I'm gonna come right outta the gate and say what qualifies as sacrilege within the Oilers community: Darnell Nurse is the Oilers' best Dman and attempts to trade him under the pretense that his minutes could be replaced by Klefbom aren't just wrong, they're blind to statistically observable reality. I guess I should actually get to the evidence before asserting things so strongly.
There's long been fingers pointed at Darnell Nurse for his myriad mistakes and his weaknesses. While these aren't inaccurate critiques, there's a gap I've noticed between Nurse and fellow Oilers LD Oscar Klefbom in credit given relative to actual results. The prevailing wisdom that Klefbom is our best and most valuable Dman is one I intend to challenge.
There are a few ways to frame the offense comparison: even strength points (rates and raw); shot, chance and goal shares; shot, chance and goal rates and the above two within the specific context of on-ice with McDavid. As I'm not keen on neglecting any avenue, I'll try to address all of them.
All data will be taken from a sample size running from 2017-18 to present day unless stated otherwise.
Klefbom: 8 goals & 39 points in 157 games (0.25 pts/game)
---per-60 rates: 0.71, 0.86, 0.86 the last 3 years
Nurse: 17 goals & 69 points in 194 games (0.36 pts/game)
---per-60 rates: 0.97, 1.13, 1.22 the last 3 years
Right off the hop, there's a pretty clear gap showing. It's not like either got particularly easier deployment or more time with McDavid as both were part of a top-4 D that both McLellan and Hitchcock used in near-equal amounts against top opposition. Nurse is clearly the stronger producer overall, but how do the "process" numbers matchup?
CF%: 50.1% / 48.9%
SCF%: 48.7% / 49.7%
HDCF%: 49.5% / 48.4%
GF%: 42.2% / 50.0% (totaling a difference of 35 goals)
Overall, the shot and chance numbers favour Klefbom by a slight margin but the gap isn't one I'd consider statistically significant- especially once the goal share number is taken into account. Nurse blows Klefbom away in that respect. How about the rates?
CF/60: 58.6 / 55.4
SCF/60: 27.1 / 27.4
HDCF/60: 11.3 / 11.1
GF/60: 2.05 / 2.63
Once again, Klefbom and Nurse are pretty close in the shot and chance numbers, but once actual results are factored in, the field becomes Nurse's by a wide margin. Due to the substantial disparity between their goal share numbers and Nurse's actual offensive production, it leads me to the conclusion that Nurse is the better offensive player (at least at even strength).
Now let's quickly do the same rate analysis as we did for offense.
CA/60: 58.5 / 57.9
SCA/60: 28.6 / 28.0
HDCA/60: 11.5 / 11.8
GA/60: 2.8 / 2.63
As would be expected, much of the same story is borne out in the other side of the rate data. Now, how about some nuance: goal data against varying levels of competition.
Against Top Competition:
As I mentioned earlier, both players played a similar proportion of their minutes against top opposition (Nurse with 34.7% of his time against the best, Klefbom with 32.4%). Also, both have had similar deployment alongside McDavid (Nurse has played 42.7% of his TOI w/ McDavid, Klefbom with 39.8%) so, since these two things likely overlap a bunch, comparing their numbers against the best opponents should be a relatively fair gauge.
Player: CF% / DFF%* / GF%
Klefbom: 46.8% / 46.6% / 48.7%
Nurse: 45.0% / 45.4% / 58.4% (!!!)
*DFF% is an abbreviation for 'Dangerous Fenwick For %' which refers to unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) from dangerous areas on the ice (the slot arrow)
Are you beginning to see the trend? Klefbom consistently has an edge in overall shot results but Nurse consistently dominates the goal share battle when compared to Klefbom. As the goal of hockey is to outscore your opposition, Nurse is showing to be much more capable of that ultimate goal.
Impact w/ McDavid:
Now we're getting to the part that kinda pushed me to write this all out. The following will be presented as simply and without extrapolation as possible because I think the numbers over such a large sample size speak for themselves. These are the goal rates from each player when on-ice with McDavid.
Player: GF/60 / GA/60 / total /60) / GF% w/o McDavid
Klefbom: 3.2 / 3.25 / -0.05 G/60 / 34.8%
Nurse: 3.8 / 2.71 / +1.09 G/60 / 43.5%
With a difference of +1.14 on-ice goals per-60 minutes, Nurse clearly is more effective at maximizing the even strength success of McDavid. The time in which McDavid is on the ice is the most important to the team's eventual success and Nurse contributes more to that. Further, he gives less of the goal share back when he's not on the ice with McDavid, too.
Additional considerations that need to be made to continue weighing each player's value to the team includes the following list: Nurse is more physical (important for the playoffs), more durable (the more games he plays, the less a replacement player does), a substantial portion of his minutes over this sample were alongside Kris Russell (who many fans decry as being worse than Satan), he offers intensity that can give his team a boost (once again, for the playoffs), he's part of the social core of the team with McDavid and Draisaitl (the human element isn't considered enough) and he's two years younger than Oscar.
In Klefbom's favour: he has an excellent contract, takes fewer penalties and is a more proven PP producer.
As I've now evidenced across multiple domains and circumstances, Darnell Nurse is clearly the more important defenseman to both the present and future success of the Edmonton Oilers. If it were to come down to it and you had to trade one due to Nurse's contract demands, you should trade Klefbom every day of the week unless sending Nurse out returns an elite RD of similar age. Fortunately, we don't need to trade either and can put Klefbom in a position where he's better equipped to succeed!
Don't @ me with your "analytical retort", HB77