In a world without cap, the Oilers would love to go offseason shopping for some scoring up top. They’d probably go for a third line centre, and a goaltender to either back up (or push) Mikko Koskinen.
Unfortunately, there’s that pesky cap number that they’ve got to worry about. And, they’ve only got about ten million in cap space (barring a trade, or a buyout) that they can go shopping with. (This doesn’t include any bonus overages that Mike Smith earned in 2019-20, so it’s actually a little bit less than ten million in cap. You get the picture.)
In other words, any free agent signing, any trade, any deal where the Oil take on a player will have to be for the right price.
The most obvious trade here is a one-for-one with the Winnipeg Jets. I’m talking about Nikolaj Ehlers for Darnell Nurse.
Could Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers be on the move this offseason? https://t.co/U72RjKXSDk— JetsNation (@NHLJetsNation) September 1, 2020
I like to keep the crazy at bay. By that, I mean that I don’t think the Oilers will be acquiring Jamie Benn this offseason. It’d be pretty cool if they did, but let’s not waste each other’s time here. Nikolaj Ehlers’ name has popped up on the trade board for whatever reason, and this should be a giant flashing green light for Ken Holland and the Oilers.
It’s plain and simple, cut and dry. The Oilers need more scoring 5 on 5. Nikolaj Ehlers will help your 5 on 5 scoring, and he’ll do it by joining one of the top two lines. Want to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Connor McDavid? That’s dandy. Put him on line two with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. Do you want to reunite the 93-29-56 line? Big mood. Let’s put Ehlers on a line with Connor McDavid. I bet you that’ll work just nice.
Nikolaj Ehlers scored 25 goals en route to 58 points in 71 regular season games this past season. 18 of those goals and 46 of those points were 5 on 5. He did that most commonly on a line with Blake Wheeler and *Jack Roslovic*. There’s nothing about his past season which screams that Ehlers was on some sort of a heater - he had a 12.3 shooting percentage on the year, he’s got a career shooting percentage of 11.9.
Ehlers is not a passenger. He’s a go-getter. A loner, Dottie. A rebel.
He was drafted in the same year as Connor McDavid (9th overall in 2015) and he’s got five more years at 6MM. That price point might scare you, and it might force Holland’s hand to make another move to shed some cap. You’re getting a bona fide top six winger, you won’t need to chase Taylor Hall this offseason, and your top six could bet set if Jesse Puljujarvi is atop line one to start the season.
The offer? Darnell Nurse.
Nurse is a tenacious defenceman who puts up big numbers for a rearguard. The 7th pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Nurse’s 33 points are the most among Oiler defencemen this past season, 26 points which occurred while the club was 5 on 5. Nurse’s point totals are benefited by playing significant time with both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at evens.
Nurse had the second most minutes among the defence this year (Oscar Klefbom had the most), but Nurse is ideally a second pair player due to the defensive holes in his game. He spent most of his time 5 on 5 with Ethan Bear, who is another player that the Oilers will need to extend this offseason. (The Oilers ought to go long with Bear, if they wait, they run the risk of driving the ask up even further).
WHY OFFER NURSE?
For better or worse, this is Darnell Nurse. He’s got a good blend of physicality, he’s got some nice numbers and he’s not bashful to join the rush. The holes in his D game are what’s keeping him from a serious conversation about becoming a top pairing player. He’s played 350 regular season games in the NHL, and the player is who he is. He will not magically get better at the 400 game mark, the 700 game mark, or the 1150 game mark. This player is worthy, but he’s now the highest paid defenceman at 5.6MM on a bridge deal. At age 25, I think we’ve seen his peak, but I think that there’s enough interest from some clubs who see more of the positive.
CAN THE OILERS DEFENCE AFFORD THE LOSS OF DARNELL NURSE?
Depends on how high you are on Caleb Jones. Jones played 43 games in 2019-2020 with a host of people (Kris Russell was his most common linemate) and held his own, and he looked pretty darn good when Oscar Klefbom was absent from the lineup. The only concern I have with Jones is that he’s got a total of 60 games over two years in Edmonton, and a year of sheltered minutes would probably do him a world of good. He’d be doing a lot at 2LD if Nurse was in Winnipeg, and he’d pick up some power play time along the way.
The Oilers would take a chance in shipping Nurse to Winnipeg, but the arrival of Ehlers would go a long way to helping a 5 on 5 that was -16 goals in 2019-20. I’d do it if the Jets would allow it, though I acknowledge the risk that goes along with it.