Robert Nilsson: To Trade Or Not To Trade

Robert Nilsson, abandoned for dead by most people following the Oilers (including me) at training camp, has come alive since returning to the lineup from injury, to the point where he’s been one of the Oilers best offensive players over the last dozen or so games. The question is this: does he have a long-term future with this team?

We can’t look at Nilsson’s recent run of brilliance without also looking at his early season stretch of futility. Here are his numbers on the season, split by that lengthy stretch outside the lineup:

  • Before: 12GP – 1G – 3A – 4PTS, -12
  • After: 15GP – 5G – 5A – 10PTS, +2

There’s quite a contrast in those two stats lines. In the first sample, we see a player struggling in both ends of the rink, and in the other we see one of the rare Oilers exceeding expectations. So which is Nilsson?

The simple answer is that he’s both. There’s a similar split we can look at: the difference between 2007-08 and 2008-09. In the first instance he was the best member of the ‘Kid Line’, the only one who could be trusted to some degree defensively, and a guy who could play in a sheltered role and dominate. In the second, he was a borderline NHL’er, drifting in and out of the line-up. This inconsistency has been a Nilsson hallmark since he first broke into the league with the Islanders, showing flashes or disappearing for stretches. When he’s on, he’s a tremendous player: gifted offensively and capable of playing a solid two-way game. When he’s off, he’s something else entirely.

Nilsson’s numbers over his Oilers’ career look like this:

Year GP G A PTS +/- 5v5 PTS/60 5v4 PTS/60 QC Off. ZS Rel. Corsi
07-08 71 10 31 41 8 2.37 2.66 10th 53.6 6.1
08-09 64 9 20 29 1 1.22 4.59 7th 55 3.4
09-10 27 6 8 14 -10 1.72 4.57 10th 47.5 1.4

5v5 PTS/60 is Nilsson’s scoring rate in 5-on-5 situations. Anything over 2.00 is high-end territory, while anything below 1.50 is fairly sad. Nilsson’s been both over the course of his career, and while I fully believe he has the talent to hang out in the high end of that range, I don’t believe he can do it consistently.

5v4 PTS/60 is Nilsson’s scoring rate in 5-on-4 situations. The first number (2007-08) on that list is atrocious, while the latter two are very good. I think that the first number is the aberration, and that the latter two reflect Nilsson’s true range; I’ve thought that since the end of 2007-08, actually, which was why I thought he had room to improve on that effort. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on his even-strength offence falling away.

Off. ZS shows the percentage of offensive/defensive zone face-offs in the offensive zone. Nilsson has consistently been among the team leaders in this category, and is again this year, although Quinn seems to care less about getting players out in particular zones than MacTavish did. QC is a measure of Quality of Competition, and the number reflects Nilsson’s ranking among regular forwards on his team. It’s a combination of how opposing coaches view his line and who his coach lines him up against, and we can see that Nilsson generally plays against poor players. MacTavish went for that matchup with Nilsson, and in Quinn’s case it seems to be a result of opposing coaches not worrying about Nilsson. From those two statistics (provided by Gabe Desjardins, as with the rest of this stuff) we can see that Nilsson’s been put in a position to succeed during his Oilers career, generally at the expense of guys put in a position to fail (Reasoner/Stoll/Torres in 2007-08 and Horcoff/Brodziak/Moreau last year).

The final number on the list is relative corsi, adjusted for ice-time and strength of team. Corsi is the sum of all shot attempts for and against, and reflects territorial advantage. Nilsson has positive but relatively modest totals here, but when we consider the difficulty of his minutes (lots of offensive zone starts, lots of weak opponents) those totals look vanilla.

It is my opinion that if Nilsson continues on his current run, Steve Tambellini should move him at the trade deadline. The Oilers have an abundance of small forwards, and they have an abundance of forwards who can’t be relied upon to play difficult minutes without a baby-sitter, and some of these guys need to be cleared out. Nilsson certainly has some value to a team short of these guys, but with Cogliano and O’Sullivan already on the roster (I’ve excluded Gagner because he’s significantly ahead of both the previous duo and Nilsson) and with all of Omark, Eberle and Paajarvi-Svensson joining the team in the near future and all meeting one or both of my earlier caveats, there’s no room for him.

In short: let Nilsson get hot a little while longer. Than maximize the return.

    • Totally agree. Nilsson is a flake imo. He's a tease, and that's exactly what this team (and maybe just as importantly, this fanbase) does not need.

      Sell him as high as possible (no, I mean that literally, get some GM high, and then sell him Nilsson, lol).

      Clear some cap space.

  • I really hate to get rid of someone with such high end talent, I've always been a Nilsson backer (yes, even at the start of the year when he was a total dud) but because of the talent coming in, I have to agree with you. I'd rather get rid of a promising Nilsson at the top of his game than a promising POS at the bottom of his game this year.

  • trading Nilsson is a huge concern right now. pfffahahaha. seriously, who needs (add your own emphasis) this guy? no one. hes a dime a dozen douche bag rollerhockey player stuck on the ice. all skill, no balls.

    here or not, they need to get rid of the guys who are heading to the glue factory soon.

  • I would also ship Nilsson out of here, but not until the trade deadline. Hopefully he will stay semi-hot and consistent until then, and a playoff team will overpay to have secondary scoring (i.e. trade us a decent draft pick and/or a promising prospect).

    Is it just me or does it seems as though the good Nilsson seems to arrive right around the time the team is diving and there is no longer any pressure? During the Kid Line emergence of 07-08, the team was way out of it with no pressure and out came Nilsson from under his rock. In 08-09, the Oilers hovered on a playoff spot for most of the year before they tanked. Nilsson was one of the guys who were expected to contribute but was no where to be seem. Now this year, he sucks from the beginning of training camp, and doesn't get going until Hemsky is out, Khabby is hurt, everyone has written him off, and he has zero expectations on him. Suddenly he's arguably our best offensive player…but again there is nothing to play for.

    Not sure what my point is here, but I can't wait to watch him score 2 – 4 more highlight reel goals and hopefully get something decent in return.

  • Even if Nilson became consistent, I'd bank on Eberle or MPS filling the same role with more success. If they both make the team next year, they'll need some protected minutes too. Question: I've suddenly read about two or three articles with Omark being listed as a top prospect with a good chance to make the team next year. How could he ever fit into this team's current roster? Seems to me he's exactly what we don't need.

    • Hemmertime

      Omark put up Markus Naslund #'s in his last year of Swedish Elite league. He has spent most of his career playing against men, not boys at junior level. Hes in his first year in the KHL and is in the top 25 in scoring. 7 points less than Jiri Hudler. Only knock against him is he is small… other than that he seems exactly what we need. A boom or bust prospect.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I said when Hemsky went down that Nilsson would be someone to watch, now that he has brought his value up (even if it's very minimal) maybe we look at moving him just for the sake of moving him and opening up some money for the future.

    • That's exactly it. On a team that was put together properly, he'd be developing talent and could start to become a future Hemsky-like, playmaking talent. I can really see him being successful on another team, unlike Schremp, who will never be legit top 6 talent. On this team, the existing cast will not allow him to develop properly.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        My issue with Nilsson is he has been given chances when there were injuries and when there wasn't injuries. For the most part he just doesn't try and ever once and awhile he realizes it is his last chance to do something.

        As for Schremp 3 points in 4 games, was suprised to see that.