December 20 2008 01:24PM
We don't know for sure that Friday marked the beginning of the end of Robert Nilsson's days as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, but it sure sounded like it to listen to coach Craig MacTavish.
Now, maybe I'm reading between the lines too much, or maybe it was just the frustration of watching Nilsson float again before grabbing some pine in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks at Rexall Place, but it sounded like MacT is done with the Little Magic Man.
You tell me.
"No competitiveness," MacTavish said in his post game comments when asked about benching Nilsson in the third period.
"We try and coddle the competitiveness out of him, but he just didn't have any again tonight. I've had enough and seen enough of it."
Might MacTavish be more restrained if asked about Nilsson when the team returns to the ice for practice Sunday? Possibly. But if MacTavish really has "had enough and seen enough of it," what does that mean? A stint in the press box. Another demotion to the fourth line? A ticket to Springfield?
Having met Nilsson at the 2003 Entry Draft, where the New York Islanders selected him 15th overall, and having watched his progress -- or lack of same -- with some interest because he's the son of former Oiler Kent (Magic Man) Nilsson and somebody I thought Edmonton might select, I'd suggest skipping the preliminary stuff and get to brass tacks.
If I was GM Steve Tambellini, I'd be looking to trade Robert Nilsson while he's still got a semblance of marketability -- albeit greatly diminished -- because of the flair and offensive talent he possesses and teases you with.
The problem is, Nilsson only puts that talent on display, and does it within the framework of a game plan, when he feels like it. That doesn't happen nearly enough. That isn't good enough. At 23, Nilsson should know that, but apparently he hasn't figured it out yet.
Doesn’t get it
With 4-6-10 and a -8 rating through 27 games, Nilsson hasn't even been the least productive member of the now-dismantled Kid Line. That distinction falls to Sam Gagner, while Andrew Cogliano has easily been the best of the trio.
As much as he's struggled, though, Gagner is 19 and in his second season. Cogliano is 21 and also a sophomore. Nilsson turns 24 on January 10 and he's been demoted, chided and traded once already for disappearing for long stretches and being inconsistent.
Sitting Nilsson isn't the answer. Neither is cutting his minutes and putting him on the fourth line. What will more time in the press box accomplish?
Even before Nilsson's latest slacking, I talked about a need to weed out some of the Oilers small forwards and use one or two of their skilled little guys as bargaining chips.
It's as much about an overlap in skills as it is about lack of size, but I don't see room for Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Gilbert Brule, Rob Schremp and Jordan Eberle in MacTavish's top-nine forwards over the next two or three seasons. Do you?
At this point, I'd rather see what Brule and Schremp can do and offer up Nilsson and whatever else it takes to land a veteran forward who can kill penalties and win face-offs or a shutdown defenceman. Given MacTavish's lament about the lack of a one-shot scorer after the Anaheim loss, maybe there's a team willing to part with one and gamble on Nilsson's upside as part of a package.
"We don't shoot the puck hard enough collectively," MacTavish said after his outfit made Jonas Hiller look like Georges Vezina.
"We can put ourselves in position to score but we need a lot of shots to score. With the exception of Sheldon (Souray), there aren't a lot of guys who are first-shot scorers. We need a lot of looks. That's been real obvious."
Whether it's a defensive forward, a triggerman with a nose for the net or a shutdown blueliner, I doubt I'd get much of an argument from MacTavish that Tambellini should pick up the phone and kick some tires.