Early Monday evening, the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers made what was considered a minor trade: the Oilers received KHL goaltender Anders Nilsson from the Blackhawks in exchange for prospect Liam Coughlin.
At least, it seemed like a minor trade. That is until the Oilers promptly signed the netminder to a one-year, $1 million contract. While the dollar figure and term aren’t eye-popping, there’s a catch: the contract for Nilsson is a one-way deal, meaning it’ll be either NHL or waiver-wire for the towering 6-foot-5 Nilsson. That might not be good news for Ben Scrivens, as now it looks like his spot as Edmonton's backup could be up for grabs.
It was no surprise that the Oilers were looking for some security in goal this off-season and that’s why the move by Edmonton to acquire now-former New York Rangers backup Cam Talbot wasn’t all that shocking. Trading for, and subsequently signing, Nilsson, however, is a bit more surprising. That his deal is one-way makes it even more so.
While there’s some security in Scrivens’ game – the Oilers know he can be a quality backup netminder, as he’s previously been one in Los Angeles and Toronto – there’s the hope of a potential steal in acquiring Nilsson for next to nothing. As they say, you can’t teach size, and Nilsson certainly has that in droves. But more than size, Nilsson is coming off of an incredible season in Russia.
Scrivens, 28, has spent the past season and a half working away in Edmonton behind what has been, at best, a middling defense corps. In 2014-15, he posted one shutout, a 15-26-11 record, 3.16 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Meanwhile, in Russia with Ak Bars Kazan, the 25-year-old Nilsson posted five blank slates, a record of 20-9-0, a 1.71 GAA and .936 SP. In the post-season, Nilsson went off for six shutouts, 1.54 GAA and .935 SP in 20 games, but his team dropped the Gagarin Cup final to SKA St. Petersburg in five games.
A third round pick, 62nd overall, of the New York Islanders in 2009, Nilsson has only appeared in 23 NHL contests, posting a 9-9-2 record with one shutout, a 3.05 GAA and .898 SP. His NHL totals leave something to be desired, but his 2014-15 campaign in the KHL gives promise that Nilsson has much more to give.
There’s not much secret about who will get the starting job in Edmonton – barring catastrophe, Talbot will be the Day One starter for the Oilers. But after that, it’s possibly as close to a tossup as it can get. With Scrivens earning $2.3 million, he’s not a massive risk to demote, nor is he a burden to trade. The same goes for Nilsson, who on a one-way deal at his $1 million salary would easily fit under most NHL budgets.
There are plenty of reasons to be intrigued by Edmonton’s training camp this upcoming season – we hear they’ve got some kid named McDavid – but the prospective battle for the backup spot is one more why the Oilers’ camp will be one to watch.