Top Stories of 2023 – No. 3: Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse says ‘I feel like I’ve been blamed for everything from a goal against to the traffic on Stony Plain’

Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
5 months ago
Now that we’re into the Christmas break, it’s a perfect time to take a look back at the year that was. Over the next few days, we’ll be counting down the most-viewed stories at Oilersnation of 2023.
We’re at number three in the countdown, and today we’ll look back at Darnell Nurse talking about playing in Edmonton:
Darnell Nurse is one of the core pieces for the Edmonton Oilers but out of those core pieces, the player who gets the most heat out of anyone. Nurse speaks on a variety of topics on the Mitts Off Podcast with Luke Gazdic from his experience as a teammate to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Charitable initiatives as he was nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and he even gives his thoughts on the big ticket he signed that Oilers fans love to bring up whenever mentioning Darnell Nurse.
Let’s start off with the contract, here’s what Nurse had to say about the pressure that comes with signing a deal of that magnitude.
“I mean there was expectation before I signed the contract, of what I think I’m capable of performing and being at each and every night. I think the value or whatever you want to describe it is going to bring, I mean I’ve played in a high-pressure market since I first came into the league like it’s, it’s great. Me, personally I love it because there’s that juice, fire in the summer”
When it comes to the naysayers, Nurse heard them loud and clear.
“I mean you also have to take a lot of stuff with a grain of salt, like sometimes I feel like I’ve been blamed for everything from a goal against to the traffic on Stony Plain, right so like it’s just you have to be really cognizant of what the pressure you put on yourself.”
“There’s no one that’s gonna expect more out of me than me and that’s been something that has been instilled in me since I’ve been very young, so yeah there’s pressure that comes along with that.”
Nurse hasn’t often done much in the way of long-form interviews like this, and it was really insightful into his mindset, and how he goes about his business. There’s no denying the controversy that many have drummed about him, and while yes — he might be a bit overpaid — he’s continued to provide positive value for the Oilers for years.
The key to all of this, too, is that the fault over Nurse’s contract doesn’t lie at his feet, it lies solely at Ken Holland’s. He’s the one who bridged Nurse in Feb. 2020, and he’s the one who made the Duncan Keith trade.
Why does Nurse’s contract relate to Keith becoming an Oiler, you may ask?
The timeline works like this:
  • The Chicago Blackhawks were looking to trade Keith and his $5.5-million salary to clear space off their books. They wanted to acquire Seth Jones, who had been on the block from the Columbus Blue Jackets, unable to match his contract asks.
  • Chicago was able to clear Keith’s full salary, unabated, sending it to the Oilers for a draft pick and Caleb Jones, hopefully to help entice his older brother, Seth, to come to town.
  • On July 13, 2021, Keith was traded to Edmonton. 10 days later, Seth Jones to Chicago, bringing with an eight-year extension paying him $9.5-million.
  • Nurse, meanwhile, was entering the final year of his bridge deal and was eligible for an extension. It was reported a year prior Nurse would be seeking $8-million on a long-term deal.
  • And with Jones off the Blue Jackets’ books, they free up cap space of their own, signing defenceman Zach Werenski to a six-year, $9.5-million deal.
  • So, when Seth Jones received his massive overpayment, and Werenski his big deal, it was easy for Nurse to go to the Oilers and say that he was worth just as much, especially considering he was coming off his best season in the NHL, one which saw him provide 1.8 wins above replacement — the 14th best among 284 NHL defenceman with 50+ minutes — and one which had him in the 95th percentiles for all rearguards.
  • Seth Jones, for reference? A -1.1 WAR season, putting him 280th among the 284 defencemen and in the 2nd percentile.
  • Werenski, meanwhile, had a 0.5 WAR season, in the 68th percentile.
  • And thus, the $9.25-million deal was signed.
All comparisons aside, Nurse had a career year in 2020-21. Across 56 games in the North Division, he scored 16 goals and 36 points, while shooting 10.4 percent — well above his prior career average of 3.78 percent. So, in saying that, at least some of the $3.65-million raise of got makes sense, even though the Oilers should’ve known well that the number wasn’t repeatable.

The full top 15

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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