Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara - USA TODAY Sports

Year in Review: Anders Nilsson

The Vancouver Canucks took a gamble when they signed goaltender Anders Nilsson to a multi year deal this past summer, bringing him on board as a replacement for Ryan Miller alongside Jacob Markstrom.

At best, he was expected to put up similar stats to his 2016-17 season with the Buffalo Sabres, where he was good for a .923 save percentage in 26 games behind Robin Lehner. At worst, they hoped he would be a decent tandem pairing for Markstrom, filling the void until Thatcher Demko was ready for full-time NHL action without placing too much pressure on Markstrom alone.

Instead, as the season quickly descended into a free-fall,  Nilsson struggled as much as any other player on the team. Where he had been a bright spot on a poor Sabres roster the year prior, he was unfortunately as much a part of the problem as anyone else during his 2017-18 campaign—and now, the team will have to decide if that’s worth the $2.5 million he’ll cost them next year instead of dealing him out.

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Anders Nilsson Career Numbers

(Numbers courtesy of HockeyDB)

For a guy as large as Nilsson, there’s little need to come way out and challenge at the top of his crease; despite this, the Swedish-born net minder found himself reverting to a more European-friendly style of goaltending by the end of the year with aggressive positioning that left his net exposed too often.

That being said, there was little about Nilsson’s game that screamed total incompetence, but rather seemed to more imply that he, like the rest of the team, had lost his grip on the season by the end.

A .901 save percentage in 27 games is a steep drop-off after the year prior, and it was an ultimate disappointment after Nilsson started the year potentially challenging Markstrom for the starting job.

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Part of the problem over his career as a whole, though, has been a noted lack of consistency from game to game. In a 105 game sample-size, the 27-year-old Lulea, Sweden native has just a .418 Quality Start percentage, including a fairly abysmal .333 QS% during this past season. After posting five quality starts in his first seven games – including two shutouts and a minimum .926 save percentage in those five games – he would only post four quality starts in the next 13 games, and wouldn’t put up another quality performance until his final appearance of the year on April 7th.

When the Canucks passed through Arizona just before the end of the season, Markstrom was frank in his analysis of the team.

They hadn’t checked out, he said. They all knew that everyone was auditioning for a role come next season. Not everyone, he suggested, would be back, and the entire team was aware of it.

In the case of guys like Nilsson, it looked a lot like he was trying too hard to pull his stats out of their free-fall, so it’s possible he’ll bounce back next year.

Given the way his numbers have trended in North America every year aside from his stint in Buffalo, though, it’s hard to be overly confident in this outcome.

  • truthseeker

    It’s a shame. He really looked good in those first few games of the season. When I see performance like that, which was fairly consistent, it makes me think it’s not a talent issue. Psychological or coaching maybe.

    In the end it doesn’t matter. Camp should be a competition between him and Demko for the backup spot to start the year.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Anders, has all the tools and size to be a very good NHL goaltender. Early goals and consistency need to be worked on.
    A good goaltending coach could bring his numbers back up to the .920’s. He’s a good teammate, sure hope the Canucks can work with him to find his game.

    • Cageyvet

      This is so true. One of the last goals he let in this season was on what was at least a partial breakaway, if memory serves. I swear, it looked like he was trying to make himself as small as possible, he wasn’t just hunched over, it looked like he was going for a full genuflection. Instead of 20 per cent of the net being available when he just freaking stands there, he exposed 50 per cent of the net. Nobody coaches that, and it’s tough to see him improving enough to become a regrettable loss.

      He’s trade bait for sure, it was a cheap dice roll when we needed a body at that position, but he’s not the answer. Demko backs up Markstrom next year and that’s fine for where this team will be in their development. DiPietro is continuing to show promise, I’m looking forward to a Demko-DiPietro tandem down the road where we can hopefully not flinch at every shot in the first 5 minutes of a game.

    • There’s no evidence at all that the Canucks’ goaltending woes are coaching-related. Since Cloutier has been the GC, the Canucks have had a former 1A goalie well past his prime (who still played well), and two goalies who were well below league-average before coming to Vancouver. That Markstrom has put up league-average numbers in his time here suggests Cloutier is doing his job.