For Nurse, there was no doubt a deal would get done. He was confident this summer that it would all work out. Of course, he probably didn’t think he’d miss the first few days of camp, but he wasn’t making it sound like there was any negativity coming from either side in the quest to complete an extension — even if there was some disagreement on value between his agent and Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli.
The 23-year-old Nurse is coming off his best season in the NHL. He posted career highs in goals (6), points (26) and time on ice (22:15). His possession game (50.9 percent Corsi) was improved, and he credits the jump to working with Paul Coffey, who was hired by the Oilers in January as a skills development coach.
“Paul’s been a great help,” Nurse told Michael Traikos of the National Post in August. “He sees the game different than most people you get to work with… I think the offensive side of my game will continue to come out. I think last year I made a little bit of a stride. I was happy, but I wasn’t content with my offensive game. I know there’s a whole other level I can get to.”
Nurse, like Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey, who signed a similar two-year extension on Sunday, is betting on himself over the next two years to continue his development and cash in. If the salary cap ceiling continues to increase and the Oilers’ cap situation improves, he’ll put himself in line for a long-term, big money deal. But that’s something to worry about in two years time. The blue liner has plenty of work ahead of him before he can start eyeing that kind of extension.
One of the notable restricted free agents left to sign is now off that list.
The Winnipeg Jets got great value on Sunday, signing one of the league’s more underrated defenseman in Josh Morrissey to a two-year bridge deal with a $3.15 million annual value.
The signing ended a stalemate between both the club and Morrissey’s camp that surprisingly crept into training camp. Morrissey missed the first three days as preseason proceedings got underway in Winnipeg on Friday.
It’s likely the Jets were trying to get Morrissey to sign a long-term deal with the club at a cap-friendly price given the Jets are dangerously close to the $79.5 million ceiling.
Instead, Morrissey will bet on himself and the chance to get a big payday in 2020 when he will become an RFA once again, and the Jets will enjoy two more seasons of the 23-year-old at a bargain price. With the future of Jacob Trouba up in the air and with Dustin Byfuglien set to become an unrestricted free agent a after the 2020-21 season, Morrissey could be in line for a long-term deal worth more than double what he is making now.
In the interim, the deal solidifies Winnipeg’s top pairing with Morrissey and Trouba in a big year for the Jets, who got to the Western Conference Final last season on the back of a 52-win, 114-point regular season.
With Morrissey’s deal done, it will be interesting to see if the ball gets rolling in Edmonton with another high-profile RFA in defenseman in Darnell Nurse.
Have to think this deal further solidified market stance for #Oilers with RFA Darnell Nurse. Morrissey’s offensive numbers are better and he saw 33% less PP time than Nurse last year. https://t.co/GnmrsSSwS0
With NHL training camps underway and the big trades we were all waiting for (Erik Karlsson, Max Pacioretty) completed the next big thing to watch around the league are the remaining unsigned restricted free agents.
There are seven of them around the league and they all find themselves in a similar situation: They are either 22 or 23 years old, they are coming off of their entry-level contracts, and none of them had any arbitration rights this offseason. As much as everyone around the league hates the arbitration process, there is no denying that it gets things done (either before arbitration or during it), something Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee recently pointed out as he deals with one of the ongoing RFA situations with defenseman Shea Theodore.
“People get pressured into getting a deal done or you go to arbitration,” McPhee said at the start of training camp this past week, via NHL.com. “There’s a group of 10-15 good young players in the League that don’t have arbitration rights and don’t have contracts right now. And it just seems to take a while to work them out.”
A lot of times the big issue at play is the team preferring to sign the player to a shorter-term bridge contract, while the player tends to want the security that comes with a long-term contract.
Let us go around the league and take a quick look at the seven teams and players that still need to reach a deal.
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs — Nylander is the big one still out there because he’s a front-line player and, well, he plays for Toronto and that immediately makes him a big story. He’s already missed the first days of training camp and there are reports that the two sides are still far apart on a deal as Nylander doesn’t want to sign a bridge deal. And quite honestly, neither should Toronto. At this point we have a pretty good idea of the type of player that Nylander is (a really good one) and he is just now entering his peak years. Signing him to a two-year contract now and then signing him to a long-term contract after that after he’s continued to develop into his prime years is probably going to end up costing Toronto more money than if it just signed him to a long-term deal now that is comparable to, say, the one David Pastrnak signed in Boston before the 2017-18 season.
The concern that everyone will have here for Toronto is making this all work under the salary cap. The team spent big money on John Tavares in free agency this summer and after this season will have to sign Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to new contracts. They will not be cheap.
Some might argue that Toronto will have to trade one of the young guys (either Nylander or Marner, with Nylander usually the one being suggested) but the Maple Leafs can make this work with all of them.
Keep your young, impact talent.
Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights — Theodore’s absence and lack of a contract is a pretty big deal for Vegas right now.
Not only was he one of the Golden Knights’ top defenseman a year ago, playing more than 20 minutes a night and finishing with 26 points from the blue line, but with Nate Schmidt set to miss the first 20 games of the season due to a suspension the team is already going to be shorthanded on the blue line.
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers — Like the situation in Vegas with Theodore, the Oilers really need Nurse on the ice because an already undermanned unit became even thinner when the Oilers lost Andrej Sekera to injury. On Friday Nurse’s agent told the Edmonton Journal the two sides have a disagreement on what Nurse’s value is currently is, resulting in the 23-year-old defenseman returning to Toronto to continue to train.
Via the Journal:
“We have a disagreement on what Darnell’s value is and at this time there’s no meeting of the minds,” said Nurse’s agent Anton Thun, who feels there’s no reason for Nurse to stay in Edmonton now.
“He’s not under contract with the Oilers. He’s gone back to train where he did all summer, training in the same rink and gym. He can skate with a university or junior team. He won’t be skating by himself,” said Thun, who doesn’t feel Nurse, because of his age (24) is losing that much by not being in camp right now.
“If he didn’t know who his defence partners were or didn’t know the team, it would be important to be on the ice learning the ropes but this is his fourth year in the organization.”
Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres — Reinhart, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, may never be a superstar but his production through the first three years of his career has been remarkably consistent, and he should still be viewed as one of the team’s core players along with Jack Eichel and top pick Rasmus Dahlin.
He set new career-highs a year ago with 25 goals (tied for the team lead) and 50 points for the Sabres.
Still, there is a bit of a mystery as to what he can still be. At 22 he is still fairly young and probably has not entered his prime years yet, but after three consecutive years of 20-25 goals and 45-50 points, how much more untapped potential is there with him?
We can try to figure that out a little bit.
Since the start of the 2005-06 season there have been 31 forwards — including Reinhart — that have played at least 149 games through their age 22 season and averaged between 0.50 and 0.60 points per game (here is the list of players via Hockey-Reference).
Overall, it is a fairly strong list with some really good players.
The three best players that went on to become All-Star level players are Corey Perry, Zach Parise and Jakub Voracek, while there very few players that regressed or failed to go on to have productive careers (Steve Bernier, Peter Mueller, and Ryan Strome might fit that category). So there is a chance he could still really break out, but most likely this is probably close to what you should expect from him going forward. If you have a forward that can consistently get you 25 goals and 50 points you have yourself a pretty good top-six forward. Not a superstar by any means, but a player you can certainly win with.
Miles Wood, New Jersey Devils — Wood was one of the many young players the Devils relied on last season as they made their return to the playoffs. His 19 goals were fourth-most on the team (behind only Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier) and he did that while playing just 12 minutes per game over 76 games. On a per-minute basis he was one of the Devils’ most productive goal scorers and it wasn’t really the result of an unsustainably high shooting percentage. He was legitimately good.
General manager Ray Shero said at the start of camp that the two sides are pretty close, but that there are “some philosophical issues that need to be worked out about how the system works.”
Added Shero, via NJ.com, “That’s not just a situation with his agents or Miles himself.”
So chalk another one up under the system isn’t perfect category.
Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets — This isn’t the first time the Jets have had an RFA contract dispute with a young defenseman, going through this pretty regularly over the past few years with Jacob Trouba. That situation has reached a point where it remains unlikely that Trouba remains in Winnipeg long-term. They really do not want that storyline to repeat itself here. Morrissey isn’t quite as good as Trouba, but he is still a former first-round draft pick that has developed nicely and was one of the team’s top-four defenders a year ago, playing more than 20 minutes per night. (UPDATE: Morrissey is now signed.)
Nick Ritchie, Anaheim Ducks — Of all the remaining unsigned RFA’s Ritchie is the one that probably has the least amount of leverage because his career to this point has been, for lack of a better word, uninspiring. The No. 10 overall pick in 2014, Ritchie has appeared in 186 games in his NHL career and recorded just 26 goals and 33 assists (59 total points), including only 10 goals in 76 games a year ago. He is not quite a bust, but he also has not really taken a significant step forward (he actually scored four fewer goals this past season than he did the year before. If there is any player out of this group that should be destined for a “prove it” bridge type of contract, Ritchie is almost certainly the one.
• The Montreal Canadiens won’t have Shea Weber in their lineup for the first few months of the season. It’ll be tough to overcome that, and Yost explains why they need him back as soon as possible. (TSN.ca)
• Like Detroit did many years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs have begun drafting several players from Sweden. It worked out for the Wings, so we’ll see if the Leafs can get similar results. (Elite Prospects)
• There’s a chance that we might have another work stoppage in the NHL in 2020. What are the main issues that need to be resolved to avoid that? Hockey related revenue and escrow are the main trouble spots right now. (Spector’s Hockey)
• The fact that Andrej Sekera (injury) and Darnell Nurse (no contract) might not be available to the Oilers to start the season could mean that Caleb Jones cracks the squad. (Sportsnet)
• Even though Adam McQuaid wasn’t a superstar, the people in Boston certainly appreciated him. Here’s some of his best moments in a Bruins jersey. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)
In most cases, an NHL team hands out a PTO to a player for a reason: their services aren’t in very high demand.
Usually, that’s because said player doesn’t really bring a ton to the table. Sometimes the deficit is more on the evaluators, though, as some good players have had to deal with reluctant buyers. Maybe a veteran isn’t done yet. Perhaps a younger player simply didn’t receive fair opportunities. After all, the Golden Knights showed that one team’s player who didn’t need to be protected could turn into another team’s key, difference-making performers.
Heading into training camps this time around, there could be some diamonds in the rough … or at least players who are good enough to help a team in a depth role. Let’s take a look at PTO situations to gauge who has a chance, who should get a look even if they fall short, and so on.
Mark Letestu (pictured), Florida Panthers
Just about every year, there is a player who’s surprisingly needing to accept a PTO. Letestu is that candidate this time around.
Letestu’s a versatile player who can score a bit, keep his head above water in tough assignments, and win faceoffs at a nice clip. He might not be perfect, but it’s hard to imagine him not making sense as, at worst, a 13th forward somewhere.
One cannot help but wonder if Florida might struggle to find a spot for him, though. Cap Friendly lists 15 forwards, and while I’d personally take Letestu instead of Micheal Haley and Troy Brouwer without flinching, those guys have contracts. Owen Tippett could also barge into the argument and take a spot as well.
#FlaPanthers current potential bottom-six forward crop for 2018-19:
Again, Letestu should be in the NHL in 2018-19, it just might not be with Florida.
Emerson Etem, Los Angeles Kings
If nothing else, Los Angeles could use Etem’s speed. Etem also ranks as a feel-good story, as landing a tryout with the Kings brings back memories of the California native drawing cheers in L.A. during the 2010 NHL Draft.
Despite the Kings’ limited depth talent, there are quite a few obstacles in the way of Etem landing a legitimate spot. If it comes down to Etem or, say, Gabriel Vilardi, the smart money is on Vilardi. Maybe he’d beat out a lower-end forward if all things are equal, but those players have guaranteed contracts. Los Angeles’ cap crunch – The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman notes that the Kings may only carry 13 instead of 14 forwards – doesn’t necessarily help Etem, even if he’d likely come at a low cost.
Perhaps a two-way contract would work for Etem and the Kings if he impresses during his PTO? Etem spent last season between the AHL and Swiss league, anyway, so it might not be such a bad deal. From the Kings’ perspective, they’d have an experienced player who they can call up
Jeff Glass (unofficial), Calgary Flames
Let’s group the feel-good stories together.
At age 32, Jeff Glass finally got a chance to play in the NHL, and ran with that opportunity early on. Now he gets to try out for the team he grew up rooting for, as Sportsnet’s Eric Francis notes, although the Flames haven’t announced the PTO officially yet.
“When I was a kid my dad would get tickets from work once or twice a year so I have fond memories of watching them play at the Saddledome,” Glass said, via Francis. “I grew up idolizing Trevor Kidd. Him and Rick Tabaracci were the Flames goalies when I was young and I got to go to his goalie schools here in town. Kidd was the man. He had the cool gear – I loved everything about him.
“It’s kind of cool wearing the Flames jersey. What a small world.”
The Flames might be bringing Glass in mainly because they’ll want extra goalies available considering their preseason trip to China. He’ll need to defy the odds to hurdle the Flames collection of young backup hopefuls: Jon Gillies, David Rittich, and Tyler Parsons. At least he’s used to being a long shot.
Jason Garrison and Scottie Upshall, Edmonton Oilers
With Andrej Sekera out for the season, it makes some sense for the Oilers to give Garrison a look, although I’d be much more interested in KHL-bound Cody Franson.
Garrison’s already battling with depth defensemen Jakub Jerabek and Kevin Gravel, and don’t count out Evan Bouchard. Garrison’s big shot could be useful on the power play – that might be his primary theoretical use at this point in his career, as he’s a far cry from the nice player he once was – so Bouchard’s offensive skills could make Garrison that much more redundant.
The Oilers … march to the beat of their own drum (yeah, let’s put it that way) when it comes to assessing talent, but even Edmonton will expect better from Garrison than what he did in an admittedly small sample of eight games with Vegas:
Aside from quibbling about who they’re taking a look at, you can’t really fault Edmonton for checking.
You also couldn’t fault Garrison for picking fellow PTO Scottie Upshall’s brain about acing a tryout. After all, as Connor McDavidnoted, the dude knows how to earn a spot even if he can’t seem to get a traditional contract offer.
It wouldn’t be shocking if it came down to Upshall or Kailer Yamamoto, a player who almost feels like the exact opposite of Upshall: he’s an exceedingly young, offense-leaning, small-ish forward who didn’t burn a year off of his rookie deal yet. Upshall vs. Yamamoto/other depth forwards should be interesting to watch, and perhaps an opposing team might scoop up the veteran if Upshall doesn’t make the cut?
Simon Despres, Montreal Canadiens
Somewhat like Etem, Despres is a still-young, former late-first-rounder now trying to claw back into the league.
The 26-year-old defenseman currently stands as a sad “What if?” question, as the concussion he suffered from a Tyson Barrie hit set Despres’ career back:
Can he earn a spot on a sputtering Montreal team? Well, the roster is loaded with defensemen – even if it’s quantity over quality – so that is a pretty tall task. The Habs love hoarding former first-rounders, though, so a two-way contract might not be the worst option for both sides. Training camp/preseason games might not provide sufficient opportunities for Despres to show that he can still be viable at the NHL level.
Mark Fayne and Marcel Noebels, Boston Bruins
Fayne has 389 regular-season games of NHL experience, showing promise at times during his Devils days. Still, he bombed with Edmonton, to the point that his last NHL reps came in 2016-17, when he only suited up for four games. His AHL numbers aren’t going to generate much demand.
Noebels is a 26-year-old forward who hasn’t appeared in an NHL game yet, spending the last few years in Germany playing for the Berlin Polar Bears. He did go in the fourth round (118th overall by Philly) in 2011, for what that’s worth.
Much like the Flames, the Bruins are playing exhibition games in China, so my guess is that is the main reason why Fayne and Noebels received PTOs.
Of all the players above, I’d wager that Letestu is most capable of making a Lee Stempniak/P.A. Parenteau-type impact as a PTO who accomplishes something beyond the “replacement level.”
He doesn’t distinguish himself from the field as far as opportunities go, however, as it’s a packed field of forwards in Florida.