Anders Nilsson

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Looking at four potential No. 1 goalie battles in 2019-20

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Battles for the No. 1 goalie spot heading into any given season often isn’t where teams want to be.

The uncertainty for hockey’s most important position is unsettling and often means the team embroiled in a training camp battle for that club’s top job is far closer to the draft lottery than the Stanley Cup.

Not everyone can have an Andrei Vasilevskiy or a Ben Bishop.

Today, we will focus on a few teams that don’t necessarily have that position locked up, and look into four battles that should play out once training camp gets underway in a couple month’s time.

1. Edmonton Oilers 

Mikko Koskinen is Peter Chiarelli’s last defining moment in a terrible tenure with the Oilers. Chiarelli, apparently with the blessing of the team, gave .900-save-percentage man Koskinen a three-year, $13.5 million raise because of reasons that may never been fully certain.

The deal paved the way for a lot of scrutiny, the exit of Cam Talbot and the continuation of what was a compounding year of bad in Northern Alberta.

Now, the Oilers have Mike Smith in the mix, the goalie who started 40 games and posted an .898 save percentage for the Calgary Flames last season in a timeshare with David Rittitch. But Smith’s experience in the playoffs led head coach Bill Peters to give him the nod in goal.

And now Smith heads up the road to battle for a job in Edmonton. Sure, Koskinen has the contract, but there’s no question that Smith could outplay him in training camp and set up a big decision for newly-minted coach Dave Tippett. Tippett knows Smith well from his days as the bench boss in Arizona.

2. Arizona Coyotes

Speaking of the desert dogs, what’s the plan there?

They essentially have two starting-caliber netminders with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. Raanta’s season was derailed thanks to injury. He made just 12 starts before Kuemper took over the starting role.

Raanta’s 2017-18 campaign was outstanding with a .930 save percentage across 47 starts. The Coyotes had found someone to replace Mike Smith as a solid No. 1.

When the lower-body injury ended Raanta’s season in Nov. 2018, it would have been easy to write off the Coyotes — something many did.

Kuemper would start 55 games, winning 27 of them and posting a .925 save percentage. His play gave the Coyotes a chance down the stretch, and while it ultimately ended with them not making the playoffs, it certainly showed that Arizona had two viable options between the pipes.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That’s what makes this situation interesting. A time-share might be ideal here. It’s something that’s worked for several teams, including the New York Islanders, and to a certain extent, the Boston Bruins — while not a true timeshare — were able to rest Tuukka Rask more with a quality backup, allowing them to reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

If general manager John Chayka wants, he also has quite the asset in either goalie on the trade market, too. Kuemper is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will likely be looking for a raise.

For now, they have one of the better goaltending tandems in the league and some decisions to make because of it.

3. Ottawa Senators

Craig Anderson has one year left on a deal that will pay him $4.75 million this coming season.

Anders Nilsson is getting $2.6 million next season and impressed in 26 games played last season after getting shipped to Ottawa from Vancouver.

Mike Condon is set to make $2.4 million this season.

Nilsson seems the best bet to grab the starting role after the Sens gave him a two-year deal earlier this summer. Anderson’s season last year wasn’t great and Condon isn’t going to be the starter after playing two games last season.

Nilsson, on his sixth NHL team since being drafted in 2009 by the Islanders, finally found his stride in Ottawa, posting a .914 save percentage on a bad Senators team.

4. Los Angeles Kings

Yes, Jonathan Quick has four years left and yes, he’s getting paid $5.8 million.

He was also a complete disaster last season between the pipes. So were the Kings, for that matter. But who really stood out among the wreckage was backup Jack Campbell.

While Quick, 33, had a less than ideal .888 save percentage across 46 starts, Campbell, 27, and getting paid $5.125 million less than his teammate, put up a .928 on a very bad team. It’s impressive.

While the Kings haven’t done much to improve themselves this summer, giving Campbell a shot at the starting gig might light a spark elsewhere in their lineup. They did seem to play better in front of him, and he inspired confidence with his play.

Perhaps the time is now to give Campbell is chance and let Quick groom him (and potentially Cal Petersen) as the Kings begin to look to the future.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Raanta shutout, Brassard showcase, Blackhawks finally win

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes: Raanta shutout Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, stopping all 40 shots sent his way for his first goose egg as a member of the Coyotes.

Derick Brassard, Ottawa Senators: The Derick Brassard Showcase continued on Saturday night. The Senators forward, who has been the subject of trade speculation leading up to the trade deadline in two weeks, scored in his fourth straight game and added two helpers in a 6-3 win against the New York Rangers.

Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights: Smith extended his point streak to seven games, scoring twice and adding a helper in a 6-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Smith has five goals and seven assists during his streak and now has 51 points in 58 games this season.

Anders Nilsson, Vancouver Canucks: Nilsson turned aside 44 of the 45 shots he faced from one of the league’s hottest teams in the Boston Bruins. The Canucks obliged their goaltender, scoring six and chasing Tuukka Rask in a 6-1 win.

Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks: Losers of eight straight coming into Saturday, the Blackhawks finally ended the streak, putting up seven goals against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals. Toews had a goal and two assists in the game. It was Chicago’s first win of the month and their seven goals were half of the number they scored in their previous eight games.

Eddie Lack, New Jersey Devils: Lack wasn’t supposed to be playing against the league’s top team. But there he was on Saturday, stopping 48 of 51 shots against Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. He even out-dueled Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will likely win the Vezina in June. Impressive stuff.

Highlights of the Night:

Ryan Hartman, untouchable:

Nikita Scherbak’d:

Matt Murray did this two nights ago. Deja vu:

Two-pad stack alert:

Factoids of the Night:

The season can’t end fast enough for the Oilers:

The Golden Knights are creeping toward another record:

Evgeni Malkin hits 900:

MISC:

Scores:

Kings 4, Sabres 2

Ducks 3, Wild 2 (SO)

Senators 6, Rangers 3

Coyotes 1, Oilers 0

Golden Knights 3, Canadiens 3

Devils 4, Lightning 3

Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 3

Red Wings 3, Predators 1

Blackhawks 7, Capitals 1

Canucks 6, Bruins 1

Panthers 6, Flames 3


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Report: Anders Nilsson could return to the NHL

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Goaltender Anders Nilsson, who left the New York Islanders as a restricted free agent to sign with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, could be headed back to North America.

According to Igor Eronko, Nilsson refused to sign an extension with the KHL club.

The Chicago Blackhawks own Nilsson’s rights after the Islanders dealt him as part of the Nick Leddy trade in October.

In 38 regular season KHL games, Nilsson posted a 20-9-8 record to go along with a 1.71 G.A.A. and a .936 save percentage.

The 25-year-old left the Islanders following the 2013-14 season after New York refused to meet his demands of a one-year contract.

Nilsson was not interested in spending another year in the American Hockey League.

“I have done for three years in the AHL and I do not think it would be good for my development to play a fourth year in the AHL,” Nilsson in April 2014. “That’s what I’ve said to them, since we have not started to go into contract negotiations.”

Nilsson appeared in 23 games for the Islanders over two seasons posting a 9-9-2 record to go along with a 3.05 G.A.A. and a .898 percentage.

Agent for Islanders’ Leddy releases statement

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Newly acquired Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy is excited to begin the next chapter of his career.

Neil Sheehy, the agent for Leddy, released the following statement Saturday evening:

“Nick Leddy loves Chicago, yet he is a young player, who will fit in with the young players the NYI have assembled and he is excited to be a part of their core group as the team moves to Brooklyn next year.” (via Brian Sandalow)

Leddy along with goaltender Kent Simpson was dealt from the Blackhawks to the Islanders for prospects Anders Nilsson, Ville Pokka and T.J. Brennan.

The trade leaves the Blackhawks, who were up against the cap, with roughly $1.5 million in cap space per CapGeek.

In a separate move, the Islanders acquired defenseman Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins.

Report: Isles working on deal to land Halak (Update: Done!)

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Some big news on the free agent goaltending front — the Islanders are reportedly working on a deal to get Jaroslav Halak out of Washington, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The deal would give the Isles Halak’s negotiating rights and a head start on hammering out a deal, as Halak’s set to become an unrestricted free agent in July. The 28-year-old is in the last of a four-year, $15 million deal and has changed addresses frequently this season, starting with St. Louis before moving to Buffalo as part of the Ryan Miller deal, then moving from Buffalo to Washington in exchange for Michal Neuvirth.

Despite all that movement, Halak compiled a good year statistically — 29-13-10, .921 save percentage, 2.25 GAA, five shutouts — though his time as a Capital ended badly after head coach Adam Oates suggested Halak asked out of a key start against his former Blues team, which led to friction between player and club (and agent).

As for the Islanders, this move would make a lot of sense as they currently don’t have any of their three goalies — Evgeni Nabokov, Anders Nilsson or Kevin Poulin — under contract for next season. Nabokov’s time on Long Island appears over and, yesterday, reports surfaced that Nilsson was contemplating a move to play in Europe.

Update: Done deal, per the Washington Post — Halak’s rights go to the Islanders in exchange for a fourth-round pick at this year’s NHL Entry Draft.

Update 2: Sounds like negotiations have already begun…