Two very different eight-year contracts: Islanders’ Pelech, Oilers’ Nurse

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Friday continued a trend of prominent defensemen signing massive eight-year contracts, either from the free-agent market or in the form of extensions. The Oilers also continued a trend of handing eight-year extensions that could far outweigh the value a defensemen brings — in their case, with Darnell Nurse. Leave it to the Islanders to break that trend, though, as the eight-year deal they handed Adam Pelech could be a steal.

At the very least, the Islanders’ eight-year deal for Pelech feels like a steal compared to the rest, including the extension the Oilers handed to Nurse.

The Islanders confirmed that it’s an eight-year contract for Pelech, who is 26. They didn’t make the cap hit official, but multiple reports indicate that Pelech will carry a $5.75 million AAV from 2021-22 through 2028-29.

The Oilers confirmed that Darnell Nurse’s eight-year contract carries a whopping $9.25M cap hit.

Nurse is also 26, but he’s about to enter the final year of a deal that carries a $5.6M cap hit. So, that escalates the risk with Nurse more than Pelech even more: Nurse’s extension would run from 2022-23 to 2029-30.

In a comical twist, Cap Friendly noted that Pelech’s new, eight-year contract compares quite a bit to what the Oilers … won’t be paying Nurse much longer.

It sure seems like the Oilers made a massive, and highly questionable, gamble with Darnell Nurse. They’re not alone, as it was already an offseason of wild, probably ill-advised eight-year contracts for defensemen. And it’s not like most teams saved money with such terms:

Context matters … but the Islanders did get a good deal while others rolled the dice to extremes.

Islanders leveraged Pelech’s RFA status, other advantages for an impressive deal

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that Adam Pelech was an RFA. No doubt, Pelech’s RFA status gave the Islanders added leverage. The Oilers, meanwhile, risked Nurse hitting the unrestricted free-agent market next offseason.

Still, you can chalk at least some of that difference down to planning. Could the Oilers have positoned themselves better to limit future risks with Nurse?

You can make a very, very persuasive argument that the Islanders aren’t just getting a cheaper deal; it’s possible that Pelech is just a flat-out better defenseman than Nurse. Consider how the two defensemen grade out side-by-side in Evolving Hockey’s three-season RAPM charts:

Two very different eight-year contracts: Islanders' Pelech, Oilers' Nurse RAPM comparison
via Evolving Hockey

Again, the RFA (Pelech) and pending UFA (Nurse) aspects make this an imperfect comparison.

But zoom out, and you can still consider some fascinating tidbits.

Among other takeaways, it sure feels like points/goals and other factors inflate reptuations, while teams aren’t paying as much money for proven defense. Adam Pelech brings a ton of value when you start to dig into “fancy stats.”

Now, there is some risk for the Islanders when it comes to investing in Pelech with an eight-year contract. Yet, by getting that cap hit down to $5.75M, it’s a far less frightening risk than the Oilers are making with Nurse (and other teams are making with eight-year gambles).

With a modest 14 points in 2020-21, and an also-modest career-high of 21 points, you have to dig deeper to see just how valuable Pelech’s been to the Islanders. Kudos to the Islanders for taking advantage of that.

More to come from the Islanders?

Personally, I’d also be curious if Pelech’s contract could serve another purpose for the Islanders. Ryan Pulock, also 26, sees his $5M cap hit expire after next season. He’d become a UFA from there, so that could theoretically open him up for a payday.

Yet, considering that Pelech is his partner in crime, maybe that eight-year, $5.75M cap hit could serve as a vague guideline for Pulock? Maybe he’d take fewer years, but something closer to that $5.75M AAV? If Pulock would listen to such an offer, I’d be tempted to make it, if I were in Lou’s shoes.

You’d think that Pulock might lean closer to Nurse than to Pelech. Along with having similar soon-to-be-UFA leverage, Pulock’s put up the counting stats that err closer to Nurse. While Pulock was limited in 2020-21 (17 points in 56 games), he rattled off 32 points or more in each season from 2017-18 through 2019-20. During that span, he scored 10 goals twice, and also nine goals.

By wiggling out of contracts for Andrew Ladd, Nick Leddy, and (admittedly more painfully) Jordan Eberle, Lou Lamoriello’s already looked more like a GM of the Year this offseason than last one. If Lamoriello can follow this promising-looking Pelech contract with an affordable Pulock extension, then maybe just start handing out a Second Best GM of the Year trophy for everyone else.

Even if that Pulock situation lingers, this is a fine bit of business. According to Cap Friendly, the Islanders have almost $12 million in cap space to work with. While Anthony Beauvillier and Ilya Sorokin linger as RFAs, maybe there’s room for Zach Parise and/or Kyle Palmieri? Could the secretive Islanders even have something bigger up their sleeves?

Impressive stuff, overall. From the Islanders, that is …

Oilers still not learning the right lessons with eight-year Nurse extension

Consider Darnell Nurse’s eight-year extension with the Oilers as a parallel to the Blue Jackets’ shocking Zach Werenski deal. It’s not that we’re talking about bad defensemen. It’s just too much money for what they offer.

To many, it feels like another case of the Oilers (among other teams) ignoring two things:

  • Shooting percentages that likely won’t continue.
  • How drastically Connor McDavid could juice someone’s scoring numbers.

From giving Zach Kassian too much to selling low on Jordan Eberle, the Oilers have seen this movie before. Retaining Tyson Barrie alone already displayed an indifference to obvious red flags.

Truly, though, the Oilers might have been better off merely letting Nurse play the 2021-22 season out to get a better gauge of his value. Instead, they extended him after what will be a very difficult season to repeat.

Yes, it’s impressive that Nurse scored 16 goals and 36 points over 56 games last season. He’s shown offensive acumen before, reaching 10 goals once before 2020-21, and also managing 33 and 41-point seasons.

Yet there are certain numbers that may not repeat, at least not often. After peaking with a 5.9 shooting percentage, Nurse skyrocketed to a 10.4 shooting percentage last season. There are flashing red flags that Nurse rode an unusual wave of luck last season. You don’t need to dig deep to find those numbers, either.

Even if he cools down, Nurse can bring offense. The concern is just that, without those bounces, his defensive issues might become tougher to stomach. At least at a price tag that grows to the $9.25M range starting in 2021-22.

Like with Seth Jones, the Oilers have a chance of getting some nice value with Nurse’s eight-year extension. Yet, also like with Jones, the price tag makes it a very dangerous gamble. When you’re paying this much, is an extension even “proactive,” or are you merely being hasty in making a mistake?

Can teams learn from the Islanders?

Again, Nurse and Pelech weren’t in the same exact situations. Them both signing for eight years (one a contract, the other extension) on the same day opens up the door for certain takeaways, though.

  • It sure seems like teams aren’t getting much more sophisticated, especially in assessing defensemen. There’s still a lot of imagining what a defenseman could be, while ignoring underlying troubles. That’s especially true when they’re a big, prototypical type like Nurse.
  • On the other hand, pure defense is tougher to truly measure. It’s also seemingly less marketable.

However you explain the differences, the Islanders enjoyed a good-to-great deal, especially with defensemen prices skyrocketing. If that helps keep costs down on a potential Pulock extension, then even better.

On the other hand, Nurse’s extension only makes it harder to imagine the Oilers stockpiling the sort of quality around Connor McDavid that could build a sustainable contender. This was already an offseason of questionable moves by Ken Holland, especially when viewed long-term. This Nurse extension could haunt the Oilers for years — maybe as soon as it kicks in during the 2022-23 season.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.