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Photo Credit: NHL.com

The Canucks and Anders Nilsson?

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.

  • Elliot McKenzie

    These two are a mirror image of each other, both average in a league and division where average just doesn’t cut it. I would rather make a play for someone like RFA Grubauer in Washington who will actually push Marky and raise our level overall.

    • Killer Marmot

      A .923 save percentage is not average. The question is was it a statistical anomaly due to Nilsson playing only 26 games, or can he repeat it over a 40+ game season.

      • Elliot McKenzie

        I’m not judging Nilsson on one 26 game season. His career stats are .906 Sv% and 2.94 GA over 78 games. Markstrom is .906 Sv% (exactly the same) and 2.91 GA over 109 games. If that’s not average I don’t know what is!

        • Killer Marmot

          The fact that Nilsson has only played 78 career games means that his capabilities are not well determined. So again the question is, was last year a true indication of his talent or just luck?

        • TD

          The excerpt from InGoal Magazine indicated Nilsson made some changes leading to the better play last year. Lets hope they sign him and the changes keep his play at a higher level. Average goaltending won’t make much of a difference to the Canucks anyways as they shouldn’t be competing for the playoffs.

          I think Markstrom will offer more as a starter. I thought Markstrom was at his best and above average when he played as a starter. He was excellent when Miller was hurt. I was disappointed when Miller came back and Markstrom sat for about 3 weeks. He wasn’t very good when he got his next start after the layoff. I would love to see CA conduct a deeper examination of Markstrom’s past season. Examine his performances when he was in the starter role vs in the back up role and produce two sets of stats (save %, GAA and record) in the starter and back up role.

        • Canuck4Life20

          4 of those games for Nilsson were behind an Islanders team that finished 27th. It took two more season to get 19 more games in the Islanders net behind a team that had improved to 26th. Then it was two more years before joining forces with Hall, Yakupov, Eberle, and the rest of the 29th place Edmonton Oilers. The Sabres were the best team that he has played behind and he showed a big improvement in his numbers. I would be open to giving him a chance on a 1 or 2 year deal for $1-1.5 mill.

        • It’s a hockey tradition. Like using the word “unbelievable” to describe every experience or “it’s a business” to describe every off-season transaction. Just repeat what’s currently being done without using your brain.

          • Silverback

            Don’t forget the word “obviously “. You will see it salted in a post game interview rather generously. Maybe only a canucks thing, though. Burrowsa and the Sedins were most guilty. Obviously you would have to check old interviews to confirm.

        • Killer Marrnot

          “Pretty sure, but not totally sure, that you are joking.”

          Will wait for Freud or Jung to confirm, but this looks to be a case of dementia triggered by the offseason.

        • ManicSt

          It keeps me up at night, too: been driving me crazy since I was a kid.
          There’s credence ratings in philosophy from 0-1, but they aren’t called percentages. We could probably go right down to the source, whoever it is that runs the stats department at the NHL, and they’d probably shrug and say “Yeah, it’s pretty weird, but what are you gonna do?”.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    Seems like a decent enough fit to me. If last year was just a flash in the pan, then it’s no big commitment, though clearly Nilsson is capable of being at least average and not actively hurting the team (ie: this isn’t Martin Brochu we’re talking about here). If he’s actually gotten it together, then he can push Markstrom and even supplant him if he deserves to, with Demko still having a clear succession path as long as he’s developing as we expect.

    • Billy Pilgrim

      Yes, but they said the same thing about Larsen and look how well that turned out! I think Nilsson is a better gamble as his improvement is at the NHL level. He is coming off a good year behind a bad defense in Buffalo. 26 games is a reasonable workload to provide some confidence. He was deemed expendable in Edmonton after winning the backup job to Talbot over Ben Scrivens. Played great in 5 starts, then fell off a cliff for the next 7 before getting traded to St. Louis. His time in Buffalo seems to have been much better. To expect him to be more than a backup is wishful thinking, though. But he could be a good backup, particularly if you want to see Markstrom play 50+ games. If you are worried that Markstrom can’t handle being a starter, Nilsson is the wrong choice.

      • Billy Pilgrim

        Dubnyk had solid numbers over 3 seasons (120 games) until his disaster season in 2013-14. He then was decent in a backup role for Nashville in 2014-15 (19 games) before the Wild picked him up. All we have with Nilsson is one season with good numbers as a back up. Not the same thing, I would say. I don’t mind signing Nilsson to back up Markstrom, just don’t expect him to take over the starting role in Markstrom falters.

  • Nilsson will provide depth along with Bachman. This is the time for Markstrom to rise to the occasion, grab the starter role and run with it. The Miller safety net won’t be there, so it’s sink or swim. My only concern with Markstrom is durability.
    I think Nilsson will fit here just fine.

  • Fred

    Average or slightly better than average is fine for the Canucks at this point in time. They aren’t contenders so just keeping the net filled with competent goalies is ok. We need two more good drafts, then Demko will be ready when, hopefully, we become competitive.

  • Steamer

    I’m still struggling to come to terms with Brian Burke insisting that Kevin Weekes was ‘the goalie of the future’. Seriously, Nilsson looks like a low-risk signing.

  • Spiel

    Nilsson, Bernier, or Kuemper make the most sense of the available UFAs.
    I still think a cap dump is the better way to go for a backup. Take a contract another team wants to get rid of, and receive an asset in return.
    What about Hammond from Ottawa or one of Mrazek/Howard in Detroit?