This week coming up is an exciting one for the NHL.
The expansion Seattle Kraken will select their new roster in just ten days, while the rest of the league (excluding Vegas) will need to have their protected lists for expansion in by Saturday. There’s expected to be a bit of player movement between now and then as teams scramble to get their rosters just right.
While each NHL club is expected to be getting things just to their liking, the Oilers might be have something extra on their plate: an extension for Darnell Nurse.
Darnell Nurse will play the last of a two year deal in 2021-22, a deal worth 5.6MM. What will a new deal look like?
A few things first.
Darnell Nurse was the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. A defenceman who played his junior hockey in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds, Nurse would make an immediate impact upon his arrival to the NHL in 2015-16. A gifted player who can make plays in the opponent’s end of the ice, he’s a 6’4” 220 lb player who brings his patented variety of physical play to every shift of every game.
An oft-heard criticism of Nurse’s game was that he was prone to defensive lapses in his own end. Nurse took a big leap forward on defence this past season, which might make his next deal even more lucrative than one might have previously expected.
At 26 years of age, Nurse will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2021-22 NHL season. A new deal is likely to come...but how long, and for how much?
Looking at nothing but the stat line, Nurse played in all 56 games during the abbreviated 2021 NHL season. He put up 16-20-36, which was an improvement over his 31 points in 71 games during 2019-20. Furthermore, he’s a workhorse. Nurse averaged 25:38 per regular season game, good for fourth overall among the league. His most common pairing was with Tyson Barrie, he averaged about four more minutes of ice time over Barrie per game. Interestingly enough, Nurse spent only about a quarter of the time he did with Ethan Bear as he did with Barrie. Nurse and Bear could be the top pair heading into 2021-22 barring any major shakeups on defence.
Nurse plays most of his minutes against elite competition, and holds a 49.7 CF%. While not quite breakeven, it’s a marked improvement from 41% the year prior.
So how much and for how long?
The deal that pops at me is Thomas Chabot. It’s not a terribly close comparison, but it’s in the ballpark. Plus, I don’t think the Oilers are going to blink if Nurse’s term is at or close to Chabot’s.
Chabot signed the big one in 2019 after a 55 point season. Chabot’s deal was 8x8, and I really think there’s a good chance that’s what Nurse’s deal ends up at or around. Chabot’s back half of the deal is equipped with a NMC beginning in 2024-25. Chabot is the heart and soul of the Senators defence, and nearly half his time on ice is played against elite comp. The Senators allowed a tugboat’s worth of goals this past season, but part of that can be attributed to the uncertainty in net (neither Matt Murray or Marcus Hogberg had a SV% that reached the .900s, the club was 27th in goals allowed). Chabot teamed up with Nikita Zaitsev a whole bunch at even strength this year and held onto a 47% CF, he averaged just a whisker less than Nurse’s average time on ice at 26:17 per game.
He’s the most consistent Senators defenceman they’ve had since Erik Karlsson, and I think this is just about where Nurse’s deal ends up. I think the Oilers are eager to sign Nurse to a long term deal and get into free agency this year knowing where they stand in the cap space game, and if we’re to believe anything said by the club recently, I think they’d like to do this within the next couple of weeks.
I’ve got Nurse at 8 years at somewhere between 7.5MM and 8MM AAV for eight years.