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Should the Oilers Consider Trading Darnell Nurse?

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It's an interesting question that doesn't get posed a lot, but it is something they should at least consider.

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, while watching "The Connor McDavid Show" I was discussing various Oilers-related topics with members of the Oilers twitter-verse when an interesting point was raised by Cam Thompson:

I've been one of a number of Oiler fans who were not only frustrated by the cost of acquiring Griffin Reinhart, but also the fact that given his skill set and place on the depth chart, I consider him a redundancy in Edmonton. Considering the fact that Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse appear to have the left side locked down for many years to come, not to mention the emergence of Brandon Davidson as a legitimate consideration for a bottom-pairing role next season, Reinhart's presence has always seemed superfluous.

Given that, when Cam mentioned the notion that one of Nurse or Reinhart could likely be dealt this summer, my initial instinct was that the logical choice was Reinhart. As the conversation continued though and I took some time to consider the question, I'm not so sure that's the best option.

The honest fact of the matter is that Reinhart is starting to settle into what he's going to be as a pro hockey player. He's in his second pro season and while we're not quite sure what he is, we're starting to be able to discern what he's not...in this case, he's not going to be a top pairing guy in the NHL. Could he still achieve a long-time top 4 role? He could, though I'd place my bets on a competent third-pairing guy who might be able to slide up to cover for injuries. I don't think there is a very strong argument for projecting him higher than that at this stage. That's not intended as a knock on Reinhart either. Guys like that can have long careers and it's just fine if that's what he is. It means the Oilers overpaid for him, but that's not his fault.

If that's the perception of Reinhart around the league, as I suspect it likely is in most markets, then you're not going to grab a young, established top 4 Dman in a deal where he is a main piece of the return. You might be able to toss him into a deal where it also costs you another significant asset like Eberle or Yakupov, but he won't bring the return himself. But Nurse might.

Given the reality that exists today on the Oilers' depth chart, the left side long-term has Sekera, Klefbom, Nurse and then Reinhart and Davidson, while the right side is a trainwreck. That imbalance has to be addressed this summer, preferably by adding TWO top-4 right side blueliners to (finally) give the Oilers' young players some protection by icing a legit top 4.

The Oilers have the freedom to deal from the depth in the top six (Eberle?) to address one of those needs, but the other has to come from somewhere else. Nurse might be the best answer.

He's still viewed as an impact prospect around the league and while his rookie season has been up and down, he's certainly shown flashes of what he can be, which is a Dman in the same league as Seth Jones, who was taken just a few spots ahead of him in his draft year. I think there's a very real chance Nurse reaches that status in the league, but I'm also of the belief that there's a real possibility he doesn't as well.

If the Oilers' timeline to be competitive is linked to the career of Connor McDavid, they need a legit top four next season, not after a couple more years of letting kids learn on the fly in the NHL. With a lack of trade chips that carry the cache to be able to acquire a young top 4 Dman, and plenty of depth on the left side to cover for his absence, the best use of Nurse's current value might be to deal him now, while he's still considered an elite prospect around the league.

How do you get fair value for Darnell Nurse?

It's a great question. There aren't many players around the NHL that you could legitimately say are available for trade and are worthy of parting with a high-end guy like Nurse. Sure you can rattle off names like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or TJ Brodie but teams aren't about to part with core pieces of their future like that for what, at best, potentially amounts to a younger version of that same player. Let's create a quick profile of what the ideal target would be:

  • Age: Early-to-mid-twenties
  • Contract status: Either locked into a long-term deal or who will be an RFA once their current deal expires, to ensure potential for long-term team control
  • Preferably right-handed and is a top 4 NHL defenceman today, not projected to be so in the future.
  • For one reason or another, the current team doesn't view them as a long-term core piece.

That cuts the list down pretty small. There are some players who fit the criteria, sure, but very few at the level where you'd consider moving a player with Nurse's high-end potential. Sami Vatanen would be a good example. He'd be an excellent fit in Edmonton, but is he really established enough to part with Darnell Nurse? I'd be hesitant to consider a deal like that. Ryan Ellis would be another option who is a heck of a player, but again, you'd hesitate to part with Nurse for him.

No, we're looking for more established guys and the list really comes down two names in my opinion. Travis Hamonic and Tyson Barrie. The Hamonic situation is well known at this point in that he wants to be closer to his home in Manitoba and while I'd likely make this trade if I had to, I personally think there's a real shot for the Oilers to land Hamonic in the summer with a deal built around Jordan Eberle. The Islanders apparently wanted an established Dman in return for him, but I suspect that might change in the off-season after they lose Kyle Okposo. My ideal scenario is for Edmonton to try and target both Hamonic AND Barrie, which is entirely plausible, but that's likely beyond wishful thinking.

For me though, the guy I'm offering up Nurse for is Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche. Barrie is an absolute beast. He's 24 and he's a legitimate top pairing right-handed Dman right now. I'd place him easily in the top 20 all around defencemen in the NHL. Barrie is a 1st unit PP quarterback, he produces points at elite levels and is a dominant possession player. He plays 22+ minutes a night in Colorado and despite their possession woes in recent years, he's continued to perform among the very best Dmen in the league.

For the sake of conversation below, I've included a visual comparing Barrie's on-ice impact to that of Seth Jones, who many were ready to part with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for only a couple of months ago:

Why would Colorado trade him then? Well, for the same reason they moved Ryan O'Reilly. His contract. Barrie is an RFA at the end of the season and Colorado is having trouble signing him. If they decide they need to move on and replace him as best they can, Nurse is an affordable player who has the potential to grow into the role Barrie would be vacating. It would really make a lot of sense for the Avs as well if they do decide they have to move him. Maybe not in a straight up swap but as the core components of a deal I think there' a lot of logic there for both parties if this scenario does come to pass.

What do you think?

Are you willing to part with Darnell Nurse at this stage in his career? Is Tyson Barrie a worthwhile target if Edmonton did consider moving Nurse? Are there other players worthy of such a move we haven't considered?

Interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.