As long feared, expected, or gawked -- depending on your fan perspective -- former New York Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson is returning to North America and will get another shot at the NHL.
The 25-year-old goalie, traded by the Islanders to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Nick Leddy trade, has been acquired by the Edmonton Oilers for an afterthought prospect (Liam Coughlin, an overager drafted in the fifth round of 2014). The news isn't that Nilsson's rights are now with his third NHL organization; rather, it's that his new organization has reportedly already signed him to a one-way NHL deal worth $1 million.
Having already acquired ex-Rangers goalie Cam Talbot this summer, the Oilers now appear to be banking on Nilsson to unseat Ben Scrivens, who had a rather Nilsson-like 2014-15.
Nilsson, one of two large Nordic goalies the Isles drafted between picks 31 and 62 in 2009 as the "this will probably be career-ending" nature of Rick DiPietro's injuries was becoming apparent, never quite put it together in his seasons in the AHL and his spot appearances as backup in the NHL.
Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Journal recounts that history that is so familiar to Islanders fans:
In the majors he has a career stats line of 23 games played, a 9-9-2 record and a 0.898 save percentage. Granted that he wasn’t with a great team, but Evgeni Nabokov managed to keep his head above water with the 2012-14 Islanders, so this is troubling. His work in the AHL was in some ways even worse; over three seasons he posted 0.921, 0.899 and 0.901 save percentages at the minor-league level.
With the standard caveat that goalie stats can be voodoo and the masked men occupying the position are counfounding to project, that record is basically why Nilsson was allowed to pursue work in the KHL and, ultimately, tossed in as an extra in the Leddy trade.
There is a slim ray of hope -- one that got Isles fans wondering if the discarding might come back to bite them -- in the form of his impressive season in the KHL. But even that comes with some major caution, as Willis explains:
Even Nilsson’s sterling work in the KHL last season deserves some consideration. He played for Kazan Ak Bars and posted a 0.936 save percentage over 38 games. Let’s consider how some recent goalies playing for Kazan have fared (min. 10 games played) over the last three seasons:
- Anders Nilsson, 2014-15: 0.936 save percentage
- Emil Garipov, 2012-15: 0.932, 0.952, 0.933 save percentage
- Konstantin Barulin: 2012-14: 0.940, 0.932 save percentages
In a word, Nilsson's numbers are not unique among Ak Bars goalies.
Not that the "well they won a Cup so they know what they're doing" appeal to authority is ever solid footing for an argument, but it might also be telling that the cap-stretched and cheap-backup-needing Hawks let Nilsson move on while after found other inexpensive backup options this season.
Just to gawk a little more, here is Willis on the gamble the Oilers appear to taking here:
This is an awfully dangerous move if it is in fact what the Oilers have planned. Cam Talbot isn’t exactly a proven starting goalie; giving him an unproven backup is perhaps unwise.
Nilsson was an affable goalie during his time with Bridgeport and on Long Island, and a fan always rooted for his raw skills and imposing frame to help him become that dominant goalie. But his side-to-side movements and even his approach on some point-blank shots left fans wanting.
Now in Alberta, he's essentially harmless to the Islanders and unless you've no room in your heart, you'd wish him well. But the above data, so succinctly rendered from the Edmonton observer's perspective by Willis, is exactly why we've been saying not to worry about including him in the Leddy trade (Leddy has been quite good, and quite essential), and not to worry that fans will one day rue Nilsson as the one who got away.