The NHL’s holiday roster freeze is in effect, meaning teams cannot make roster moves this week. The Edmonton Oilers have nothing close to imminent right now, even after they attempted to trade for Taylor Hall but lost out when the price went out of their range. Ken Holland is still searching for a top six winger and a third line center, but nothing appears close at this time.
While Holland continues to search the league for two outside answers, he’s also looking at answering two internal questions. The Oilers have reportedly started talking contract with pending UFA Zack Kassian and pending RFA Darnell Nurse. These negotiations will be very interesting and will tell us quite a bit about what the Holland era could be like.
On Darnell Nurse:
This contract negotiation could be a sticky one. Nurse has 18 points (2-16-18) in 39 games played and is averaging over 22 minutes per game. He’s also got a 49.1% Corsi For% and is +2.8% in CF% rel. Overall, his numbers show a top four defenseman who is coming into his prime. That’s a valuable piece.
The eye test tells a bit of a different tale. Nurse is a top four option either way, but he looks much worse by the eye. His positioning hasn’t been great this season, and he’s been beaten on far too many goals against. Max Domi’s goal on Saturday night was a particularly ugly sequence for Nurse.
On top of that, Nurse’s play has been aided by rookie Ethan Bear. Bear has been terrific for the Oilers since making the team out of training camp. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Nurse is playing good hockey with Bear.
Nurse is a good player, and I believe he is a steady second pairing defenseman at the NHL level. The problem is, Nurse is going to want to be paid like a top pairing defenseman. The Oilers are not going to be able to afford that, and quite frankly they shouldn’t pay him like one. That’s not what he is.
Nurse will likely end up somewhere in between the $6,250,000 that Josh Morrissey is being paid in Winnipeg and the $8,000,000 that Jacob Trouba got from the Rangers. Anything over $6,000,000 is likely an overpay for what Nurse brings to the table.
With Philip Broberg, William Lagesson, Dmitri Samorukov, Caleb Jones and Evan Bouchard in the system, the Oilers are loaded on defense for years to come.
Again, I like Nurse, but is he really worth that kind of contract? If Nurse is truly hellbent on being paid like a top pairing defenseman, Ken Holland should seriously consider looking at the trade market between now and the summer.
On Zack Kassian:
Kassian is enjoying a career year. He’s two goals away from his career-high of 15, and is three points off of his previous career-high of 29. He’s very likely going to score 20 goals for the first time in his career, and he’s almost certainly going to hit 40 points for the first time in his career.
There are dangers for paying for career years. Kassian is shooting at an unsustainable 20.6% and will be 29 when he signs his deal. As mentioned above, he’s never hit the 20-goal or 30-point plateau.
Like Nurse, I like Kassian quite a bit. He brings a perfect mix of grit and skill to the lineup, and is a valued player in the locker room. I think the right move is to re-sign him, but the Oilers would be foolish to pay him like Tom Wilson. Wilson re-signed with the Capitals for six years and $5,166,667 per.
I’d also suggest that Jim Matheson’s suggestion of four years by $4,000,000 is also too high. I’d be willing to go $3,000,000 per year for two years, but that’s likely my ceiling.
Kassian is a solid player, but the bottom line is you don’t pay for career years for players who are approaching 30 and are playing with Connor McDavid. Look at the free agent market for Patrick Maroon. Kassian’s market is not guaranteed to develop.
On Trade Rumors:
As mentioned above, Ken Holland is on the hunt for a top six winger and a third line center. I’m also of the belief that the club is now looking for a right-shot defenseman. There is a growing fear that Matt Benning will not be returning to the lineup anytime soon.
Chris Kreider is a player that the Oilers have interest in. It’s believed they showed interest at both last year’s trade deadline and draft. The Rangers are certainly going to trade him prior to February’s deadline, and the Oilers are going to need to add a forward.
Kreider has ten goals on the season and 21 points through 35 games. His Corsi For% of 45.3% is ugly, but it’s also positive relative to his teammates (1.5%).
The Rangers still maintain interest in Jesse Puljujarvi, so it stands to reason he would be part of any package for Kreider. Could Puljujarvi, a second and a salary offset like Sam Gagner get the deal done? I don’t think Kreider’s price is as high as many others believe.
Another name that has been mentioned by a few? Sami Vatanen, from the New Jersey Devils.
Vatanen has 15 points (5-10-15) in 31 games played a 48.6% Corsi For%. Vatanen is a powerplay weapon and strong puck mover who shoots right. He’d be a rental, and quite frankly an upgrade over the injured Benning. If the Oilers believe they will be without Benning for an extended period of time, don’t rule out a rental like Vatanen.
I do not believe, at this time, that the club has any interest in Lias Andersson of the Rangers.