Darnell Nurse

Long-term outlook for Edmonton Oilers: Free agents, prospects, and more

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Edmonton Oilers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Is there an NHL team that boasts a better duo than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? What if you weigh the future, being that McDavid is 23 and Draisaitl is 24?

Of course, the Oilers pay for the luxury of a duo that carries them to competence.

Now, I’d argue that McDavid + Draisaitl is a combo worth $21M (honestly, McDavid’s probably worth nearly that much alone). Even so, the combo eats up about 25 percent of this season’s $81.5M cap ceiling. Thanks to the COVID-19 pause, it will be a chore to maintain that level, let alone bump it to $82M or higher.

When you begin paying your stars like actual stars, every mistake cuts that much deeper.

About $14.2M of the Oilers’ space will be eaten up by James Neal, retaining some of Milan Lucic‘s salary, Zack Kassian‘s extension, and the questionable Mikko Koskinen extension. Add in dead money like the Andrej Sekera buyout and the margin of error gets even smaller.

Could that force the Oilers to wave goodbye to, say, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after 2020-21? Rather than landing a big fish in free agency, will Edmonton be stuck searching the bargain bin year after year?

There’s at least an opening to put together a more efficient defense.

Oscar Klefbom‘s had some stumbles, but he’s worthwhile as either a key defenseman or a trade chip at a reasonable $4.167M through 2022-23. Darnell Nurse received a bridge contract to keep him in the fold. Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, and/or Philp Broberg could help out with cheap deals through at least 2021-22.

If the Oilers fail to trade them away before their contracts run out, the $8M+ of Kris Russell and Adam Larsson goes off the books after 2020-21.

So, as time goes on, the Oilers could have a decent mix of value and youthfulness on defense. Of course, that’s if Holland makes the right moves, rather than believing too much in the likes of Mike Green.

Holland must answer: who’s going to help McDavid and Draisaitl? Will Andreas Athanasiou be part of the core? Oh yeah, and what about Jesse Puljujarvi?

Long-term needs for Oilers

Even in the optimistic situation where Koskinen persists as a 1A/1B platoon option, the Oilers still need answers in net. Mike Smith hasn’t been effective, and the pending UFA is 38. Koskinen is no spring chicken at 31.

The Oilers could enjoy a less clunky defense in the near future, but if Broberg, Nurse, and Bouchard have limited ceilings, Edmonton would still need a blue-chipper. Maybe two.

And it’s abundantly clear that the Oilers struggle to find help beyond McDavid and Draisaitl.

If there’s any area where Ken Holland can help the organization learn from sins of the past, it’s draft and development. Can they find talent beyond those high first-rounders, as the Oilers so rarely did before? Can they avoid botching development for the closest answers to the next Puljujarvi or Nail Yakupov?

Long-term strengths for Oilers

Because, the thing is, Edmonton still lucked into many key building blocks for a championship foundation.

If everything else is equal, McDavid + Draisaitl are topping most (if not all) other duos. RNH, Kailer Yamamoto, and other younger forwards can help out, just generally not enough.

And, again, help might be on its way on defense.

Through all this turmoil, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman still ranked the Oilers’ under-23 core group as the top one in the NHL back in September (sub required).

Chiarelli and even Holland dug quite a few holes for Edmonton with poor asset management, in trades and otherwise. Yet there’s still a lot to work with, and Holland could very well build a contender if he hits the right buttons.

Really, that’s what’s been frustrating about the McDavid era: you almost need to be creative to find ways to make it all not work. It’s frustrating that Taylor Hall hasn’t been there as McDavid and Draisaitl grew, but that mistake is in the past.

The Oilers can take that next step. They simply made the journey bumpier thanks to taking many wrong turns.

MORE ON THE OILERS

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.

Oilers sign Darnell Nurse to two-year, $11.2M extension

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The Edmonton Oilers were able to avoid a potential restricted free agent headache this summer by signing defenseman Darnell Nurse to a two-year contract extension on Monday.

Nurse’s new deal will pay him an average salary of $5.6 million during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. He will be eligible for unrestricted free agency when this deal ends. Had he not signed a new contract before July 1 of this year he would have been a restricted free agent this summer.

The Oilers drafted Nurse in the first round (No. 7 overall) of the 2013 draft. Over the past five years he has become one of the Oilers’ top defensemen, averaging more than 23 minutes per night. He has not missed a game since the 2016-17 season. In 55 games this season he has four goals and 20 assists.

Nurse said on Monday (via the Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman) that he did not want contract negotiations to carry over to the summer, and that the shorter term deal helped keep his salary cap number down. At 25 years old and with already 334 games in the NHL on his resume it seems unlikely that he has much development ahead of him. What you see at this point is probably what you are going to get, and what you are going to get is a good second-pairing defenseman on a contender. But if he can maintain this level of play during this contract, and perhaps show even some improvement, he could be in line to cash in as an unrestricted free agent given his age.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Blues, Maple Leafs, others roar into holiday break

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Three Stars

1. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Pity any hockey fan, but especially Leafs and Hurricanes fans, if they didn’t know it was an afternoon game. The two teams put on an epic show, with Toronto rally to win a game with 13 combined goals. This serves as the latest bit of evidence that the Maple Leafs are soaring under Sheldon Keefe.

Marner exploded for two goals and five assists, extending his point streak to eight games (six goals, 11 assists). The gifted playmaker improved his season total to 35 points in 27 contests. In generating five points, Marner matched his career-high for a single game.

Consider this a blanket top star for the most prolific point producers of that game. Martin Necas demands a mention, as the Hurricanes younger scored two goals and two assists. John Tavares (1G, 2A) and Zach Hyman (3A) both cracked three points. Auston Matthews authored the best play of the night with his assist, and also scored a goal. Check the highlights for more on this game, and also this.

2. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

Point helped the Lightning bombard the Panthers 6-1 on Monday. The undersized star generated one goal and three assist for four points, managing a +3 rating and two shots on goal.

Even with that outburst, Point falls a bit short of a point-per-game (30 in 32). Climbing that mountain could be quite feasible if he stays as hot as he’s been. During the last six games, Point scored four goals and five assists, failing to score in just a single contest.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

On a jam-packed Monday, Anderson faced plenty of competition to reach Buzzer three-star status. Producing one of the highlights of the night counts as a nice tiebreaker, however.

Overall, Anderson finished with 43 out of 44 saves. While the 38-year-old endures more valleys than peaks lately, Anderson has won three of his last four decisions. He’s also taken four of five games.

If this continues, the Senators might need to trade Anderson to maintain an efficient tank-job.

Highlights of the Night

Matthews managing an outrageous spinning assist is the singular highlight, but enjoy the full deal because it’s a delight:

Anderson gives Matthews a run for his money by pulling a Dominik Hasek, though:

Factoids

Scores

TOR 8 – CAR 6
MIN 3 – CGY 0
BOS 7 – WSH 3
TBL 6 – FLA 1
CBJ 3 – NYI 2
PHI 5 – NYR 1
OTT 3 – BUF 1
NSH 3 – ARI 2
MTL 6 – WPG 2
NJD 7 – CHI 1
STL 4 – LAK 1
VAN 4 – EDM 2
COL 7 – VGK 3

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: The Oilers have a new GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett), but as far as personnel changes go, this was a very quiet offseason.

Considering some of the blunders of the Peter Chiarelli era, there might be a feeling of “no news is good news,” although try telling that to Connor McDavid, who didn’t get much of a bright side to look on beyond hoping that Mike Smith channels his solid playoff production, rather than Smith’s more troubling body of work.

The Oilers are almost the same team as last year, although James Neal could be a nice upgrade over Milan Lucic.

Strengths: McDavid! OK, thanks for coming!

Alright, the Oilers also have Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and maybe some help coming – eventually – with prospects such as Evan Bouchard.

And, hey, having the best player in the world is a pretty big strength.

Weaknesses: … And squandering McDavid’s talents almost takes talent in itself.

You know you’re weak on the wings when people are hoping that James Neal is a solution, and crossing their fingers that Alex Chiasson can approach last season’s numbers.

This team is weak on the wings, and that’s far from their only issue. Their defense doesn’t play the sort of modern game that you’d want to propel McDavid in transition, and lacks elite skill overall. Maybe Tippett can scheme this group to competence, but it’s unclear how much potential has been untapped after Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan tried their hands at the same.

Oh yeah, their goaltending duo of Smith and Mikko Koskinen is a bowl of “meh,” too.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Consider this: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is about to enter his ninth season in the NHL, and Tippett will be his ninth head coach.

The Oilers have been the definition of dysfunctional for a distressingly long period of time, and while there’s the feeling that McDavid and others are far beyond the point of being tired of losing, it’s time for some stability. That’s what Tippett represents: a steadying presence, something that must appeal to the deliberate approach Holland also seems to prefer.

That said, Edmonton’s also subject to about-faces, as that seems to be their M.O. Let’s put Tippett at a three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: McDavid, Koskinen, Darnell Nurse

Number 97 would be a pick every year based on his captivating speed and skill alone. Maybe eyes are fixed on him a bit more now, though, as he’s shown signs of frustration, occasionally actually letting that be known in vague media comments. If the Oilers unravel again, will McDavid vent in an even bigger way?

Re-signing Koskinen tied a baffling bow around the Chiarelli era. Along with Smith, it’s tough to know what exactly we should expect from Koskinen. If Tippett’s system dumbs games down and makes it all a slog, that might actually set the stage for some redemption. (James Neal is another fascinating redemption story.)

The Oilers have precious few defensemen of merit, so it’s crucial for them to see Nurse take additional steps forward. Then again, he’s entering a contract year, so they also probably don’t want to break the bank for the RFA. That should make Nurse intriguing to watch.

Playoffs or Lottery: It’s tough to pick against McDavid, especially since Draisaitl and RNH give him some support. One can imagine a decent formula of McDavid + stingy defense and goaltending = grinding out wins.

Hockey teaches us time and time again that one superstar rarely is enough to mask a ton of blemishes, though. While a weak Pacific gives some hope for Edmonton sneaking in, I’d lean closer to the lottery than the playoffs with Edmonton.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Report: Oilers, Klefbom zero in on seven-year deal

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The Edmonton Oilers and defenseman Oscar Klefbom are working on a seven-year extension that could be cemented in the next day or two, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reports.

Klefbom, 22, is currently in the final year of a deal that carries a $894K cap hit. The extension would be worth “north of $4 million per season,” according to Rishaug.

If this comes to fruition, the Oilers’ defensive future would revolve around Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse and, to some extent, Mark Fayne.

Klefbom has 77 NHL games under his belt, including 60 with the Oilers in 2014-15. He was the 19th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.

Oilers Nation discussed the pros and cons of various Klefbom extension scenarios, leaning toward a lengthier deal.

In (Peter) Chiarelli’s shoes, I’d probably wait until November, and if Klefbom continues as he’s started I’d sign him for as long as possible. Cap pressures are already a bit of a concern, and two-to-three years from now they could be really bad; if this team develops as hoped, having Klefbom signed long-term at a reasonable dollar figure could go a long way towards keeping Edmonton’s core together.

Keep in mind that a deal could fall through or be put on hold for a bit.