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Monday Mailbag – Are the Oilers telling the truth about Connor McDavid?

Welcome, Nation, to yet another edition of the award-winning Monday Mailbag! Here we are the start of another week and our beloved Oilers are right in the mix, prompting many questions that need answers. Thankfully, the mailbag is here to help you kill off a few minutes of company time with 2000 words of pure wisdom to break everything down for you. How’s that for some free learning? As always, this feature depends on you so please send me your questions by email or Twitter for next week and I’ll try to sneak you in. Until then, I hope you all have a wonderful week and please enjoy the free learning opportunity.

Feb 1, 2020; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) controls the puck in front of Calgary Flames center Tobias Rieder (16) during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

1) Kevin asks – Is anyone concerned about the Connor McDavid injury? Considering how the organization lied about his injury from this past summer, I’m admittedly on edge about exactly how serious this latest quad injury really is.

Jason Gregor:

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I’d be surprised if McDavid would come out and lie about having a charley horse. I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t be honest.

Robin Brownlee:

I’d expect McDavid to be back in town this week after spending time in Toronto and that we’ll get an update. Any concern for me is about any lingering impact of the injury, not that the team would be foolish enough to downplay the situation.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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I’m willing to give Ken Holland a fresh slate since it really wasn’t him that hid how serious the injury was. Also, at this point in the season, there is no value in them trying to down-play McDavid’s injury because if they did and he ends up missing more time than expected, then there will be panic from the fan base. If anything, it makes more sense for the Oilers to make the injury seem a little more serious than anything. But really, at this point, honesty with the fan base is probably their best bet. So no, I don’t think they’re lying.

Christian Pagnani:

A bit, but they’d be risking a PR disaster. I’m not that concerned.

Baggedmilk:

I’m always concerned about Connor any time he’s banged up, sick, or anything else that keeps him out of the lineup. That said, in this case, I’m giving the organization the benefit of the doubt that they’re telling the truth, but I can definitely understand why some fans don’t believe anything they say. Right now, we’re about a week into the 2-3 week timeline so we’ll have to wait and see how accurate Holland was in his assessment. If McDavid’s injury runs long then it will be another reason to not believe them, but we’re not there yet.

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2) Natalie asks – I would like to know what everything thinks about Darnell Nurse getting a contract that takes him to unrestricted free agency? Any concerns for anyone there?

Jason Gregor:

Not now. They could sign him to an extension next summer or during the season. We don’t see a lot of core players go to free agency when they are on a good team. Oilers make playoffs this year and next will make Nurse more likely to sign an extension. If they struggle then the door opens more for him to test free agency, but right now I’d be surprised if that happens.

Robin Brownlee:

Not really. Nurse isn’t an $8-million player and I think the Oilers are making a smart bet in believing that will be played out over the next two seasons. Players use pending UFA status as leverage, which is their right, but teams don’t have to give in to that if the ask is too much. If Nurse outperforms the two-year bridge, then good for him. He can choose where he goes, which includes staying here.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

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Yes. If he ends up taking some big steps forward then the Oilers will need to pay him a lot more money. Also, if they want to trade him, he will have less value as a pending UFA then he would have if he was a pending RFA or under contract. It’s not ideal but it saves them money now and that’s clearly a priority for Holland.

Christian Pagnani:

At $5.5-million per year, it feels a bit much for a contract that walks him to free agency. If I’m not mistaken the contract is all RFA years. Jake Muzzin is rumoured to be signing for around the same amount for four years. Muzzin’s obviously going to be 31-years old when his contract begins compared to Nurse at 25-years old.

Baggedmilk:

I thought it was kinda weird that they signed him to a deal that takes him right to unrestricted free agency, which tells me that the organization still isn’t sure with what they have here. Going to be an interesting next couple of years for ol’ Darryl.

Feb 27, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) warms up before the start of their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

3) James asks – Curious to know what the panel sees as Darnell Nurse’s ceiling now that he has played over 300 games in the NHL and if he should be a cornerstone for the club moving forward?

Jason Gregor:

I think he is a solid #2 or #3 D-man. Legit #1s are very rare and with him not being on the PP I don’t see that occurring. As he matures I think he will improve at slowing down the game in tight spots. His skating ability allows him to make plays, and close gaps that many players can’t. His size and strength means he should be able to engage in most battles and do well. I believe he is a core player on and off the ice moving forward.

Robin Brownlee:

I think he is a cornerstone, part of the core group, already. That isn’t always measured in goals-assists-points, and that’s the case here. He is what we’re seeing now. Nurse is tight with McDavid and Draisaitl, and that matters.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think he could still be a very strong #3 defenseman if he works on his ability to pass the puck. His physicality, skating, and toughness are all great assets, he just needs to become a better puck mover and get a little bit better in the defensive zone. If those areas get better, then he’ll be a good d-man in this league for a very long time.

Christian Pagnani:

Solid top-four defenceman who skates well but isn’t a great passer.

Baggedmilk:

A solid second pairing defenceman. He doesn’t have the offensive abilities or the defensive acumen, at least by my eye, to be ranked anywhere higher than that.

4) Marc in GP asks – Ken Holland seems to be signing a lot of his pending free agents earlier than we’re probably used to seeing and I’d like to know what the panel thinks of this approach?

Jason Gregor:

I really like the Jones, Nurse and Nygard contracts. Kassian probably one year too long, but often you overpay a bit for pending UFAs. It also illustrates that they have better players as people aren’t upset they have re-signed them.

Robin Brownlee:

Smart move. Gives him some cost certainty with depth players he deems part of the future moving forward.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I love it! If Holland wants to add impact players either at the deadline or the draft, then you need that cost certainty with the rest of your lineup. I think it’s great that he isn’t wasting any time or just pushing things until the summer. It shows that he’s a hard-working GM.

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Christian Pagnani:

I’m not a fan of giving term to depth players or signing them ahead of time. The Oilers signed Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald at fortunate times and got them cheap. I know general managers want to ‘reward’ guys but you can replace those same players very easily and that’s where Ken Holland should be spending very little.

Baggedmilk:

Get it all done, Ken! I like the idea of signing guys using this year’s salary cap as a base for getting it done. Hopefully, the cap goes up next year and all of these guys will have left money on the table.

5) Wendel asks – Looking at the upcoming cap crunch the Oilers are facing, what is, in your opinion, the most efficient move or moves that can free up space on the roster?

Jason Gregor:

They have to trade Kris Russell due to his salary cap. Currently they have 10 forwards (97, 29, 93, 18, 44, 39, 56, 10, 16 and 49) five D-men (77, 25, 6, 4 and 82) and Koskinen signed for a total of $65,161,165. Add in the dead cap space of $4.583,333 (Sekera $2.5m, Pouliot $1.833m and Lucic $750K) and they are at $69,744,498. Let’s say the cap will rise to $83M. Then the Oilers have just over $13m to sign four forwards, two D-men and a goalie. Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, Josh Archibald and Riley Sheahan are likely to be signed.

If Holland can move Russell and get a return price of $2m in cap space that would be a really good deal. Maybe he opts to move Adam Larsson instead. Those are the only two hefty contracts I see them possibly moving. The interesting trade will be what return he gets for Jesse Puljujarvi.

Robin Brownlee:

Not re-signing Sam Gagner and trading Kris Russell is a start. You can get what Gagner brings for less money than $3.15M and the experience Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones are getting this season makes Russell a prime candidate to be moved.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

There are three players that Ken Holland needs to offload this summer: Kris Russell, Alex Chiasson, and Jujhar Khaira. All three are fine NHL players but are not worth their current salaries and can be replaced by other players in the system. The ability to lose that $7.3 million will define their offseason and determine whether or not Ken Holland can add an impact winger.

Christian Pagnani:

Trading Kris Russell and Adam Larsson. Trading Russell is a no-brainer. He makes way too much money for a third-pairing role. He’s not a second-pairing guy, and Caleb Jones can replace his minutes for a fraction of the price. The trouble is he has another year on his contract and a limited no-trade clause, which is incredible. Larsson should be valuable to teams and the Oilers can reasonably replace his minutes.

Baggedmilk:

Move Russell, Chiasson, and Khaira. They also have Manning, Gagner (re-sign Sammy to a low cost deal!), and Granlund coming off the books which will help a little bit.

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