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Darnell Nurse the lone Oiler on Daily Faceoff’s latest Trade Targets list

Edmonton Oilers Darnell Nurse
Photo credit:Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
19 days ago
For a number of weeks now, one member of the Edmonton Oilers has found their way on Daily Faceoff’s Trade Targets list: Darnell Nurse.
The most recent one, as compiled by Frank Seravalli, had Nurse listed as No. 29 of 30, where he highlighted some of the long-term and short-term issues with the six years left on his contract.
In the long and short of it, he argues that at $9.25-million per year, the Oilers aren’t getting the value out of Nurse they need. Multiple things complicate the matter. Nurse has a full no-movement clause in each of the next three years, and his contract is structured in a way that sees a staggering $24-million owed in signing bonuses in each of the last four years of the deal.
That’s made other teams leery of acquiring him, but even amid some struggles in his game, he could rebound back into the top-four defenceman he is.
It’s hard to imagine what the market could be like for Nurse, if the Oilers were to try to move him, and if the player would even be open to such a move. But amid a time when the Oilers should be doing everything in their power to win, the millions of dollars in excess going towards Nurse gums up what the team could do.
Thinking out loud, the most logical type of deal the Oilers could make would be to do some kind of a swap of “bad contracts” or “players looking for fresh starts,” wherein Edmonton can get out of multiple years of Nurse’s contract.
Examining players from Seravalli’s Trade Targets list, there are a few names that could make sense in a swap:
  • No. 5 – Columbus Blue Jackets winger Patrik Laine (two years, $8.7-million AAV)
  • No. 8 – New York Rangers defenceman Jacob Trouba (two years, $8-million AAV)
  • No. 25 – Buffalo Sabres winger Jeff Skinner (three years, $9-million AAV)
If Nurse wants to waive, it’s safe to assume he would want to go to a team where he has the chance to play in a quieter market or a team that’s close to winning. Columbus may not offer a chance to win soon, but it would allow him to be out of the limelight.
New York would offer him a chance to join a team that’s close to winning, but they’re also one looking to clear out a defenceman, not necessairly add one. Then there’s Buffalo: a team who were a win out of the playoffs two years ago, but took a step back last year.
Skinner remains a very effective player at 32 years old, scoring 24 goals and 46 points and had back-to-back 30+ goal campaigns in the two prior years. The Sabres have a boatload of cap space, around $23.5-million, but the fact of the matter is they already have four left-shot defencemen: Rasmus Dahlin, Bowen Byram, Owen Power and Henri Jokiharju. Would they really want to add a fifth?
All this is to highlight how imperfect of an exercise it is to even speculate in these situations, but there’s one team not mentioned here that are looking for exactly what Nurse is at his peak: the Utah Hockey Club.
On Thursday’s edition of Daily Faceoff LIVE, Seravalli said that the newest NHL team are “well positioned to try and chase” a top pairing defenceman.
Bill Armstrong, meet Jeff Jackson. Jackson, Armstrong.
It could be a match made in heaven for the two teams to align as trading partners. Utah has over $40-million in cap space to spend, with the only defenceman under contract at the NHL level being Hockey Hall of Famer and LTIR-guy Shea Weber.
Where things get curious is trying to determine the proper compensation for Nurse. Would this be a deal where the Oilers need to pay to move him and his contract? Would Utah be happy to take him off Edmonton’s hands for little in return? For as difficult as one may think it would be to lose one of the longest-tenured Oilers for next to nothing compensation-wise, it would likely be in their best interest to try and do so.
Hockeyviz.com pegs Nurse’s contributions as that of a second-pairing defenceman this past season, something salary-wise that would cost around $5.5-million on the free agent market, give or take. In that scenario, the Oilers with around $4-million in cap space to play with, either to add some middle-six or bottom-six help in the forward group and potentially leave to accrue for a deadline acquisition.
The most likely outcome of all of this is that Darnell Nurse returns for another season, or more, in Edmonton. Personally speaking, I have a hard time finding a landing spot that would make sense for the team acquiring him and for the player himself.
What the Oilers truly should do is find him a defensive partner that excels at limiting opposing zone entries, and at exiting the zone. It might be an internal option like pairing him with Evan Bouchard, but in recent years it’s always felt as if Nurse had the short end of the stick in terms of his defensive partner. It’s always felt as if Nurse feels he has to do too much on the ice and it’s distracted him from being able to focus on his own game.
Nonetheless, the Oilers have reached an impasse when it comes to Nurse and his tenure with the team and how things progress will be telling of their desire to make this team better.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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