Darnell Nurse is in line for a big payday next summer

A year ago, Darnell Nurse’s contract was the hot topic of conversation. The former seventh-overall pick’s entry-level deal had expired, and while he had shown many positive flashes, Nurse had yet to establish himself as a top-pairing defenceman at the NHL level.

The debate at that time was whether the cap-strapped Oilers should invest long-term in Nurse or instead sign him to a shorter term, show-me deal. Nurse’s negotiations with the Oilers spilled intro training camp until the two sides ultimately agreed to take the bridge deal route, resulting in a two-year deal worth $3,200,000.

His first season on his new deal went incredibly well. An injury to Oscar Klefbom allowed Nurse to slide up to the top spot on the Oilers’ depth chart and onto the team’s first power-play unit. Nurse broke out for 41 points, tops among Oilers defencemen by a mile, and he averaged a career-high 23:49 minutes per game.

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If Nurse puts up another season like he did last year, he’ll be in line for a big payday.

At a glance, if Nurse has the season he did last year, that’ll be a good thing for the Oilers. He put up strong offensive numbers, logged major minutes, and appeared to be the defenceman we hoped he would become when he was drafted back in 2013. Him having that season again is key for the team and their faint playoff contention hopes.

But, on the other hand, we’ll be back at square one. This time last year, the debate was whether Nurse was worth a big, long-term contract. Was he a true top-pairing defenceman? Can he provide offence? Shut down the other team’s best players? If you’re going to shell out big dollars, you need to be sure the player can take on the role.

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When pondering what Nurse’s next contract will look like, we have four RFA-aged defencemen who inked multi-year deals this off-season…

Jacob Trouba: Seven-year deal worth $8,000,000 annually. One season from unrestricted free agency. Coming off a 50-point season.

Esa Lindell: Six-year deal worth $5,800,000 annually. Three seasons from unrestricted free agency. Coming off a 32-point season.

Samuel Girard: Seven-year deal worth $5,000,000 annually. Five seasons from unrestricted free agency. Coming off a 27-point season.

Ryan Murray: Signed a two-year deal worth $4,600,000 annually. Two seasons from unrestricted free agency. Coming off a 29-point season.

Trouba was the big fish. The Jets dealt him to the New York Rangers because he didn’t want to continue his career in Winnipeg. New York quickly inked him to a seven-year deal worth $8,000,000 annually. This is the top-end of what Nurse could be looking at next summer. Trouba was one year away from unrestricted free agency and he broke out for a career-high with 50 points. In the previous two seasons, Trouba scored 33 and 24 points in seasons plagued with some injury issues.

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Samuel Girard and Esa Lindell are two lower-end comparables for Nurse. Lindell is more of a defensive defenceman, as his 32 points last year was a new career-high. Girard is even more of an unproven commodity as he’s played just two full seasons in the NHL. The final comparable I included was Ryan Murray, the oft-injured former second-overall pick. Murray is a good player but he hasn’t played more than 60 games in his past three seasons. Even if Nurse doesn’t have as effective of a season as he did in 2018-19, these comparables will warrant him earning a significant raise on his current $3,200,000 annual salary.

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If Nurse has another 40-point year logging 23 minutes a night, he’ll be in the discussion for a contract similar to what Trouba got. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll easily be in the $5,000,000 range like Lindell and Girard, both of whom had proved less in the NHL than Nurse has when they signed their deals. If Nurse has a poor or injury-riddled season, a short-term deal like Murray’s is possible, but his $4,600,000 figure would be the low end of negotiations.

As I said earlier, Nurse commanding a top-defender contract isn’t a bad thing for the Oilers. It means he’s become the player they wanted him to when he was drafted. Nurse is a good player, he’s still got room to get better, and you can never have too many quality defencemen. Still, just as it was last summer, the question will be whether or not Nurse is worth that big, long-term deal similar to what Trouba got from the Rangers.

Given the team’s cap situation, roster composition, and the influx of blueline prospects coming up, there’s a difficult decision on the horizon.

  • hagar

    Hopefully the cap goes up huge next year, the league will eat itself alive if it doesnt. Pretty sure an average player paid around 5 million now. I dont dislike nurse, but 8 million a year only a couple years ago, was reserved for the top 4 percent of players in the league.
    Again, nothing against nurse, but things need to change if he is to get paid 8 million a year

  • The future never comes

    Also, I keep him for the McDavid protection factor. Lucic is gone, Kassian might be gone sometime this year (last year of contract), and JJ may be gone in two years. I do believe we need at least one deterrent willing to take on anyone in the league. Of course that is if his asking price is to unrealistic.

    • Bond 0097

      The future is HERE NOW, Nurse is a keeper and unlike Petry we need to pay him and do it long term. We need to start having some success with our draft and develop strategy which is finally starting to pan out. If Nurse will take 7 million a year I say it’s a great deal, a lot of people complained about Leo’s deal too, but who is complaining about it now

    • FISTO Siltanen

      If Nurse plateaued at 25 points fringe 4-5-6 dman everyone would rail at Chiarelli overpaying. They have 2 years of RFA status – I’d be up for a short term extension in the $5.5-6M range for 4-5 years right now. If he plays and scores 35 points or so I can see that being the starting point of a longer term deal in 6-8 year range. If he scores 50 points – yeah, you are in the $8M range but whatever. You got a physical 50 point dman – deal with it.

  • OriginalPouzar

    When I look at next year’s cap, I already factor in apx $7M for Nurse as I think its likely he’ll get around there.

    We talk about his offensive spike this past year but its really not the case. Nurse has been a top 15 producer at 5 on 5 for the better part of three seasons now – he is consistently putting up apx 30 points at 5 on 5. The only difference in his offence this past season was PP time for the first time in his career.

    Whether he “looks offensive” or not, its 3 years of 10-15 in the league 5 on 5 production.

    He will likely see less PP time again this year with Klefbom back healthy and the likes of Joel Persson holding Bouchard’s spot warm.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Nurse is up and down defensively but I’m excited to see him with a “non-Russell” partner. I don’t hate Kris Russell and the man can defend, however, he gives up the blueline so easily and struggles to move the puck out with possession which simply leads to too much defending and he has some “interesting” techniques that make it tough for his partner (sliding around too much, etc.).

      Nurse/Larsson were unreal good in tough minutes in 2017/18 and I look to see them be a tough pair to play against.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      So, next year (at current cap), you have $23m to sign Nurse, 3 other D, a backup goalie and 8 other forwards.
      If you sign Nurse to $7m, then you have $16m for 12 players. That’s quite the cap situation to be in. This year is supposed to be the year to suck it up and live with a bad roster, with all the crap coming off the books. That leaves next year to be a rebuild year, using mostly AHL graduates to fill out the roster. Maybe that’s realistic, but it just means another year of watching McD score more than 50% of the goals and hope that the new blood will somehow all be productive.

      • OriginalPouzar

        My previous calculations had about $18M to sign 12 players (likely a cap increase you aren’t taking account for) but, yes, the premise is correct, next year is another tight year.

        Of course, disposition of Russell, hopefully for a clean $4M in space, is a must.

      • All Ice

        A lot of factors there. Are Russel and Neal still on the team? I’d bet at least one is gone if not both. How many guys on elc contracts move up? Almost certainly the holes on D would be filled that way. As for forwards, not as likely but a few might. Cap space isn’t going to be massively better than this year but there will be more flexibility for sure

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I too have Nurse in the 6.5 to 7 mil a season range for his next contract. I do hope that the Oilers will use him more onj the 2 unit PP after seeing what he could do in Kelmfbom spot when he was injured, it sure wouldnt help to have someone at the point that can let it rip and he didnt do too bad at that last year, it could also make for a decent one two combo punch on the PP and second unit has been lacking at that. I like Nurse, he started a little slow at the beginning of the season but in the back half he was a horse with a lot of minutes being chewed up. I think under Tippett we will see Nurse excel. I wouldnt at all be surprised if Ruseell is gone at some point this season in a trade and I would would Holland may move Benning this season in a trade especially if the guys coming in do well on D

      • I had him at 6.5 for five years, unless the Oilers make the playoffs. Then it will easily be seven for seven, which might end up being a bargain if Nurse becomes the stabilizing veteran who guides all the up-and-coming prospects.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Nurse is not the best transition passer but he is elite at zone exits via skating. Of course, transition via pass is more effective but Nurse can exit the puck and get it in to the offensive zone.

    • billsbills

      Nurse is also 24 years old and on an upward trajectory. His passing will improve as will his d zone reads. That comes with time. What can’t be taught is his ability to skate.

      • jesse says yep

        I agree that Nurse will improve. He has shown that he is willing to put in the work over the summer to improve specific skills. Top pairing player or not, this is the kind of player that you want on your team long term.

  • billsbills

    It’s not a difficult decision at all and if Nurse was willing to take $5 million, the long term deal would have been signed last summer.

    He’s going to get paid and he deserves it. Anyone who says he should be traded and “sold high” like they did last year before he had his first 40 point season is less than intelligent. Nurse is not done improving. In fact I prefer that he hasn’t peaked to early. A big kid with athleticism like he has and the durability that he has had, can have a very long and successful career. If it takes 8 at 8 it’s higher than I would like but the deal will be a good one in the long term.

  • The Oilers will overpay for Nurse and he will continue to make glaring defensive mistakes due to his low hockey IQ. With the Oilers brass, media and fans building him up as a great defenseman plus his big ego that makes him think he’s a true #1 d-man he will want to be paid as such. He’s another example of a player that will keep the Oilers in cap hell.

    • billsbills

      Island it is people like you that I see as a joke and as less than intelligent. Nurse is 24 years old and playing shut down against the greatest players on the planet. A roll usually saved for the older more experienced defencemen.

      I have all the time in the world for Nurse. Not because he has a big ego, because he has an excellent work ethic and desire to get better. He’s proved with with consistent and steady progress.

      But according to you if he hasn’t become the best of the best after three full seasons he’s useless, overpaid and should be traded. Really, you are a complete fool and really should not comment on hockey. Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought of a fool rather than open it and remove all doubt.

  • Big Cap

    Nurse is a leader and a lock to be the top defender on this team. It would be beyond frustrating if this organization makes Nurse sweat out a long term deal. Having said that; I guarantee we will still be discussing his contract situation this time next year!

  • Abagofpucks

    I think KH should sign Nurse to a 7mil x 8 year extension now just in case he scores over 50 points this year then we don’t have to worry about it anymore.

  • Kevwan

    I am a big fan of Nurse. His play has been the biggest reason the Oilers are no longer considered a soft team. ove the work ethic, grit, toughness, and now showing some offense.

    I do wonder about his long term future with Edmonton. Not only is there “an influx of prospects” on D there are some blue chippers in that group. He may be a cap casualty no matter how much he signs for.

  • Fireball

    Players aren’t getting any cheaper., 6 is the new 4. You got 60-70 point wingers making 9-11.6 mill per. Top tier D making 10-11. Trouba is a second tier guy and 8 is actually not that bad. Nurse is a couple 50 point seasons off 8 mill per. If he can maintain or improve on last year I still see him at 6ish. If he blows 50 out of the water then maybe he gets more

  • Copper

    Though I like Nurse, he will never be top pairing material. Is there a more brutal first pass in hockey? His offensive instincts is a lower level. Doesn’t know what to do when he carries the puck across the offensive blue line. I wish he would just pass the puck to McDavid on a break out once in a while.

    • Fireball

      That maybe true. What ever he is he’s the only Oilers D to score more than 40 points since Souray and Gilbert. Imagine if he had all the PP and prime time that Kleff gets ! Kleff has never had 40 and he’s been eating all those offensive mins for years now. I really don’t think we’ve seen his peak. He’s only approaching that 300 game mark that most say you don’t know what you have till then.

  • Fireball

    23 mill in Cap next year with the core locked up other than Nurse. The majority of the players up next year are guys we will want gone… plugs mostly and Guys on ELCs will be filling most of the roles.

  • BarDownCelly

    Darnell is a keeper. As said, we drafted him, developed him, now time to keep him and reap the benefits. If he stays the course and performs like he did last year, he should fetch in the 6mil – 7.5mil range. If he has an even better year this year he’ll be in Trouba range of about 8mil.

  • Would he be easy to replace? If he can be 50+ points and continue shutting it down I don’t think the 6.5-8.5 range should be asking to much…
    His aggression is scary, people don’t want to fight this kid… he has more offensive flair then he’s shown and not fully been given the chance to show in its fullest. Until hopefully proper management and more ripening this year.
    Pay him. Pay it all!

  • Crazy Pedestrian

    Honestly, I’m not worried about Nurse signing for $7(ish)million. I’m actually wondering what’s going to happen with Larsson next year. Do they plan on keeping him for his final year, or re-sign him to a (most likely) $7M AAV contract? I’m not sure Bouchard will be 1st pairing d-man ready by then, and as far as I can see, no-one else currently in house will be a better choice.

    There is also the Nuge replacement issue…