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.