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The High Price of Disappointment: Nurse’s Playoff Stats Fall Short

Edmonton Oilers Defenseman Darnell Nurse has had a disappointing playoffs so far, many fans call for a change.

Already a polarizing player thanks to the size of his contract, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse has come under extra scrutiny in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. Considering he holds a +/- of -14, the worst +/- in the entirety of the 2024 playoffs, one can see why. As Nurse’s costly mistakes continue to add up, calls for him to be scratched have yet to be answered. Coach Kris Knoblauch has shifted Nurse’s defense partners throughout the last two rounds, but outside of a single game against the Dallas Stars where Nurse was fantastic, nothing seems to help him maintain consistency.

Averaging around 22 minutes in the regular season and 19 minutes in the playoffs, Nurse is a vital component of the Oilers’ defensive core. In 21 playoff games, Nurse hasn’t chipped in much offensively, with only four assists. He hasn’t been much better defensively. Not only has Nurse given away the puck eight times, he has been on the ice for 24 goals against.

The Numbers That Make Up a Struggling Nurse

Throughout the playoffs, Nurse has spent most of his time being partnered with Cody Ceci, Vincent Desharnais, and Brett Kulak. Comparing those tandems against each other shows a story of a struggling defenseman.

Nurse has spent 167 minutes playing with Ceci. In those minutes, they’ve been peppered by 45 high-danger chances, 204 shots, and 12 goals against. The Nurse-Desharnais pairing has logged 88 minutes of ice time so far, showing only a slight improvement. Nurse and Desharnais have been on the ice for 17 high-danger, 92 shots, and seven goals against. It’s a similar story with Kulak. The pairing logged 51 minutes of ice time together and had 5 high-danger chances, 52 shots, and three goals against.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers defenseman
Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers defenseman

There’s some improvement with each pairing but nothing drastic. Without a doubt, it’s some disappointing numbers for a top defenseman and as the games have rolled along, Nurse’s minutes have dropped.

Why Is Nurse Struggling So Much?

Many argue that an injury might play a role; he’s certainly been battling something in the Florida series. However, Nurse seems to be a liability no matter who he plays with. Detractors will argue he’s been overpaid with this new contract and at $9.2 million a year, thus there are high expectations for him. But, he’s not completely useless.

Nurse is his elevated shot-blocking ability, with 50 shot blocks. That’s much higher than his previous career high in a single playoff run of 33. Nurse also doesn’t get the benefit of being on the Oilers’ power play or in the team’s best offensive scenarios. Nevertheless, his poor defensive performances have been costly for the Oilers. 

The 2013 first-round draft pick has struggled immensely in these playoffs. With a multitude of partners, none have elevated his play and he’s not elevating others. Coupled with his costly misjudgments, Nurse has a mountain to climb. As the Oilers head into an elimination game in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, Nurse has a shot to be a difference-maker.

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