Darnell Nurse signing a two-year extension with the Edmonton Oilers as a restricted free agent this summer might not seem like a big deal, but it could be the thing that saves the team's season in 2018-19.
That's a bold statement considering the Edmonton Oilers employ a player named Connor McDavid. Even bolder if you look at the fact the team can also ice Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a host of other players, who to this date have more experience and produced more on the ice than Nurse has. Still, getting Nurse done and back with the team prior to the season starting is no small news item.
Lack Of Action By Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers had a relatively quiet summer. While other teams in the Pacific Division were stocking up their rosters with big-name talent — Los Angeles added Ilya Kovalchuk, Calgary added James Neal, Vegas added Max Pacioretty and Pay Stastny and San Jose added Erik Karlsson — the Oilers stuck with a relatively similar team adding only depth players like Kyle Brodziak and Tobias Rieder.
Edmonton is hoping players who were on the team last season simply play better this season and that starts with a huge step forward for Nurse who will be a top-four defenseman and play more minutes in more situations. In short, Edmonton is hoping that by not adding pieces, they've given players like Nurse the chance to seize an opportunity and prove management already had the tools they needed.
Perhaps more than any player in an Oilers uniform, Nurse has the potential to take the biggest step forward in his development.
Solved the Salary Cap Situation Short-Term
Long-term, Nurse's contract could come back to haunt Edmonton. If he has a strong season and improves again next year, the Oilers will be on the hook for a major raise on a long-term deal. It's something Nurse is banking on. That said, for now, getting him signed to a two-year bridge deal at $3.2 million per season stops the Oilers from having to make any changes to the current roster.
The delay in getting Nurse's deal done made it appear as though their might be some trouble in paradise. Nurse's agent was suggesting his client was worth more than $5 million per season on a long-term deal and as much as $4 million per season on a short-term one. Comparables in the NHL suggested he wasn't worth much more than $3 million and if the Oilers couldn't have gotten this deal done at the $3.2 they settled on, would have had to move a contract to fit Nurse in. The last thing Edmonton needed to do while trying to keep pace with their division getting stronger was to actually lose another talent.
It might not be a well-known fact, but Darnell Nurse happens to be best friends with Connor McDavid. While McDavid is a true professional and understands hockey is a business, when your best friend is sitting at home, frustrated that he can't join the team because of a few hundred thousand dollars, there's always a small chance it doesn't sit well with your star.
Nurse is important, but perhaps not as important as keeping McDavid focused and positive about Edmonton's season. If his buddy has his deal and he's playing defense, protecting McDavid while he does his thing, it's just better for the team.
It may seem like a small detail and some would argue McDavid would never hold it against the Oilers for holding firm on the money they were willing to offer his buddy, but with the way things went in Edmonton last season, if there's one thing that's clear, it doesn't take much to rock the boat and miss the playoffs.