With Ryan Miller still being unsigned by the Canucks and rumours abound that he will be signing with the Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks will have to turn their attention somewhere else.
Obviously, everything at this point is speculation or rumours, but it is obvious that the Canucks have targetted a few goalies with soon to be former Buffalo Sabres goaltender Anders Nilsson being a possible addition. Elliote Friedman from Sportsnet went as far as ‘perdicting’ that Nilsson would sign with the Canucks.
Let’s take a look at Nilsson as a player, and why it makes sense for the Canucks to target him.
Nilsson: The Player
Anders Nilsson measures in at 6’6″ and 230 lbs.
His 0.923 SV% last season was tied for 7th amongst all goaltenders that started more than 20 games. The 10-10-4 record isn’t great, but given the porous Sabres defence, that save percentage is extremely encouraging.
I reached out to Greg Balloch from InGoal Magazine to give me a scouting report on the Swedish netminder:
Anders Nilsson has always been a goaltender with limitless potential. He put up some excellent numbers in Sweden and hoped to carry that over to North America early in his career. Things didn’t pan out with the New York Islanders, so he signed in the KHL on 2014-15. That offseason, he completely retooled his game and shifted his focus to puck-tracking. He had a lot of the same issues that Jacob Markstrom currently does.
Huge frame, but poor reads and poorly tracked pucks led to him opening up – frequently allowing goals through the five-hole and underneath the armpits. Being able to track the puck more efficiently, not just on shots but on passes as well, has turned him into a very different goaltender. As the results have shown in recent years, his new mindset has him stopping pucks at a rate higher than ever before in his NHL career. At 27, he has some prime years left, which could make this a very smart signing by the Canucks.
Ian Fleming (@imfleming16) created some great visuals on goaltenders (with the use of Corsica data). It allows us to see their save percentages, shot locations, shot quantities and other delightful tidbits. When comparing Nilsson to incumbent Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
Nilsson had higher than league average high-danger saving percentages and a comparable low-danger save percentage to Markstrom. That lower mid-danger percentage is a concern but otherwise, Nilsson rates very well. Since Nilsson had such an high HD save percentage, his GSAA (goals saved above average) was well above league average.
There is obviously some concern that last season was a flash in the pan type of season for Nilsson, but it may be worth the risk for the Canucks to find out.
The fit with the Canucks?
Canucks management has mentioned a few times that the goal is to be competitive every night. The thought of having reliable goaltending is a way to curb being blown out every night. There had been suggestions of adding a reliable veteran goalie who could aid Markstrom.
Nilsson isn’t that, but what he does provide for the Canucks is a competitive force to Markstrom. It would be a situation where both goalies legitimately have a shot to earn the next game. Obviously, the Canucks would have a bit more invested in Markstrom from a financial standpoint (*depending on what Nilsson signs for) but if Nilsson gets on a hot streak, the net would be his.
We don’t know what term or dollar amount will be committed to Nilsson, but I would expect a two-year deal worth $1.5-$2.0M per season. That contract would then allow Thatcher Demko to graduate to the NHL at the conclusion of the Nilsson deal.
If Nilsson has outperformed Markstrom, there would only be one year remaining on Markstrom. They could buy it out or trade it off. Either way, they have a way to easily insert Demko and keep the better of the two Swedes.
Targeting a 27-year-old Nilsson is a different plan of attack for the Canucks, but it makes sense for where the team stands and creating that competitive environment.
Nilsson appears to be the best buy-low option on the market right now, and the Canucks seem like a very good fit. They are able to offer an opportunity to earn games that few other teams can.
As long as the Canucks can keep the term short and the dollar amount low, Nilsson seems like the right move. Avoid the older goalies who command more money and term and take a risk on a 27 year old who likely just needs more games.