You say potato, I say Bobby


As Robert Nilsson will tell you, consistency pays. When Nilsson is playing for the Edmonton Oilers, he’s drawing cheques on a salary of $942,000. When he’s in the minors, as he was for eight games in October, Nilsson’s two-way contract pays $70,000.

As motivations goes, the difference in cake weight alone got Nilsson’s attention earlier this season when Craig MacTavish made it abundantly clear he expected more consistency in his game by handing him a ticket to Springfield of the AHL. With Nilsson on a seven-game points streak after scoring a goal and adding an assist in Sunday’s 6-5 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks, his wallet is consistently thicker. Good times.

“The way I’m playing now, that’s the way I want to play for 82 games,” said Nilsson. “Not just for 20 or 30. Hopefully, I can play like this right from the first game of next year.”

Nilsson, 22, has always had the angle of the dangle figured out. On any given shift he’s capable of making the kind of moves that make highlight reels. When he juggles the puck in practice and starts doing those crazy lacrosse-style gyrations, all that’s missing is “Sweet Georgia Brown” playing in the background.

Until now, the problem for Nilsson has been that he’s had difficulty staying in the line-up because he disappears for shifts or periods at a time and he’s at times been known as a player unwilling or unable check his hat—a defensive liability. Nilsson’s been pretty much the total package since being put on a line with rookies Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. In his last 16 games, Nilsson’s scored 3-8-11 and he’s tallied 9-24-33 overall in 58 games.

As part of the deal that sent Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders at the NHL trade deadline a year ago, Nilsson, drafted 15th overall by the Isles in 2003, hasn’t been this good for this long before.

“I like playing with these two guys,” Nilsson said. “We really complement each other. We want to keep it going.”

With his three-year entry-level contract done after this season, Nilsson will be a restricted free agent. He’s hoping to get a one-way deal, meaning he’d get the same money in the NHL or AHL—not that he plans on going back to the minors any time soon.

“I just want to be here next year,” Nilsson said. “This is where I want to be. I don’t want to move.”

Finally, the truth can be told. Matt Greene is the doofus who started all this “Bobby” Nilsson baloney.

“It started out with Greener last year, actually,” said Nilsson-er. “He said ‘Bobby’ and, I don’t know… he’s never said Robert to me, it’s always Bobby. Even the coaches call me Bobby right now. I’m definitely not Bobby back in Sweden, that’s for sure.”

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.

  • Oilman

    Man – I am loving these frequent updates with quality writers.

    I was unconvinced on Nilsson, and remain so, but I am swinging into the I love Bobby camp slowly but surely.

  • RobinB

    Nilsson hasn't done enough, yet, to earn a long-term contract, assuming by long-term you mean something beyond two years.
    If Nilsson finishes this season playing as he has for the last month, it would be worth signing him for two years at $1.3 million and $1.5 million on a one-way deal.

  • Wanye Gretz

    That is really interesting Robin. If you are Kevin Lowe and you are offered a 3 or 4 year deal for something around 1.75 per do you take it? Nilsson has enough potential when he is hot that it isnt unreasonable to think he has a 25 goal season in him.

    If that happens he would command 3 mil in this league. Lowe needs to decide what the plan is with Nilsson. Either he decides "He has real upside potential" in which case in the new NHL you have to try and lock him up long term 4 years or you say "he hasn't proven much of anything" and give him a one year, as you dont risk losing him to RFA.

    If the Oilers are serious about being hot in 3 years or less, they have to lock all these kids up in a 4 year horizon or risk losing whoeever leads the kids in the next couple seasons. If you sign Staios, Roloson, Pisani and Moreau long term, I think its lunacy not to usher in the new era and offer Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Smid and Gilbert similar deals in length to Hemsky. Then you have a time horizon where your team peaks and you can build a new long term plan.

  • Wanye, I don't know – building one long-term plan after another strikes me as… well, as Mike Comrie put it, Communist, a continuous series of new plans. I think I'd rather see one plan, revised as things go along. Not that we're really privy to any of the thinking (some would say lack of) behind what the Oilers are trying to do.

    Right now I'm with Robin – if Nilsson keeps it up for the rest of the season, offer a two year deal at modest numbers and see if he takes it. 1.75 for 4 years strikes me as a bit much for a 22 year old who has yet to prove his consistency issues are behind him. He's played great since being lined up with Gagner and Cogliano, but how would he do with somebody else? Can't blame MacT for not wanting to experiment just now, but that's something they need to find out before offering or accepting any 4 year deals. Hemsky got his contract because he's Hemsky. Roloson's deal was a mistake. You already know what you get from Staios, Pisani, and Moreau, so long-term with them is reasonably safe. Nilsson next year could be Lupul this year, but he might be Lupul last year.

  • RobinB

    Wanye: There's obvious merit in locking up cornerstone or potential cornerstone players to long-term contracts before their market value rises too high, but GM's are handing out 4-6 year deals way too often for fear of losing players, in my opinion.
    You get a bargain if you guess right. You are screwed if you guess wrong. In the particular case of Nilsson, one good month does not convince me. If I'm GM, I send the kid the message I want him around by giving him the one-way deal he wants, but it's for no more than two years. And let's not forget, an increase to $1.3 M and $1.5 M represents a nice raise — well beyond the old required 10 per cent QO under the old CBA.

  • Wanye Gretz

    I dont know man. When 2 people tell me i'm wrong before 6 AM im inlcined to agree.

    MikeP Says:
    March 11th, 2008 at 5:12 am

    RobinB Says:
    March 11th, 2008 at 5:53 am

    You have to get up pretty early in the morning to convince ol' Wanye!

  • Wanye – nah, in a few years maybe we'll say you were right and we were wrong. (Well, I'll be pulling for beer having destroyed those brain cells, myself, but you know what I mean.)

    If Winchester got a 1 way a few years ago, Nilsson definitely deserves one, and that may be what it takes to keep him off the market.