Late yesterday afternoon, the Edmonton Oilers inked their final remaining free agent when they agreed to terms with D Darnell Nurse on a two-year bridge contract. Nurse will earn $3,200,000 per season for the next two years, which I think is a win for both player and team.
The Oilers won’t be paying a premium for Nurse for at least two more seasons, and will be getting top-four production at a pretty fair cap hit. Nurse isn’t the best puck mover and doesn’t provide much in terms of offense, but he averaged 22:15 last season and anchored Edmonton’s second defensive pairing. He’s likely to be in that role once more this coming season.
Nurse still has steps to take, he can add some offense to his game and his puck moving can be better, but I thought he was one of Edmonton’s best players a season ago. He’s been taking legit steps each and every season since entering the NHL, and is so far ahead of where he was as a rookie in 2015-16 under Todd McLellan.
Nurse will likely handle a heavy dose of five-on-five and penalty killing time this season and will be a key player once again. With Andrej Sekera out, Edmonton will need Nurse to anchor the second-pairing, likely with Matt Benning on his right.
I think this deal can be seen as a win for GM Peter Chiarelli because he got Nurse at a pretty fair number and was able to get a second year out of the deal. All of the talk had Nurse looking for a one-year deal, which would have given him arbitration rights at just 24 years old. Now, Nurse won’t get that right until 25 and the Oilers will have a much larger sample size to look at when deciding to go long-term or not with him.
The biggest thing for me is that Oilers management didn’t buckle here and didn’t cave into the player’s demands. It would have been easy to just give Nurse what he wanted because of how important he is to the team. Chiarelli didn’t do that, hopefully meaning he has learned from his overpayment in both trades and contracts in past summers. He stood his ground and walked out with a fair contract for one of his best defenders.
As for Nurse, he has to be feeling pretty good about this too. He didn’t cash in like he may have wanted and didn’t get the long-term deal he was probably hoping for, but he gets a pretty solid raise and is paid comparably to players of his ilk.
Nurse will get the chance to earn a major contract in two years, when he’s 25 years old and has over 300 games of NHL experience under his belt. By that point, should he produce the way I believe he can, Nurse should have a really good case to earn the big deal he craves.
I’ve been very hard, rightfully so, on Chiarelli since he started making moves in the summer of 2015. That said, I can’t get on him for this contract. In fact, I applaud him for holding tight and sticking to his guns. I’ve seen some people not give credit because Chiarelli didn’t have the cap space to overpay the player, which is true to some degree.
That said, Chiarelli easily could have dumped players (which had been rumored) to accommodate a contract for Nurse. He didn’t do that, and instead hung tight and got his guy signed on his terms. With the whole fanbase pressuring him, this couldn’t have been easy for Chiarelli or the Oilers.
Now that it’s done, I think both sides have to be happy. Nurse only missed a few practices and should be ready to roll for opening day in just under three weeks. He’s a huge part of this team, and is now locked in on a good contract for the next two seasons.