On Monday, the Edmonton Oilers traded fringe prospect Liam Coughlin to the Chicago Blackhawks for the rights to goalie Anders Nilsson. Nilsson was promptly signed to a one-year, $1.0 million contract, and what had been a relatively clear situation in net suddenly became complicated.
Anders Nilsson 1-way, 1M
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) July 7, 2015
The addition of Nilsson gives the Oilers three goalies on one-way contracts. There is a second buyout window opening up for Edmonton this summer thanks to Justin Schultz’s scheduled arbitration hearing (the buyout window opens up whether Schultz actually goes to arbitration or not) but none of the team’s three goalies make enough money to qualify, so we won’t be seeing one dispatched by that method.
It remains clear that Cam Talbot will be the team’s No. 1 goalie; if anything this signing confirms it. Talbot is 33-15-5 with a 0.931 save percentage over his career, and even with the relative uncertainty involved in acquiring a goalie with 57 games it’s pretty obvious he’s head-and-shoulders above Anders Nilsson. In a good year, Ben Scrivens might push Talbot for minutes, but the acquisition of Nilsson strongly suggests that the team isn’t sure of him in a backup role, much less as a guy challenging Talbot.
Jason Gregor wrote about Ben Scrivens on Monday, and I’m largely in agreement with his piece. The key passage to me was this one:
Scrivens proved he was a capable backup before last season. He struggled as a starter, so maybe he is better suited to be a backup, or maybe he just wasn’t ready to handle the burden of being a starter. I think Devan Dubnyk proved goalies can rebound after a sub-par season. I don’t expect Scrivens to become a Vezina trophy finalist, but I also won’t count him out and say he is finished.
Scrivens is a pretty proven backup goalie, and despite his poor performance over the course of the season and particularly late in the year the balance of his career suggests he’ll rebound.
And then there’s Nilsson. Nilsson had a great year in the KHL, but with a team that always posts ridiculous save percentages (Nilsson’s 0.936 save percentage just barely outpaced his backup’s 0.933). Nilsson struggled badly for most of three previous years in North America; he had 25 good games in the AHL in 2011-12 but outside of that the track record is pretty ugly.
Peter Chiarelli suggested Monday night that it was all about having competition:
He’s a big goalie. He might have not been dealt the greatest cards when he came over. He had a strong year in the KHL, had an average World Championships, I saw him one game over there. He’s still young for a goalie; he was excited to hear that he has a new start. Really, the bottom line is there’s going to be competition. There’s going to be competition among the goalies and we want that. It gives us insurance and it gives us competition.
If Nilsson outplays Scrivens in camp, particularly if he does it by only a little bit, does that leave the Oilers comfortable with sticking him and his NHL cap hit in the minors? After all, Scrivens himself has shown how misleading a brilliant performance over a short span can be.
If Scrivens outplays Nilsson in camp, what happens then? Does the big Swede return to the AHL on his one-way deal, leaving a modest cap hit on the Oilers’ books? Or does he disappear back to Europe via an out-clause? (Update: Nevermind, as Jason Gregor reported yesterday, there is no out-clause on the deal.)
How does all of this impact Laurent Brossoit? Edmonton’s star goalie prospect is slated to play his second year as an AHL starter, and if he’s sharing the net with either Nilsson or Scrivens how much does he play?
This is going to be a very interesting position to watch. Scrivens wasn’t hired by Chiarelli; he came in under the previous management’s watch. Nilsson, on the other hand, was hand-picked by Chiarelli and given a one-way contract. Nilsson may not have been Chiarelli’s first choice; there were rumours of the Oilers pursuing Michal Neuvirth on July 1 and Chiarelli himself acknowledged that an effort had been made to re-sign Richard Bachman. There’s obviously a level of discomfort with Scrivens, and if he slips in camp it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him with the Bakersfield Condors.
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