Wednesday, July 6, 2016

On new Sabres goalie, Anders Nilsson

Reprinted with permission from

He's big, he's Swedish and since he was drafted by the NY Islanders at the top of the third round in 2009 he's managed 52 NHL games while playing for three different teams the last four seasons.

Goalie Anders Nilsson came to Buffalo in a July 2nd trade with the St. Louis Blues for a 2017 fifth-round draft pick, the day after Sabres GM Tim Murray watched as last year's backup goalie Chad Johnson took his talents to Calgary. Murray thought he had a deal done with goalie Jeff Zatkoff, a 29 yr. old Detroit, MI native who spent last season with the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins, but he was played and Zatkoff ended up with the LA Kings. Enter Nilsson and his 1yr./$1M contract.

Nilsson has been bouncing around the last couple of seasons. In 2014 he bolted the Islanders organization as a restricted free agent to sign a deal with Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League. While Nilsson was busy putting up stout numbers in the KHL--1.17 GAA and a .936 Sv%--NHL teams were busy trading his rights. First Chicago traded for them in the October 4th Nick Leddy deal then less than a year later the Blackhawks traded his rights to the Edmonton Oilers where he restarted his NHL career in 2015.

And restarted it he did. Nilsson had a brilliant preseason with the Oilers then played well enough in his first two regular season starts for Edmonton to the point where Nilsson was now said to be pushing Cam Talbot for the starters role. When head coach Todd McLellan started Nilsson over Talbot after the latter was named first star in the previous game against Detroit, Nilsson had his chance to bring "goaltender controversy" into the conversation. It was not to be, however, as he got lit up by the Washington Capitals for six goals on 17 shots.

Nilsson did recover and he went on a pretty good streak for the Oilers--one which included winning five in a row and six out of seven from November 28th to December 11th. In those 15 games he went 9-5-1 with a goals-against average around 2.50 and a save percentage of .919. But the bottom dropped out after that and he would not win another game in Edmonton. On February 27 Nilsson was traded to the Blues for goalie prospect Niklas Lundstrom (2011, 132nd-overall) and a 2016 fifth-round pick (#149) which the Oilers turned into LW, Graham McPhee, son of former Capitals GM, George McPhee.

The overall numbers for Nilsson's NHL career are not all that great. He's appeared in 52 NHL games going 19-22-4 with a 3.09 GAA and a .900 Sv% and one should wonder what Murray was thinking when he made the trade, especially when there was a known quantity in Jhonas Enroth on the market who was said to be interested in returning to Buffalo.

Size does matter when it comes to Murray and his goaltenders and Murray likes big goalies. Nilsson chimes in at 6'5" 229 lbs. whereas Enroth is 5'11" 185 lbs. and with the change in goalie equipment on the immediate horizon a smaller goalie like Enroth will have even more to overcome.

The Sabres had a big goalie in Nathan Lieuwen but chose not to qualify the restricted free agent. Lieuwen has the size (6'5" 189 lbs.) but he's dealt with concussion issues the last two seasons which have put a hurtin' on his career. He's not Swedish either.

Buffalo's starting goalie is Robin Lehner is also from Sweden so he and Nilsson can now swap stories in their native tounge. Lehner had a rough start to his Sabres career as he hit IR after playing only two periods of hockey for his new team. When he came back, he came back pretty strong, but may have come back to early and the team shut him down in mid-March. Although Lehner's 5-9-5 record with Buffalo isn't anything to speak of he posted a 2.47 GAA and a .924 Sv%.

The addition of Nilsson does a number of things for the team even though fans will need to keep up on their high blood-pressure medication whenever he's in net. With him on board, Lehner will be the undisputed starter and will also have a homeboy with him in case he needs a hug. It also places goalie-prospect Linus Ullmark in Rochester for a full year of AHL development with Jason Kasdorf as his back-up for the Amerks. Should Lehner get injured again, unless Nilsson pulls a rabbit out of his hat, Ullmark will probably get the nod while Nilsson retains his back-up role.

Murray has said he wants to get better every day and many aren't sure how the signing of Nilsson as a back-up makes them better. Regardless of those thoughts, Buffalo's goaltending hierarchy is in place and if they plan on making the playoffs next season a healthy Lehner will go a long way in achieving that goal.

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