Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Locking Up Darnell Nurse

The Edmonton Oilers have a lot to focus on heading into the 2019-20 NHL season: making the playoffs, figuring out the bottom six, making the playoffs, increasing depth scoring, making the playoffs, reducing the number of goals scored against, making the playoffs…

But the Oilers also have to make a decision on future RFA defenceman Darnell Nurse and what type of contract to offer him. This past offseason has been an interesting on, completely unprecedented in terms of RFAs holding out in order to maximize their next contracts, whether it be for preferred cash or term.

The unpleasant, but inevitable, moment of contract negotiations come for every team and their core players at some point, and that moment is closing in on the Oilers and Darnell Nurse. With the flurry of young RFA defencemen signing this past offseason, Nurse’s contract comparables have ultimately been set, and so we can gauge (and likely debate) both what Nurse should and what he eventually will get when the two sides extend him.

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Counts are at 5v5

Season GP TOI CF% SCF% GF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
2014/15 2 31:43 56.36 52.94 33.33 43.48 20.00 9.52 .733 .829
2015/16 69 1190:51 45.67 45.57 41.67 41.75 39.22 7.66 .912 .988
2016/17 44 674:22 51.05 50.70 50.00 50.36 47.22 7.84 .923 1.002
2017/18 82 1548:57 51.11 51.22 55.20 50.90 49.28 7.95 .930 1.009
2018/19 82 1556:22 46.28 46.54 46.32 43.48 44.05 9.01 .911 1.001

Nurse’s point totals have gradually risen every year since he entered the league, which have coincided with a rise in ice time and games played. For a team that notably struggled with scoring last season, there’s to be said that his On-Ice shooting percentage was the highest it’s been in any of the four full seasons that he’s played in the NHL. For those into the advanced counts, Nurse’s PDO has been at a sustainable number for three straight seasons, which again, is quite impressive to do on a team that has been so volatile in terms of scoring and goals against over that time period.

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So the numbers look good; coming off a 41 point campaign, with a steady increase in points over four full seasons, is what you want to see in a top four defenceman. He also averaged 1:55 SH TOI/GM, which ranked third on the Oilers, and 1:51 PP TOI/GM, which was good for sixth.

Nurse is 24 years old, so how do his numbers and age compare to the crop of RFA d-men who signed this past summer?

Let’s take a look.

Zach Werenski

3 years, $5mil Cap Hit (Age: 22)

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Counts are at 5v5

Season GP TOI CF% SCF% GF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
2016/17 78 1273:58 53.38 52.59 57.89 52.82 57.14 8.06 .931 1.011
2017/18 77 1418:49 54.23 51.69 57.39 51.81 55.56 7.50 .931 1.006
2018/19 82 1492:42 50.92 50.60 48.92 48.07 49.32 8.46 .910 0.994

Very impressive possession numbers, with point totals that are ideal for a top-pairing defenceman. The Blue Jackets have obviously been a near-elite team for the breadth of Werenenski’s time in the NHL, so the team counts are surely a reflection on his. Not quite as much time on the ice Nurse, particularly the last two seasons, and it’s interesting that as his ice time has increased, the offence has begun to dip while he’s been on the ice, along with the goaltending numbers.

Werenski finished third on the Blue Jackets in PP TOI, playing 2:27/GM quite a bit more than Nurse in that sense, but was ninth in SH TOI with 1:17/GM, which was significantly lower.

$5mil is a solid cap hit for a player who can regularly play in the top four, so using Werenski as a comparable is intriguing. Of course, he’s two years younger and the contract is only three years, so it doesn’t eat into any UFA years so the chance of it impacting Nurse’s deal at all is likely non-existent.

Josh Morrissey

8 years, $6.25mil Cap Hit (Age: 24)

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Counts are at 5v5

Season GP TOI CF% SCF% GF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
2015/16 1 15:31 42.86 45.45 28.57 0.00 1.000 1.000
2016/17 82 1423:10 51.05 49.57 49.22 51.10 51.52 9.43 .902 0.996
2017/18 81 1364:09 51.37 53.70 53.33 53.88 55.74 8.50 .917 1.002
2018/19 59 989:51 51.22 49.49 51.65 49.01 50.00 8.74 .917 1.005

Many are looking at this deal as that will ultimately impact Nurse’s deal the most, and with good reason: he and Morrissey are the same age (though Nurse will be 25 by next summer), and their numbers are quite similar. Morrissey was hampered by injury last year, but still put up a solid 31 points in less than 60 games, projecting to 42 points in a full 82 game season, which of course would land him one above Nurse.

An important distinction here too is that Morrissey led the Jets in SH TOI last season, with 2:49/GM, while only playing 1:45 PP TOI/GM, so he was a much more relied upon penalty killer for a Jets PK that finished 22nd overall in the NHL at 79.2%

If a team is confident in a player projecting to be a lock in the top four over the course of eight years, and contributing in a significantly positive way to either special teams unit, then the term and cap hit of Morrissey’s is a pretty good bargain for a team.

Ivan Provorov

6 years, $6.75mil Cap Hit (Age: 22)

Counts are at 5v5

Season GP TOI CF% SCF% GF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
2016/17 82 1357:19 49.23 47.42 44.44 47.80 47.62 6.34 .919 0.983
2017/18 82 1501:40 49.37 47.96 54.62 48.66 50.77 8.81 .924 1.012
2018/19 82 1599:31 47.58 49.08 45.27 50.96 51.95 8.38 .906 0.990

This is an intriguing one. Like Werenski, Provorov is almost three years younger than Nurse, but unlike the Blue Jackets’s defensemen, the young Russian defenseman signed a deal that’s twice the length in term, so eating into the first years of his UFA status. Provorov’s best asset over his young NHL career has been his health, as he’s yet to miss a game, but his point totals have been a bit volatile.

Like Morrissey, he led the Philadelphia Flyers in PK TOI, averaging 2:54/GM, a team PK that finished 26th in the NHL last season at 78.5%, so not a great sign. He also averaged 1:33/GM in PP TOI, which ranked ninth on the team, so that might have been a contributing factor to his lower point total.

This contract is a little worrisome if the idea is to bring the cap hit in Nurse’s deal down, as it with the loss of UFA years, and the lower point total, could be seen as the Oiler defenseman’s closest comparison.

Jared Spurgeon

7 years, $7.575mil Cap Hit (Age: 29)

Counts are at 5v5

Season GP TOI CF% SCF% GF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
2010/11 53 682:04 47.25 48.08 47.37 49.01 52.17 6.16 .940 1.002
2011/12 70 1113:34 44.98 47.28 47.46 47.81 48.48 6.07 .946 1.006
2012/13 39 628:04 50.92 50.00 54.75 63.41 54.17 7.52 .921 0.996
2013/14 67 1156:49 52.19 54.08 63.10 56.25 65.85 9.52 .937 1.032
2014/15 66 1133:22 53.76 55.90 53.93 60.75 57.69 7.77 .924 1.001
2015/16 77 1392:37 49.80 52.63 52.38 55.09 57.63 7.90 .920 0.999
2016/17 76 1417:00 51.10 56.34 60.68 59.58 67.27 9.42 .932 1.026
2017/18 61 1099:51 50.22 54.55 42.68 62.82 54.17 5.66 .914 0.970
2018/19 82 1494:54 51.74 56.03 51.24 56.89 51.43 7.66 .920 0.996

This one is certainly an anomaly to the rest of the crop. Spurgeon is significantly older than the rest of the group, was approaching UFA status next summer, and is now married to the Minnesota Wild until he’s nearing the end of his career.

I doubt there will be much to draw as a comparison to Nurse, but it is interesting to see that though his point totals have been steady over the last three seasons, and spiked last year, his possession numbers have been quite steady over the course of his career, despite the fluctuation of his ice time.

Charlie McAvoy

3 years, $4.9mil Cap Hit (Age: 21)

Counts are at 5v5

Season GP TOI CF% SCF% GF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
2017/18 63 1145:12 55.69 56.12 60.00 52.33 56.25 8.91 .926 1.015
2018/19 54 974:42 54.71 54.86 55.79 52.31 53.85 10.00 .901 1.001

A very curious signing. McAvoy is the youngest of the bunch, being only a two year veteran, and has yet to stay particularly healthy so far. He hasn’t played any significant time on either special teams unit for the Boston Bruins (1:18 PK TOI/GM, 13th on the team; 1:35 PP TOI/GM, 9th on the team). But, for three years at a relatively good cap hit for a player that is projected to play a huge role in the top four moving forward.

McAvoy’s deal is the antithesis to Spurgeon’s, as it extends at all into exactly zero UFA years, but for that very reason it is also identical to Spurgeon terms of Nurse as it likely has no effect on his next deal.

Final Thought


The likeliest comparables are Morrissey and Provorov; should Nurse have yet another increase in point totals, while also playing a significant role on an Oilers’ PK that hopes to drag itself out of the basement in the NHL, then there’s reason to believe that a cap hit close to Provorov’s $6.75mil isn’t out of the question, even with a six-to-eight year term.

Nurse no doubt has warts to his game– his passing could use work, and some of the decisions he makes with the puck can be frustrating– but he’s made strides every year he’s been in the NHL and has played most of his time with Kris Russell, a fine NHL defenseman but not somebody who should be playing in the top four. He’s also had very positive possession counts and offensive numbers on a team that has notably struggled and the past two seasons.

8 years, $6.5 cap hit

That’s my prediction, and I think he’s worth it. A combination of Morrissey’s term and splitting the difference with his and Provorov’s cap hit.

Thoughts? What would you like to see Nurse signed to? Or what do you think he’ll be signed to?

Comments section is open!

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