Misleading to over-look this metric when assessing D-men like Darnell Nurse: 9 Things

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The Oilers are 13-4-0, after a solid 5-2 win over Chicago Saturday.

The victory…despite the club losing its best D-man for the next 2-3 weeks.

I have learned that it is not possible to convince every critic of just how good Darnell Nurse really is. But while the 6-man unit Dave Tippet iced last night picked up the slack nicely, replacing all the quality ice that Nurse covers in a game will be a challenge in the longer run.

That and more in this edition of…

9 Things

9. Darnell Nurse is out 2-3 weeks with a broken finger. I could see it being less. Its not a lower body injury so Nurse will still be in great shape. Slater Koekkoek is out 3-4 weeks. He has an ankle sprain. But it’s not a high ankle variety which is often far more problematic. They’ll miss both, but the news could have been worse in each case. More on Nurse in a minute.

8. We could be watching 2 members of the Oilers top-2 pairings for the next decade. Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones had their fans in Edmonton and for good reason. But with all due respect to both, the ceiling for Philip Broberg (who earned as assist Saturday and was very solid) and Evan Bouchard (who added 2 more assists) is higher than for the ‘team’ of Jones & Bear.

7. I wonder if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins gets some Olympic consideration. A dark horse candidate, for sure. But ‘The Nuge’ is a critical part of one of the 3 rd best PK unit in the NHL. And he has long been an elite Power Play performer and would be a familiar partner for Connor McDavid . Those special teams skills could put him in the conversation. All teams need role players, even Olympic ones.

6. Canada will, by January 15 th , 2022, require that all essential workers (that includes pro athletes) to be fully vaccinated if they want to come into Canada. That will potentially impact any return by the Oilers Josh Archibald . Of primary importance is Archibald’s good health. But if he can tick that box and also play hockey again, this will become a factor for him to consider. I wish him well going forward but its a long shot.

5. I don’t think the Oilers need to go outside the organization for it’s 3 rd Line. Yes, that trio had fallen off 5v5 after a strong start. But that’s still a small sample. And I also said when they acquired Derek Ryan that he’s ideally your 4C. With Ryan McLeod finding his game (he scored again Saturday, his best outing yet), I think McLeod’s speed can be a difference-maker alongside Zack Kassian and Derek Foegele . They were the Oilers best trio Saturday. And all 3 are big men, too.

4. I expect Dylan Holloway to be an antidote for the Oilers 4 th line by the time the Olympic break is over. Finding another player as fast, skilled and gritty as Holloway isn’t impossible but it would be expensive. However, if you have an internal solution it then preserves those assets for another critical need (a Center? Goalie? D-man? Normally the fact that the player is both 1) Green as grass and 2) Injured like the Oilers prospect, it would be a worrisome combination. But Holloway’s legs and wind should be fine.

3. But even if Holloway is ready, he’d start on the wing. And you can never have too many Centers. With expansion Seattle struggling mightily, I would expect them to be involved in conversations with other clubs. Mason Appleton would be a strong add for Edmonton: A 25-year old, 6’2, 200 pound right-shot pivot, 54% on faceoffs for Winnipeg in 2021. Appleton is repped by Edmonton-based Rich Winter . While they are at it, might the Oilers add some PK depth and size with Seattle winger Nathan Bastian ? Keep an eye on both.

2. Just how rare of a bird is Stuart Skinner in the Edmonton nets? All-time most NHL regular season games played for the Oilers by an Oilers drafted goaltender: Grant Fuhr (423), Andy Moog (235), Devan Dubnyk (171), Jussi Markkanen (102), Jeff Deslauriers (58), Joaquin Gage (23), Mike Morrison (21), Darryl Reaugh (7) and then Skinner (now 6). If you then narrow that list further still, to just Edmonton-born , Oilers drafted games played? If we count Spruce Grove, Fuhr still leads but followed by Skinner and Skinner alone. It’s a very short list. Little wonder Stu is a bit of an instant fan favorite. And that ‘stache is on-point, too!

1.There is probably nothing that I can write that would possibly convince detractors of Darnell Nurse that the Oilers rearguard is among the NHL’s elite. So, I’m not going to attempt to. But I do want to try and dismiss a narrative out there that I believe to be patently false: That Time On ice is not a significant and meaningful indicator that a D-man is a true, elite-level defender. I’m always surprised at how many eyes glance past that stat when it says so many valuable things about a player. And while yes, I plan on explaining why it’s a legitimate factor in Nurse’s consideration, it should be when evaluating any NHL D-man.

Here are the Top 10 minute munchers in the NHL thus far into 2021-22: Thomas Chabot (27:11), Brett Burns (26:52), Zach Weresnski (26:31), Kris Letang (26:17), Darnell Nurse (26:06), Seth Jones (who we saw last night, 25:55), Victor Hedman (25:44), Alex Pietrangelo (25:34), Aaron Ekblad (25:20) and Roman Josi (25:20). Can we agree that the 9 guys not named Nurse will be either finalists or locks to be Olympians for their respective countries? This is the area code that Darnell Nurse routinely skates in. That in itself should tell you something.

There are some critical factors that play into the games of all 10 of those men. The first example of that is the simple fact that the longer any of them are on the ice, the more chances that they will be exposed by an attacker. Some will quite correctly point out mistakes made on that player’s watch, but their errors per 60 are typically fewer…and that’s far more important. If you don’t compare mistakes against proportional to ice-time, you’re missing the full picture.

The more you play, it’s also more likely that you also are to face elite attackers. And that’s often over and above what the intentional match-ups provide. It’s virtually impossible to shelter a player when they’re on the ice as much as the 10 guys we’re using as examples. Of course you’ll make more mistakes playing against better players. And those opponents are more capable of taking advantage of that.

Further, the more TOI you stack up, the greater you are taxed physically while facing those elites. There’s just a little less in the tank each time out. And also just like driving a car when you are tired, the longer you exert yourself the more opportunity for mental mistakes on the ice. Here’s where talent and smarts combine to limit those, which again why some guys get those minutes and others don’t.

Here’s the nut of it: The 20 th minute any NHL D-man plays is harder to play than the 19th was, the 21st is harder than the 20th, and it usually gets exponentially more so from there. And it’s especially so when doing  it against the best hockey players in the world. It’s why only the best can do it consistently.

The bottom line is that a player gets more TOI because their coach trusts them to get the job done. The less he trusts you, the less you’ll play.

So, if you accept that NHL coaches like Dave Tippet will do whatever it takes to win and understand they’ll be fired if they don’t…

…then I think you’ll begin to weight time-on-ice more appropriately. And that includes for Darnell Nurse.