Thoughts about Blueliners

Photo credit:Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
2 years ago
I don’t know about you, but the past month has been sports overload. So much is going on, that I’ve found myself having to read even more just to stay on top of everything. We had the Stanley Cup, the expansion draft, the entry draft and the free agent frenzy. The NBA had the same, except no expansion draft. The Olympics have been amazing with some ridiculous performances in many different events. F1 racing has been crazy. The CFL returned. NFL training camps are going and the MLB is gearing up for the final few months and its trade deadline had no shortage of big names moving.
It has been unbelievable if you are a sports fan. But today, I’m going to focus mainly on defenceman stats.
— I like to look at scoring trends for different players. Here are the top-30 scoring D-men at 5×5 over the past six NHL seasons.
PlayerGPGoals1st Asst2nd AsstTotal AsstPoints
1Brent Burns454597954133192
2Erik Karlsson391376869137174
3Roman Josi427387552127165
4Victor Hedman42448584199147
5Tyson Barrie424396146107146
6Dougie Hamilton42954454792146
7John Carlson411196554119138
8Alex Pietrangelo41339494998137
9John Klingberg413245855113137
10Morgan Rielly418325450104136
1Mark Giordano43936445397133
12Kris Letang37235405797132
13Dmitry Orlov44835504797132
14Mattias Ekholm441274952101128
15Ryan Suter449225154105127
PlayerGPGoals1st Asst2nd AsstTotal AsstPoints
16Jake Muzzin42430405595125
17Ryan Ellis36032454691123
18Seth Jones42128484593121
19Alex Goligoski44422425597119
20Keith Yandle453175149100117
21Jaccob Slavin42920415596116
22Jared Spurgeon41238374077115
23Darnell Nurse40437324678115
24Aaron Ekblad41237364278115
25Nick Leddy44020544195115
26Torey Krug41419474895114
27Duncan Keith42616365096112
28Jeff Petry42132413879111
29TJ Brodie42415365894109
30Drew Doughty45115434891106
Brent Burns has been outstanding producing goals and points at 5×5. He’s been in a class of his own, however, he is starting to slow down as I will show in the next chart.
This past season Tyson Barrie had 13 second assists and five first assists at 5×5, which led to many suggesting he is the “second assist King.” However, look at the past six years: He has 15 more first assists than second. Only three D-men in the league had 15+ more first assists than second. In his five seasons prior to joining Edmonton he was actually 56-33 (+23). I’ve always chuckled at people trying to downplay second assists, because often they can be instrumental in an eventual goal.
Six years is a long time, so I also looked at the previous three seasons to see how the list has changed.
PlayerGPGoalsTotal Asst1st Asst2nd Asst Points
1John Carlson2012668373194
2Roman Josi1992362332985
3Brent Burns2081864392582
4Thomas Chabot1902161352682
5Morgan Rielly1842058243478
6Tyson Barrie2041958273177
7Darnell Nurse2092452213176
8Kris Letang1812155292676
9Jake Muzzin1861653233069
10Mark Giordano1941752232969
11Jeff Petry2081651242767
12Mattias Ekholm1961651262567
13Shea Theodore2032244162866
14Dougie Hamilton1842935191664
15Ryan Ellis1661054282664
PlayerGPGoalsTotal Asst1st Asst2nd Asst Points
16Charlie McAvoy1721053302363
17Aaron Ekblad1841546252161
18Mikhail Sergachev2011249252461
19Victor Hedman1902041261561
20Alex Pietrangelo1822040162460
21Ryan Suter2071050222860
22Dmitry Orlov2021247242359
23Erik Karlsson161950252559
24Travis Sanheim2061544242059
25Zach Werenski1802435181759
26Damon Severson2071543271658
27Erik Gustafsson1741444202458
28Jared Spurgeon1982236171958
29Ryan Pulock206948232557
30Miro Heiskanen2051541212056
There are 11 new names in the list: Thomas Chabot, Shea Theodore, Charlie McAvoy, Mikhail Sergachev, Travis Sanheim, Zack Werenski, Damon Severson, Erik Gustafsson, Ryan Pulock and Miro Heiskanen. Cale Makar has only played two seasons, otherwise he’d be on the list as well as he has 47 points at 5×5 in only 101 games. We are seeing a change of the guard on the blueline.
Eleven D-men had more goals than Burns the past three seasons. Many younger D-men have hit their stride and are producing more points. John Carlsson scored 94 points the past three years after producing 44 between 2016-2018, a pretty significant increase. Darnell Nurse basically doubled his point totals. He tallied 76 points between 2019-2021, after scoring 39 between 2016-2018. Even some older players found more offence. Jeff Petry tallied 67 points in three seasons after producing 44 in the prior three, while Kris Letang scored 76 after producing 56 in 2016-2018.
Jake Muzzin is more productive offensively than he gets credit for. He was 16th over the six-year span and 9th the previous three seasons.
Barrie produced 77 the past three years, while playing on three different teams, and scored 79 in the prior three years in Colorado. He’s remained a consistent producer, but I do wonder if we will see a bit of a dip the next three seasons with the emergence of Evan Bouchard.
The Oilers should have no issue producing offence from the blueline at 5×5 with Nurse, Barrie and Bouchard.
— Nurse’s new contract is reported to be eight-years at $9.25mIn May, I thought the market would sit at $8m AAV for Nurse and Dougie Hamilton, but that changed when Cale Makar got $9m/year and every year was an RFA season, and then Seth Jones signed for $9.5m and Zack Werenski signed for $9.53m. The market changed, and Nurse and Hamilton benefitted. Nurse will need to keep producing like he has 5×5 with his high-priced contract, and keep rounding out his game defensively. Nurse has improved each season in the NHL, and if he maintains his play from last year he will be good value. He will be 34 when his new deal expires, so age shouldn’t be that much of a concern for a bigger-body defender who skates as well as he does.
— With Nurse signing the Oilers have Nurse, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Hyman locked up for at least the next four seasons. Courtesy of PuckPedia Edmonton has 14 players signed next year with $12m in cap space. Nurse, Barrie, Bouchard, Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith on the backend with McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, Hyman, Warren Foegele, Zack Kassian and Devin Shore up front and Mike Smith in goal. Jesse Puljujarvi will be re-signed and I suspect Kailer Yamamoto signs a two-year deal this summer. So the main parts of the team are in place for a few seasons. They will want another goalie next year, and there will be some trades, but there likely will be more stability in the lineup in the next few seasons with open spots filled by young players like Ryan McLeod, Dylan Holloway, Philip Broberg and Dmitri Samorukov. If one of the young goalies emerges that would be a huge bonus.
— You likely will see lot of “Nurse had a career year” and got paid takes. Many will point to his goal totals and say he doubled his SH%. Sure, but interestingly enough they won’t mention how in 2020 he had a 2.9 SH%. Nurse has the third most 5×5 goals among D-men in the NHL the past three seasons. He has a 5.5SH% in that time. His points/60 have improved at a reasonable rate from 1.04 to 1.14 to 1.19. Claims he got paid off of a massive career year are misleading. Yes, he scored more goals last year, but he had fewer assists. His P/60 were slightly above 2020 and 2019. Nurse’s offence has been consistent for three seasons, while his decisions with and without the puck defensively is where I have seen the biggest improvement.
— I also find it interesting how people downplay Nurse’s offensive production with McDavid. Oscar Klefbom, Ethan Bear, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and others have shown just because you play with McDavid doesn’t mean you will produce. Nurse has been very consistent offensively for three years. He produces with McDavid. That should be considered a positive considering both will now be here for the next five seasons. Nurse’s overall offence didn’t have a massive spike last year. He had 1.04 P/60 in 2019, then 1.14 in 2020 and 1.19 in 2021. Yes, his goals were up last season, but his points weren’t up much. Where he did improve was his decision making with and without the puck.
— Edmonton paid a premium to sign Nurse. No doubt. Much of that was due to the recent contracts of Werenski, Jones and Hamilton. A fair question is: Why didn’t the Oilers sign him to a long-term deal last season when he signed a two-year extension in February, 2020? They likely would have had to offer him an eight-year deal at $8m for him to sign. Remember when Oilersnation was freaking out over that ask? Turns out Nurse was correct in how he valued himself.
— Bouchard is training with Nurse this summer, and that will only help him. Nurse’s game has improved the past three seasons due to the tireless work he does in the off-season. Not just lifting weights, but the work he’s done on his skating and puckhandling. I spoke with Bouchard at the end last season and he was so excited to work on the things he learned, and saw, by being in the NHL all season. Of course he would have liked to play more, but he was adamant the lessons he learned just watching and practicing were beneficial.
I expect Nurse-Barrie to start the season as the top pair, mainly because continuity to start the season is important, but I believe Bouchard will be in the top-four midway through the season. And I expect he will split PP time with Barrie, and might take the first PP spot eventually due to his shot. He has a cannon, but he also is very good at getting shots through. He will be 22 when the regular season begins, and his smarts combined with the additional strength and speed he will have from training with Nurse this off-season makes me think he is poised for a breakout season.
Jordan Eberle joined Frank Seravalli and me on the DFO Rundown to discuss his moving from New York to Seattle. He had some good insight into how Barry Trotz is able to get the most out of his players. And how Lou Lamoriello makes everyone feel important. Interesting stuff.

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