Darnell Nurse

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Poll: Are the Oilers legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?

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This post is part of Oilers Day on PHT…

The Edmonton Oilers were one of the biggest surprises of the 2016-17 season. No one expected them to break their 10-year playoff drought last season, but that’s exactly what they did.

Led by Connor McDavid, the Oilers proved to be an offensive force. They finished eighth in goals for (247) and McDavid finished first in points with 100. This off-season, the team handed McDavid a huge eight-year, $100 million contract.

“This may be one of the largest contracts ever given in the NHL, but I can assure you, it could easily have been a lot higher in value and shorter in term,” GM Peter Chiarelli said, per NHL.com. “Building a team to win the Stanley Cup championship was a constant discussion point in this negotiation.”

Chiarelli didn’t make many changes up front during the off-season. He swapped Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome (that move saved them some cap space) and he handed out massive extensions to McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Oilers also surprised by ranking eighth in the league in goals against (212). Goalie Cam Talbot was the biggest reason for that, as he turned in solid performances night after night. He played 73 games last season and won 42 of them. It’ll be interesting to see if they lighten his workload next season.

Although the defense has improved after the acquisitions of Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson, the unit is still a work in progress. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse have also developed into solid options for the Oilers, but they’re still lacking a true number one defenseman. Is that going to hold them back in the future?

It’s obvious that the Oilers are no longer pushovers in the Western Conference. But do they have what it takes to to make a run to the Stanley Cup Final?
Alright, it’s your turn to have your say. Vote in our poll and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.

Oilers cap situation is scary, and not just because of Draisaitl, McDavid

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The Edmonton Oilers pulled the trigger – and likely made teams with big RFA headaches like the Boston Bruins grimace – in signing Leon Draisaitl to a massive eight-year, $68 million contract on Wednesday.

You have to do a little stretching to call it a good deal, although credit Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshysnki with some reasonably stated optimism.

Either way, the per-year cap bill for Connor McDavid and Draisaitl is $21 million once McDavid’s extension kicks in starting in 2018-19; that’s the same combined cost that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane receive … and those two got those paydays after they won three Stanley Cups for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, if the Oilers struggle in the near future, plenty of people will heap blame on McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Really, though, the true scapegoats should be a management team with more strikeouts than homers.

(As usual, Cap Friendly was a key resource in studying Edmonton’s salary structure.)

Bloated supporting cast

There are some frightening contracts on the books in Edmonton, especially if a few situations work out unfavorably.

At 29, there’s severe risk of regression with Milan Lucic, even if he enjoys a more stable second season with Edmonton. He carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23, so he’ll be on the books for all but two years of Draisaitl’s new deal.

Kris Russell costs $4.167M during a four-year stretch, and even now, he has plenty of critics. Those complaints may only get louder if, at 30, he also starts to slip from his already debatable spot.

Andrej Sekera‘s been a useful blueliner, yet there’s some concern that time won’t treat him kindly. He’s dealing with injuries heading into 2017-18, and at 31, there’s always the risk that his best days are behind him. Not great for a guy carrying a $5.5M cap hit through 2020-21.

One can’t help but wonder if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be an odd man out once the shackles of the salary cap really tighten. Just consider how much Edmonton is spending on a limited number of players, and you wonder if the 24-year-old will be deemed too pricey at his $6M clip.

Yeah, not ideal.

It’s not all bad

Now, let’s be fair.

RNH could easily grow into being well worth that $6M. Draisaitl may also justify his hefty price tag. McDavid honestly cut the Oilers a relative deal by taking $12.5M instead of the maximum.

The Oilers also have two quality, 24-year-old defensemen locked up to team-friendly deals: Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M through 2022-23) and Adam Larsson ($4.167M through 2020-21). They need every bargain they can get, and those two figure to fit the bill.

Crucial future negotiations

GM Peter Chiarelli’s had a questionable history of getting good deals. He’ll need to get together soon, or the Oilers will really struggle to surround their core with helpful support.

Cam Talbot is a brilliant bargain at the strangely familiar cap hit of $4.167M, but that value only lasts through 2018-19. After that, he’s eligible to become a UFA, and could be massively expensive if he produces two more strong seasons.

The bright side is that the Oilers aren’t locked into an expensive goalie, so they can look for deals. That isn’t as sunny a situation if you don’t trust management to have much success in the bargain bin.

Talbot isn’t the only upcoming expiring contract. The Oilers have serious questions to answer with Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Also, will they need to let Lucic-like winger Patrick Maroon go? Even with mild relief in Mark Fayne‘s money coming off the books, the Oilers might regret this buffet when the bills start piling up next summer.

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Look, the truth is that management is likely to be propped up by the top-end in Edmonton, particularly in the case of McDavid’s otherworldly skills. As much as that Draisaitl deal looks like an overpay – possibly a massive one – there’s a chance that he lives up to that $8.5M, too.

It’s not just about those stars, though.

The Pittsburgh Penguins gained new life by complimenting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the likes of Phil Kessel. The Blackhawks have struggled once they couldn’t afford as much help for Kane and Toews.

You have to mix your premium items with bargains, and one wonders if the Oilers will be able to spot sufficient value beyond the no-brainer top guys. Their recent history in that area certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

Georges Laraque had some thoughts on the impact of the Oilers’ newfound toughness

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The Edmonton Oilers are coming off of their most successful season in more than a decade and there are a lot of theories for why the turnaround took place.

One of the more popular talking points was the addition of players like Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, and Kris Russell that helped bring some toughness and grit to the lineup and cut down on the number of liberties that were taken against star players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

To be fair, players like Maroon — and even Zack Kassian who was in his second year with the team — did have really good seasons and were helpful in a lot of areas.

And while Lucic’s contract looks like it could one day be an albatross on the team’s salary cap, he is still a pretty good player for the time being.

The other theory — the one I buy into — is that fully healthy seasons from Connor McDavid and defenseman Oscar Klefbom, as well as a true breakout year from Draisaitl and rock solid play (and incredible durability) from goaltender Cam Talbot, helped carry the team. A couple of superstars, a top-pairing defender and a good starting goalie that can play 70-plus games will do a lot to improve a team.

One person that seems to be putting more stock into the first theory is ex-Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque.

Laraque was on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer this past week and talked about the intimidation factor and how the additions of players like Lucic and Maroon led to healthier seasons from McDavid and the rest of his skilled teammates.

An excerpt, via the Edmonton Journal:

You said some of the people in the media they don’t like tough guys, and they say stuff, ‘They don’t like it, we don’t believe in this and that.’ This is the trend between people that know the game and people that don’t know the game. There’s many people in the media that cover the game that talk about hockey and stuff but they don’t know anything. And you read them and they want to make it look like they do, but they don’t. The stats you just said right there (on the health of the 2016-17 Oilers) gives you an indication right there of what’s been going on with that team. Why do you think McDavid got 100 points this year? Do you see how much room he’s getting? Yes, there’s a little bit of stuff there and there sometimes, but most of the time he was healthy because of that presence.

And More…

Yeah, they had a young team that played all the game and, yeah, they had enough toughness that prevent guys to take liberties with those guys. Look at before, the Oilers when they had Zack (Stortini) and other guys that were up and down, people were taking liberties with that team and they were always hurt. Now those days are done. People, when they go to Edmonton, with Darnell Nurse, Lucic, Maroon, all those guys there, people don’t want to take liberties with those kids because there’s a lot of guys can answer the bell… And we’re not even talking about fighting here. We’re talking about a presence that prevents guys from taking cheap shots because they know there would be retribution if they did so.”

This all goes back to the old “deterrence” argument that gets thrown around a lot, and it is no surprise that a former player like Laraque who was paid to be that sort of deterrent (or paid to try to be that) would buy into that. But arguing that Connor McDavid has space and scored 100 points this season because Patrick Maroon or Milan Lucic was on the team is quite a leap. He had 100 points this season because he is probably already (at worst) the second best player in the league and is as dominant as any player to enter the league in decades.

As we talked about when Pittsburgh acquired Ryan Reaves from the St. Louis Blues in an effort to cut down on the physical abuse they took, arguments like this one here by Laraque aren’t really isn’t based in any sort of reality. It is true that McDavid was fully healthy this season and managed to get through without the type of significant injury that cut his rookie season in half, and it is also true that happened in the same season that Lucic and Maroon arrived in Edmonton.

But that does not mean the two results are related. After all, when Lucic played in Boston alongside Shawn Thornton the Bruins were routinely on the receiving end of cheap shots that sidelined players. Just ask Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and Loui Eriksson, for example. The “Big Bad Bruins” mentality didn’t keep Matt Cooke, or Aaron Rome or John Scott from taking them out with cheap shots.

These discussions always create a bunch of misleading arguments about toughness and physical play. There is nothing wrong with adding physical players or players that can play with a bit of an edge. But you can’t expect them to keep your star players healthy because the guys that set out to do that damage are going to do it no matter what. Plus, hockey is a collision sport that is going to result in players being injured. It doesn’t always have to be a cheap shot.

But adding toughness just for the sake of adding toughness when there is no skill to go with it is not going to make your team any better.

The Oilers weren’t better this past season because a player Patrick Maroon showed up, played physical and tried to prevent teams from taking liberties.

The Oilers were better because a player like Patrick Maroon showed up, played physical and scored 27 goals for them.

Draisaitl and other key situations for Oilers’ future with McDavid locked up

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It might not look like it with that $100 million price tag, but the Edmonton Oilers got a bargain in landing Connor McDavid‘s prime years for $12.5 million per season.

Once that became official, questions naturally pivoted to RFA Leon Draisaitl, and reasonably so. Also reasonably, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli deflected questions regarding those negotiations.

Now, while McDavid and Draisaitl stand as the Oilers’ most important – and expensive – considerations, other moves are likely to determine Edmonton’s ceiling. So let’s look at some of those key situations.

MORE: Edmonton’s cap challenges are arguably even tougher than what Penguins, Blackhawks faced

Draisaitl a mystery

The range of possibilities are truly wild for what Draisaitl might make.

Sportsnet’s Jonathan Willis stated in May that a $6-$6.5 million cap hit would be appropriate, yet plenty of estimates place Draisaitl at making far, far more. Chiarelli has stated that the Oilers would match any offer sheet, which inspired some gloomy thoughts.

The slight bright side: if that $9.8 million poison pill happened now, it would go down to … $22.3 million.

Luckily for the Oilers, that worst-case scenario is also an unlikely situation. Either way, Draisaitl seems almost certain to be Edmonton’s second-most expensive player. Chiarelli’s job is to keep him closer to third place than to first.

Potentially elite goalie for cheap (but not for long)

Whether you believe that he deserved a Vezina nomination or not in 2016-17, the bottom line is that Cam Talbot presented glorious value while carrying the league’s biggest workload.

No one played in more games (73), faced as many shots (2,117) or stopped as many pucks (1,946) as Talbot did last season, and he did that all at a bargain rate of $4.167 million.

That cap hit runs out after 2018-19, so the Oilers will need to determine if Talbot’s worth a raise (because he’s highly likely to get one, in Edmonton or somewhere else).

Fork in the road

They might not be headline-grabbers, but some of the more intriguing situations involve Oilers with a lot to prove, and possibly a ton of money to earn.

Ryan Strome is the easiest example. Edmonton provides a clean slate – and possibly some stellar linemates – as the fifth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft tries to show that he’s worth more than $2.5 million per year.

He’s followed what seemed like a 50-point breakout in 2014-15 with two seasons around 30, so next season could have a huge impact on his back account. Even as an RFA.

Many joke that Patrick Maroon ($1.5M) provided many of the same benefits as Milan Lucic ($6) at less than a third of the price. Maroon should narrow that gap after that contract expires following 2017-18. The big-money question is whether he could meet or even exceed last season’s 27 goals.

There are some interesting questions on defense, too. Matthew Benning will be an RFA after this coming campaign, yet Darnell Nurse stands as the blueliner with the most to gain.

Nurse has work to do to justify being the seventh pick of 2013, so what better time to show that he’s more than just a solid player than in his contract year?

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These aren’t the only factors to consider. Chiarelli must continue to search for supporting cast members, and potentially people could be part of the core in Edmonton. By the same logic, he’ll need to determine if anyone else is expendable, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ $6M being the glaring question.

He’ll also root for Kris Russell and Lucic to be the kind of players that … well, aren’t punchlines across the league.

As this post mentions, the Oilers face unprecedented challenges. For outsiders looking in – particular those who love to get nerdy about building teams – it should be a fascinating process; even smaller names make for some pivotal narratives.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.