclay Donaldson jersey. He was the captain for the Broom County Blades in the greatest hockey movie, Slap Shot. Sweet jersey.
  6. $500 GC at Atlas Steak and Fish (either location).
  7. We will add a few more items as well.

We are 50% sold in only two days. Awesome. Get in while you can. You can make your donation here. (click Donate Now to the right of my picture).

Thank you for supporting MS and good luck.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

    • OilerForLife

      Unless the Oilers would win the trade in a big way, I say no Nurse trade. They can either buyout or trade either Sekera or Russell to free up enough money by the end of the season to sign him for 20-21. That would also move out a player that would count as protected for(NTC/NMC) the seattle expansion draft. We could protect one more good player that way. The ideal thing would be to trade Russell for a third line winger, they may have to add a lower pick to do that one.

  • Viperx

    Biggest need is to clear up cap space . 2 of sekera, Russel, and lucic need to be moved. Sweeten the deals with 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round pics to make it happen. Draft cloverfield at #8.

  • Synthesis

    Bruins
    Raptors
    No particular reason beyond lifelong loyalty. I kind of like elements of all 4 teams in the finals.
    If I had a weird wish I would like to see Steve Ott rather than Steve Kerr on the Warriors bench when Drake does his gutless agitator schtick.
    Otter had that gig down so it would be cool to see/hear the dialog/histrionics/chirping.

  • Rob...

    Trading Nurse would be a mistake, but I’d add one more reason to the list you gave as to why. Nurse competes hard. Trading away players that ‘give a damn’ isn’t a good idea unless they’re a liability skill-wise.

  • If Oilers management will stop trading good ,not fully developed, players that will be a good start. People should stop talking about trading Nurse and Nuge. Patching one whole while creating another, will not make anyone any good.

  • QuitForRealThisTime

    I don’t think the Oil should trade any of the current defence until the have a replacement that proves they are better. I get wanting to clear out cap with Russel/Sekera but to do it for a forward leaves a hole. 2019-2020 will be a real challenge but if Ken can use what he has in terms of cap to fill holes with even capable NHL forwards they should better then last year. Koskonen need to play to his contract of course. But I think the Oil should rally focus on a the 2020-2021 season. The kids on the farm should really be pushing for an NHL spot by then and it will be easier to move Russsel and Sekera. Trading Nurse is filling a gap while making a hole.

    • Big Nuggets

      I know we are thin on NHL defensemen, but this is the last year of waiver eligibility for 3 of our Condors defensemen. Most reports are that Jones and Lagesson are pretty well ready for NHL games. Normally I would also say keep the defensemen but with the cap crunch I think they have to move someone, probably Russell.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Jason, while i would agree that Lagesson isn’t ready for any top 4 role (and may never be), I would posit that he should be included in that group of d-men you list and, frankly, I have him right up with Jones as far as NHL readiness (and ahead of Bear who still struggles with speed on puck recoveries and size on board battles). Of course he’s ahead of Bouchard and Persson.

    While I would think that Jones starts the year in the NHL this year and Lagesson in the AHL, Lagesson will get his call-up and he may never see the AHL again.

    The “new age Jason Smith” or “new age Adam Larsson”, a physical and aggressive defence first d-man, who can also sake, most the puck and has decent offensive IQ, will become a fan favorite.

    Developed perfect by the organization – two year post draft in college, one year in the SHL (which was huge for him) and a full year in the AHL.

    • Jason Gregor

      I had Lagesson listed between Bear and Bouchard, but that is just a list not an order of who I think is more NHL ready. You are correct, he had a solid year and has been developing nicely. I haven’t wrote about him much, and maybe I should write more about him, because I can’t see how the Oilers have him, Larsson and Russell on the roster. Too many similar style D-men. If other moves are made, he might get a look. I have Jones ahead of him because he can play both sides, and that versatility will open up more changes.

      • OriginalPouzar

        Oooops, I missed you having Lagesson on the list, sorry.

        I agree that he’s got a similar style to Larsson defensively but he’s a much better skater and puck mover with better offensive instincts (of course, it remains to be seen if that translates to the NHL). I’m not sure I agree with a similar style to Russell – Russell is not an aggressive defender not physical and, while he can be effective within the D-zone, his “style” is quite nontraditional.

        Anyways, it seems we both have Jones in the NHL over Lagesson to start the year – I’m sure the organization is valuing his skating and puck transition game highly.

  • OriginalPouzar

    On Nurse, a key point Jason mentioned was the TOI and TOI against elites. Not only his 24 minutes per game but the ability to play upwards of 30 when required – no he’s not mistake free but he’s tireless out there and munching minutes against the top 6 is important.

    With respect to his offence, it should be noted that, as per Jaxon, in the last 2.5 seasons, a sample of 177 games, he’s in the top 10 among ALL NHL d-men in 5 on 5 scoring and, futher, many of the top scoring d-men in the league didn’t hit 41 points till they were older than Nurse.

    Sure, he may not “look great” offensively, but he’s been producing at 5 on 5 at a 1st pairing level for years now – at some point it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t “look good” or makes some iffy decisions past the blue line – production is production.

    Maybe at some point, depending on how Jones, Samourkov, Lagesson develop, the Oilers need to move on from Nurse (or Klef) but that time is not now, not with:

    (a) his major value contract for this year; and
    (b) none of the prospects ready for the top 4.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Exited for Tippet. A few things he’s shown over the year:

    – to be able to adapt his structure and system to fit the roster he’s been given – his coachign style was much different in ARI vs. DAL

    – to be able to coach higher end offensive teams – he coach a couple top 10 scoring teams in Dallas – he will require defensive structure but he does not stifle offence

    – the ability to get players and teams to “over-perform” – as we saw with ARI in general but also the likes of players like Riberio and some others than had career years under him

    – from accounts, his players love him and, after Hitch (tough love) and McLellan (I don’t know what this players generally think of him but I believe its neither love nor hate), this could be very good for the dressing room.

  • TKB2677

    I never understood why some fans were advocating to trade Nurse. I saw the argument that they are selling high on him.

    The Oilers already lack quality top 4 dmen who can skate, move the puck and provide offense. Nurse can skate like the wind, great at rushing the puck, can play big mins, is young so he hasn’t even peaked yet, has an offensive dimension. His only knock is he’s OK at passing the puck but he’s not elite at moving the puck. But he’s working on it and it gets better and better. So why on earth would it make sense to get rid of him?

    • Torgerson

      It baffles me too. Maybe it’s a function of the Oilers being so bad that people forget that good hockey teams have more than one good player at any given position; i.e. depth. The top four defence has to be stacked for the Oilers to be competitive. If they traded Nurse, they would just have to start looking for another Nurse.

  • VvV

    I attended the Raptors game on Saturday night, this was my first sporting event in that arena, I like the arena, it has an intimate feel. As an Oilers fan I did enjoy the lack of banners post 1967 in the arena for the Leafs haha. I did notice the Leafs have fairly large banners with pictures of past greats on them hanging center above the scoreboard, an idea for the Oilers to recognize the past again…

    About the game I’ve been a Raptors fan since day 1 and I just happened to be traveling through Toronto over the weekend so worked out great.

    I sat at the top of the lower bowl and the atomospher in the arena was nothing like I’ve ever experienced, even the 2006 Oilers playoff run can’t compare. Literally every basket, turnover, defensive play, was cheered for like an Oilers goal. I don’t think anyone sat down the whole second half, it was surreal and hard to put it into words. I realize this was special circumstances and a different sport but I hope someday that Rogers Place can have even 20% of that kind of atmosphere at an Oilers game.

  • The Whispererer

    Jason
    I like what you’ve written ( and verbalized on the radio ) about Rocky Thompson. Could you see the Oilers bringing him in as an assistant to Tippett ? As a replacement for Gulutzan ?

  • billsbills

    Thank you for the rational thoughts Jason.

    I made my position clear on Nurse.

    If I was to trade a defenceman off the roster, it would be Russell first, he just makes too much money. Benning would be second but I would like to see three right shots.

    Sekera if he stays healthy is pricey on the third pairing but if he’s on the left side, he would be a great mentor for Jones or Bear to come and play with. I honestly believe young Defencemen need to have a strong and experienced mentor to play with. It helps cover their mistakes and gives them a d to d outlet they can rely on when under pressure.

    Anyway, hope we can stop with the Nurse talk now.

    • Big Nuggets

      I agree with that. Sekera, although he has a 5.5mil cap hit, he is probably difficult to move and would be a great partner for Jones to get confidence in the NHL. If Sekera stays healthy this year he is a good enough defneseman that teams will want him next offseason.

  • Serious Gord

    John Shannon cited an interesting stat Friday: in the past 19 cup finals the team with the longest layover has won only twice.

    Blues in six in part because of that and that rask is due for a slump. Rooting for the blues because they will be yet another team to win its first cup.

  • CMG30

    Find good players, keep good players. Nurse is a good player. The only way someone like that should get moved is part of a package if someone much better is coming back.

  • Oilersrule

    No trading Of Nurse, he’s too valuable and only making better decisions with the pick as he gets more experience. I do think the Oilers seem to have good prospects on defense ready to take the step soon so the trading of Russell to free up cap space for an offensive sniper winger should be an option but only if the trade gets us back something of equal value. I do agree with those preaching patience as I think it has been lacking and when you can not attract the big ufas without overpaying, drafting and development must be the order of the day to build a contender .

  • OilCan2

    The defence rests. One of the young Condors moves up and injuries (hope not) will give another the phone call. Goals against, especially PK NEEDS to improve. Keep Nurse. He will be motivated to increase his next signing.

  • Ass Eatn Szn 69

    No one wants to get rid of nurse, but in a cap era some players will be casualties, and more will be when you carry contracts like Lucic and Russel. No one has an issue with pay the good players, but you cant always do that when you allready paid the bad ones. The reason people suggested trading nurse is not to hinder the team, while it may do so next year (which we all figure they arent good enough to contend) but to set the organization up for the future better. The reasons are

    1. sell high, his perceived and actual value are higher than ever
    2. his offence was much higher this year, partially due to more ice time with klefbom out and more ice time with 97 and 29
    3. his game is still too chaotic in his own end
    4. the same old defence will be out again
    5. the wealth of prospects in the system makes it easier to replace, and all due respect to everyone who says the next prospects arent ready are assuming this, until we see what they can actually do in the NHL none of us know this for sure.
    6. he still takes a lot of dumb penalties,

    In an ideal world nurse signs a good 8 year deal next year, and at the same time Sekera is moved for a pick, russel is out, Jones and lagesson smoothly transition, and Benson, Marody, JP and Yamamoto all contribute as NHL players effectively.

    But more likely than not that doesnt always happen, and everyone has to look at all options that dont include trading 97. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOOD DONT LOST THE TRADE SO BAD IF YOU DO MAKE A BOLD TRADE

    • IRONman

      YOU trade nurse only to improve the team. Not doing a Hall trade. Nurse is not worth 8 million per season. Lock him up at 6 million over 8 years after July 1 if you so want to keep him. But the oilers are going to wait, think about why???

      • cityofchampions

        You’ll never get 6 years at 8 million if Nurse improves this year. I’d be happy to do $7 over 7 but even that might not be enough. You need to sign him though, unless you get a ridiculous offer that’s too good to pass up. Nurse may not be the best passer, but he’s improving and he can always skate it out, which not many of our dman can do. He isn’t a perfect dman, but he’s pretty darn good and he’s getting better and he’s gonna get paid. If you want to trade a dman to get cap space for a winger for me its Russell, Benning, or Sekera (in that order). I think we can trade one veteran dman and bring up a better value replacement from the farm, and still have others capable on the farm able to come up in case of injury.

    • Kevwan

      It makes no sense to trade Nurse for cap reasons. Almost any winger that would be good enough to accept in a trade will demand a salary equal to or higher than Nurse. The only chance is a value contract and those players are tough to acquire.

      Before you get too critical of his game look at his play at the Worlds. After the Czech game they announced the three tournament stars from each team. While Nurse wasn’t selected the TSN announcers both named him 2nd after MVP Mark Stone. It’s easy to lump in all the bad plays over a few years when you think of a player. He’s improved a lot.

  • Ol_OneNut

    I never realized an expansion team got a gimme to the finals those three years, (or more?). I actually thought the Blues were good lol. Now it makes sense

  • OriginalSixMachine

    Thank you ! Maybe hearing it from you will keep the fans from saying trade nurse lol really we finally have a couple d in the lineup that we drafted and moved up through the ranks in Nurse and Klefbom I understand how people are impatient with the team but I guarantee it would be something that comes back to bite us getting rid of Nurse yes he would get us a forward but that would leave a hole on D..I think folks are getting ahead of themselves with our prospects and ready to rush them in there . They aren’t A level prospects but that’s not to say they can’t develop into solid D in the future however give them a couple years honing their skills with bake then when Reggie and Russell come off the books we may have room for them and by that time Nurse and Klef are two years older and hopefully even better that gives us solid D in the future IMO we don’t need as much help as people make it out to be some solid schrewd acquisitions and we are right in the thick of it ..GO OIL 🍻🍻

  • Oilersforever

    Trade Nurse Klefbom, Larsson necessary. They spend a lot of time on the court, but they are the culprits of all troubles. They are not d-man top 1-2 and never will be!

  • Frank Rizza

    I’m more excited for the NBA finals than I am for the NHL final and it’s been like that for slot of years now. I don’t think the Raps can win against this unbelievable Golden State team. It’s been pretty impressive watching these guys the last 5 years. They are a legit dynasty. I’m not a Raptors fan but I admit it’s a great story. The Six is rockin right now and I’m the only guy I know who’s actually admitting to liking the Drake antics. It’s the ultimate fan troll job and I think it’s hilarious how rattled everyone’s getting.