Faced with the second half of back-to-back games on Tuesday night, Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan decided to give backup goalie Anders Nilsson a start. Nilsson was shelled, allowing five goals on 30 shots; it was the eighth consecutive game in which his save percentage came in under 0.900.
In this week’s WWYDW, we ask whether it’s time to turn to prospect Laurent Brossoit to address the position.
Nilsson has had his ups and his downs, rising incredibly high during the former and collapsing entirely during the latter. Over the season as a whole he has played 24 games, with a 0.903 save percentage, a figure which ranks him No. 50 among the 58 goalies to play at least 10 games this season.
This isn’t exactly unprecedented. Over 23 previous games with the New York Islanders, Nilsson managed a 0.898 save percentage, which means that this year has actually been an improvement on what he did with his first NHL team. Over his career as a whole, he has a 0.901 save percentage; that ranks him No. 73 of the 77 goalies to play more than 40 games since 2011-12.
Nilsson also struggled with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In his last two seasons with the club he flirted with a 0.900 save percentage, managing a 0.899 number in 2012-13 and a 0.901 number in 2013-14, at which point he decamped for the KHL. He played well in the KHL, but given that his team (Kazan Ak-Bars) last had a sub-0.930 save percentage goalie in 2011-12, it’s hard to read too much into that.
He might yet recover, but the evidence (or at least my read of it) strongly suggests that Nilsson is a replacement-level goaltender in the NHL. His one-way, $1.0 million contract means that he would still count against the NHL salary cap in the minors, but only to the tune of $50,000.
This is an extremely easy player to demote.
Both Craig MacTavish and the Oilers’ overemphasis on former Oil Kings catch a lot of flak these days, but Brossoit may be the exception. He had a 0.887 WHL save percentage when he was drafted by Calgary, but turned that around over two further seasons with the Oil Kings. He was traded to the Oilers just five games into his first pro campaign, and since then his development has been pretty impressive:
- 2013-14, age 20, ECHL: 24-9-2 record, 0.923 save percentage
- 2014-15, age 21, AHL: 25-22-4 record, 0.918 save percentage
- 2015-16, age 22, AHL: 11-7-3 record, 0.927 save percentage
This is a player knocking on the door of NHL duty. He got into one game last year and did nothing to dissuade optimism, turning aside 49 of 51 shots faced in his first major-league start.
The development angle makes this tough. Brossoit is in only his second full AHL campaign and has less than 100 games played in the league. This is the first year where he’s operated without a real safety net (thanks to Ben Scrivens’ struggles); last season the coaches often turned to veteran No. 3 Richard Bachman. There’s value in leaving him in the AHL, letting him put in a bunch of games.
There’s also a chance that with more time, Nilsson will recover his early season form.
On the other hand, NHL experience for Brossoit has value, too. Nilsson is a restricted free agent this summer and the Oilers will have to find a backup for Talbot. Brossoit might make the jump, and it makes sense that Edmonton might want to give him a trial run in what’s left of this season. The Oilers are also only six points out of the playoffs; every point still counts and having a competent backup in the majors could be very important. A win against the Lightning on Tuesday would have dropped the gap to just four points, and with a competent backup it’s likely the Oilers would have managed a win.
A third option is to use Nilsson as a bench-warmer, and recall Brossoit for the odd game where the team wants to give Talbot a rest; he could come up for a day or two, play the game, and then head back to the minors. The downside is sidelining Nilsson entirely and treating Brossoit like a yoyo.
So, dear comments section: What should the Oilers do?