RE 09-10: Robert Nilsson

There are times in a team’s history when they end up with a bunch of players who have very similar skill sets. I often mention the Houston Astros who collected a generation of first basemen who could hit homers, got on base alot via base-on-balls, hit for a little lower batting average than was socially acceptable and tended to spend about 5 years longer in the minor leagues then they would have today. Among the men on that list were John Mayberry, Cliff Johnson, Mike Easler, Nate Colbert, Keith Lampard; Bob Watson was similar but didn’t walk as much, there were a ton of these guys who signed with Houston in the late 60′s. There are other examples in sports history, but what’s important for us to learn about this is that when this happens:

  • the team in question cannot possibly keep them all.
  • the team in question sometimes keeps the wrong player(s).
  • it can take a long time to identify the right player.

In the case above John Mayberry was sent away for a couple of arms and Johnson was traded 11 years after being drafted (it took him 8 years to make the show as a regular. Astros kept trying to make him a catcher despite his size–6.04, 225 and his being below average at the position).

The Oilers have a lot of players who have Nilsson’s skill set, and they cannot possibly keep them all. I think they may end up keeping the wrong player(s), but Robert Nilsson is probably not the one to keep. A guess at the depth chart for undersized skill men:

  1. Patrick O’Sullivan
  2. Sam Gagner
  3. Andrew Cogliano
  4. Robert Nilsson
  5. Jordan Eberle
  6. Linus Omark
  7. Rob Schremp
  • Boxcars: 64gp, 9-20-29, 26pims
  • Shots: 77
  • Plus Minus: +1
  • Corsi: -1.9
  • GF/GA ON: 34-32
  • 5×5/60: 1.22
  • 5×4/60: 4.59
  • Quality of Competition: 3rd level
  • Quality of Teammates: very good 2nd level
  • FO %: 40.0% in 10 sorties
  • 09-10 Cap Hit: $2.0M (
  1. What do these numbers tell us? This fellow is a fair step below either O’Sullivan and Penner. Nilsson was facing less than stellar opposition and with good linemates and his 5×5/60 was the worst among forwards on the team. The next worst (tie between Reddox and MacIntyre) was 1.43 and it’s especially galling since his number in this category a year ago (2.37) was quality. I don’t know how muc credit to give in terms of GF/GA ON and the Corsi because it looks like he was swimming in blind dumb luck while going for a Sunday drive.
  2. How could the numbers be better? He got the at-bats (810 minutes, 8th among forwards at EVs) and he also got the bench a few times too. Nilsson is an offensive player so if he isn’t driving in runs what is he doing? Not much this past season.
  3. What about Cogliano? I have no idea what the Oilers are going to do with Quinn at the helm, but there’s little doubt all of these undersized guys can’t play in the top 6F. Should Nilsson win a top 6F job out of camp he’ll need to perform consistently in order to keep it.
  4. What about the Kid Line? Oilers have enough kids to have a line of them without Nilsson. Since he’s hanging by a thread (the only problem I see with moving Cogs to wing is that he apparently doesn’t want to go. Seems like a 5-minute conversation from the coach should take care of that) the pressure is on.
  5. Will Quinn play him against tougher opposition? Not in our lifetime.
  6. What Else? I’m a little surprised he’s still on the roster and wonder if the Oilers think he may have been mishandled. Seems like a long shot and it’s not like they could move him easily at 2M a year for two more seasons but all logic and good sense tells us he’s at the very end of the roster.
  7. How Important is Nilsson to this team? Someone will have to tell Kenta they’ve traded his boy. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing.

By The Numbers

  • 07-08 5×5 per 60m: 2.37
  • 08-09 5×5 per 60m: 1.22
  • 07-08 5×4 per 60m: 2.66
  • 08-09 5×4 per 60m: 4.59

Predictions Past 2007-08

  • Predicted: 82gp, 11-18-29 (.354 per game)
  • Actual: 71gp, 10-31-41 (.577 per game)

Predictions Past 2008-09

  • Predicted: 77gp, 17-34-51 (.662 per game)
  • Actual: 64gp, 9-20-29 (.453ppg)

Prediction for 2009-10: 70gp, 11-19-30 (.429 per game)

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28 Responses to "RE 09-10: Robert Nilsson"

  1. uni says:

    Nilsson is a prospect I've followed since he was drafted by the Islanders, and I still think he ends up being a player. Hopefully he worked out whatever issues he had last season. He showed too much skill and effort in his first 'full' season in Oiler silks to just fade away this easily. If his light ever gets stuck in the on position he's quality.

    Something's got to give, and I don't know how much faith I have that Tambellini will pick the right hands to ship out, and get equivalent or better value back to fill the positions of need.

  2. HBomb says:


    I'd also include Eberle on the depth chart of "small and skilled", probably ahead of Schremp and tied with Omark at this point.

  3. oilersinsider says:

    It's amazing how one forward can go from being described as having better potential than Ryan Smyth whom he was traded for to being unmoveable.

    I'm hoping he leans more towards finding the game he had when he was described as the next big thing for Edmonton.

    If the coaching change doesn't do this kid a service, I am going to quickly agree that his great strides at the end of 2007 was a total fluke.

  4. Lowetide says:

    uni: He's shown glimpses forever. IF he's on the team at the start of the season the pressure to perform at a hight level will be incredile.

    HBomb: Damn. I've added him, overlooked him by accident.

    oilersinsider: Who suggested Nilsson had more potential than Ryan Smyth?

  5. shanetrain says:

    The guy had no composure in his game last year that had all to do with a lack of confidence. I think if he sticks around the new coaching will help him even more than perhaps Penner.

  6. Ribs says:

    He'll be just fine…on Jagr's line.

  7. bookie says:

    The guy had no composure in his game last year that had all to do with a lack of confidence.

    I get the feeling that he was one of the guys who just never really understood what he was supposed to be doing under MacT's scheme(s). I think he is stronger when given basic instructions.

  8. doritogrande says:


    I had no idea we were affiliated with Omsk. That's a good pipeline to stockpile our Euros.

    Nilsson's playing time is perched entirely on two things for me.

    1) Cogliano's (un)willingness to move to Wing.

    2) Deciding once and for all if Penner deserves in the doghouse.

    If Cogliano refuses to or fails to properly move to the wing, I think he takes Nilsson's place under the bus in Quinn's eyes, and we see Cogliano riding the pine more than a first round pick should. Also, if Penner proves the addage "all bad luck comes in threes" we've got Nilsson who can slip into a top-6 role on this team while Penner finds himself called out by yet a third NHL coach.

    If one of these two scenarios were to happen, look for Nilsson's point totals to be somewhat closer to your number for Sam Gagner.

  9. PDO says:

    The paralysis on this team for guys like Bobby Nilsson is beyond fucking retarded.

    Tambellini was called "Mr. Conservative" by Lombardi over in LA…

    I think he's terrified to make a mistake on a guy like Nilsson or Pouliot.

    Of course, this in itself is a huge mistake, because he's going to end up costing this team a playoff spot, and 4 straight years out of the playoffs is a PBFD.

    A much bigger deal than losing a 40 point player.

  10. Phil says:

    If it wasn't for Penner, Nilsson would be the player that fans would be bemoaning as having all the tools and skills to do more, but the killer instinct of Mr. Dressup holding him back.

  11. hunter1909 says:

    Considering the coaching philosophy over the past near decade it's impossible to know which of the roster are good and which ones are merely good/bad at following the limited style most rigidly set forth to all of them.

    It's pretty obvious that the pluggers ruled, and anyone with any skill whatsoever were virtually made to feel like they weren't welcome.

    There's something you cannot quantify: the mental/moral stability of a sports team. The Oilers last season easily were one of the worst teams in the NHL, given the impossible coaching they received.

    Tambellini seems more and more what I was afraid of right from the opening press conference when he was introduced: Lowe's puppet, afraid to make any major decisions, for the obvious reason that he doesn't quite have what it takes to manage to put together a winning big league sports team.

    So, next season? More of the same. No checking third line center. One or more of the made of glass like defencemen goes down(I predict 2 out of the four puck movers), and voila, another 11th place finish in the west.

    The Cleveland Indians of the north continue to roll onward.

  12. Peter says:

    Offensively, this guy has more upside than everyone except Hemsky and Gagner. I don't know what the problem is – he has speed, stick handling, vision, finish, and he's also pretty feisty. I think playing for MacTavish brought him down a bit, but we can't put all the blame on MacT.

    I'd like to see the rule that's written that says you can only have x number of small forwards in your top 6. Is it carved in stone? Detroit lost Hossa and Samuelsson in the off-season – their only 2 big forwards outside of Franzen. Now 8 of their top 9 forwards are small-medium in size. Is anyone complaining about that? They'll still be a dominant team.

    When Anaheim won the cup in '07, everyone praised Brian Burke for building a big, tough team. Their success was attributed to their size. Well Selanne, McDonald, Kunitz, and Perry (who has size but plays like a small man) were 4 of their 6 key forwards, and none of them are wrecking balls. Getzlaf and Pahlsson have size. I wouldn't include Penner as a key player in that cup run. It helps to have skilled players with size and skating, but there aren't that many to go around, even for a supposedly big tough team like Anaheim.

    Another prime example is Boston, who people always talk about as big and tough, but if you take out Chara and Lucic, they're not a big or tough team. They did finish first though, and narrowly missed the conference finals. Buffalo in '06 and Carolina this past year are other examples of really good teams that don't have a big group of top 9 forwards.

    Nilsson should be hitting his prime at 24, and if he can't produce this year under a new coach, then by all means, cut him loose. For now, I want to see him get one more chance.

  13. Woodguy says:

    I get the feeling that he was one of the guys who just never really understood what he was supposed to be doing under MacT's scheme(s). I think he is stronger when given basic instructions.

    I agree completely.

    When Toews was asked what the Hawks starting playing much better under Quenneville, he answered (paraphrased) "He gave us all very defined roles and we all knew what was expected of us, which made playing easier"

    I've said before MacTavish's biggest flaw is that he couldn't coach "simple" hockey.

    He changed up the forechecking scheme every night depending on the opponent (Horcoff complained about that after MacT was fired), and he had players playing scared to make a mistake.

    The players were frustrated about the ever changing system, and having to change their game every night.

    Ask any high level athlete about how important mind set is to performance. Its crucial.

    Even yesterday I heard an Eskimo being interviewed about why they are playing better. His answer was "we have have the skills to do the job, or else we wouldn't be here. The difference is that now we have the confidence in ourselves and each other"

    Richie Hall was asked why he didn't bench Arkee Whitlock after the disastrous Montreal game. He answered "then the player would be playing with fear of losing his job. Not only that, but other players who made mistakes would be playing in fear of losing their job. You don't get the most of the player when they play with fear, you need them to play with confidence"

    I really don't think we have a clue about what we have in Poo, Rowbert, Cogs(kinda), Fats, or even POS, until they play for the new set of coaches for at least 1/2 a season, maybe even a full season.

    Making any moves that aren't slam dunks (like getting a 35-50 goal LW)should be avoided until we know what we got.

    I've always thought MacTavish should be hemedically sealed during the season, then brought out to figure out opponent specific schemes for the playoffs. That was his strength.

    Expecting players to play well under an ever changing scheme during the year was his weakness.

    That and letting his true thoughts and feelings about players out in the press.

  14. shanetrain says:

    Off topic but my better half and I have tix for the Team Canada stuff here in Calgary at the end of the month. If Heatley is on the ice he is going to hear me … whether his mom is sitting beside me or not.

  15. NormanMendoza says:

    I think MacTavish's expectations of his players was shaped like a bell curve over the age distribution. 3rd or 4th year pros had the highest expectations placed on them. The kids got the kid gloves, and the vets got lots of patience to round their games into form — presumably because they had some track record of being able to guide themselves (18, 10, 83). Nillson, Penner, Pouliot, and Brodziak were all in that group of relatively young, but not rookies.

    It hard to argue that that is the age 24 – 26 when they need to hear the straight goods. However, it was brutal on the players and the team's asset management to play it out in public.

    On Nillson, I like the player — mostly because when he playing a good game — he looks really good.

    I actually think that this is a fantastic problem to have. If Heatley had been landed, the rush to flush one of the small skill guys would be on. If we talk about modelling Detroit, you need to have depth and options. We only hear about the DET players who rise to the big league — we don't hear about their many 23 and 24 year old players who never get there.

    By 23 or 24, Edmonton fans (and mgmt) have crowned them — or disowned them.

    This logjam presents the opportunity. If Tambellini was part of the staff that found Burrows and Kesler in VAN — there's hope that he makes the right choices here.

    What's the rush to make the change and decisions? If we're not bringing in the BIG NAME. Let's let the problem solve it on the ice.

    Hunger, opportunity, and a fight for a job. These are good criteria for a decent start to the season.


  16. Racki says:

    I don't think Nilsson is too bad of a player, but I agree with your assessment too, LT and have said the same myself a few times. There's just too many other players that duplicate what he does here, and most come at a cheaper price. I peg him as most likely to be traded or even waived (if Tambellini has the guts to do so) and sent to the AHL if he clears.

  17. raventalon40 says:

    More potential than Ryan Smyth?

    That's not all.

    In his draft year, people were comparing him to Peter Forsberg.

    To be fair though, people have done the same with Patrick Thoresen…

  18. geowal says:

    oilersinsider: Who suggested Nilsson had more potential than Ryan Smyth?

    When the kid line was riding high a couple years ago a lot of people were feeling pretty smug about the trade. At some points Nilsson's point totals were equal or better than most of Smyth's. And we had an "up and coming 3rd line centre" in O'Marra. Smyth was 6 mil, declining, and getting injured.

    I don't think too many people were complaining when Nilsson first signed that contract. Or I didn't hear them :)

  19. Coach pb9617 says:

    When Anaheim won the cup in '07, everyone praised Brian Burke for building a big, tough team. Their success was attributed to their size. Well Selanne, McDonald, Kunitz, and Perry (who has size but plays like a small man) were 4 of their 6 key forwards, and none of them are wrecking balls.

    This is absolutely false. Kunitz is in some rare air.

  20. Yeti says:

    Put simply, we need Nilsson for his grit

  21. Bruce says:

    As Cam Cole once famously wrote of Petr Klima: "Glen Sather looks at Klima and envisions the peak. Ted Green looks at Klima and sees fog above the tree line."

    No doubt 2008-09 was a foggy one for Row-bert, especially at even strength where he had by far the worst P/60 rate of any Oiler forward at just 1.22. He was, however, greatly improved on the powerplay, where his 4.59 PPP/60 ranked second on the club behind only Hemsky.

    The good news was that in a season where the EV offence dried up he still held his own, going +2 5v5 and +1 overall. That's not exactly eating up the soft minutes, but it's not exactly a disaster either. His defensive game was actually pretty solid if not overly physical.

    Thing about the guy is that he is a phenomenally gifted playmaker. When the Kid Line was doing its thing down the stretch of '07-08, Nilsson was the one who made me involuntarily gasp with his skill set, and his ability to feed the puck into the danger area was something to behold.

    I certainly hope he gets another chance. Exactly One of them, to be precise. He needs to show growth and dimension under Pat Quinn.

  22. rickibear says:

    By The Numbers

    07-08 5×5 per 60m: 2.37
    08-09 5×5 per 60m: 1.22
    07-08 5×4 per 60m: 2.66
    08-09 5×4 per 60m: 4.59

    top 30 for forwards production in the league.

    Or the MacT driven full team collapse.

    I will believe in the 07-08 season for Nilsson.

    Penner-Gagner-Hemsky; 1ev; 1pp
    Nilsson-Horcoff-Pisani 2ev; 2pp

    This should be but will not.

  23. rickibear says:

    Thing about the guy is that he is a phenomenally gifted playmaker.

    Bruce: You and I saw the 6th most productive playmaker forward in the game that year.

  24. Peter says:

    Amen Bruce. One last shot.

    rickibear, I've taken your line suggestion and come up with this:


    Please forget that Cogliano is technically the centre on the 3rd line. There'a a few other teams (Vancouver and New York) that will probably have a line that is both their 2nd scoring line and a shutdown line. This is the case in Vancouver where Burrows-Kesler-Bernier will shield Hodgson's 3rd line, and in New York where Higgins-Drury-Callahan will protect the Aninisimov line.

    In this case, Moreau can switch off with Nilsson and make a true shutdown line in 3rd periods if need be. We put our best finisher and most talented centre with Hemsky, and we put Pisani in a more offensive role. If he's healthy this year, after 2 brutal years in which he suffered a broken ankle, a concussion, and ulcerative collitis, he could pop in 15 or even 20 goals.

  25. kamus says:

    Lowetide, I thought your a numbers guy, why then do you seemingly base your predictions on feelings?

  26. Paper Designer says:

    If Tambellini was Lowe's puppet, this team would have made three dozen trades and signings by now. If anything, Tambellini's relative dearth of moves indicates a clear change from Lowe's yearly overhaul of the roster.

  27. Paper Designer says:

    As for Nilsson, it never ceases to amaze me how every fan's instinct is to buy high, sell low. Nilsson has skill, and little to no value, and despite what everyone thinks, a contract that is NOT frightening. He is making not significantly more than Cogliano or Gagner, and less than what you would pay for a proven top six forward (which is more in the three million dollar range). He's a player who has "got it" slower than most, but he admitted as much to realizing last year that defence was important. Some players never get it, and some grasp it quickly; Nilsson just seems to get it slower than most.

    He might not emerge as a consistent scoring threat until he turns twenty seven, but with a new set of voices, he might take another step this year, and become at least a decent second line option. If that happens, you can make the decision to keep or deal him, especially with the salary cap dropping, and teams desperate for anyone to plug a top six role at a lower contract number. If you can get Nilsson to play enough to get a few other teams to believe in him, a two million contract in a top six role and powerplay ability will look attractive.

    Remember, if you put Nilsson in the minors, the player you replace him with will likely make 750… that's only a cap savings of 1.25 million. Dustin Penner on the other hand, that's closer to 3.5 million in savings, a far more significant number.

    I don't know if anyone that has been suggesting burying Nilsson has taken a very hard look at the math that matters most in this league; cap hit.

  28. flamingpavelbure says:

    The Kid has talent.

    I think the coach needs to show confidence into Nilsson. He is possibly, the second best player on your team. Yes Even better than Gagner. I think MacT was a pain in the arse for him, most season. Sometimes as a player, there'a a coach you just don't like, don't like his methods and the ways he tries to motivate you. You just can't get it, i'm pretty positive it's what happened. I think you could give a crack at a Hemsky,Gagner and Nilsson line, no big guys, but you don't always need that. Penner is a tool, trade that shit away. Penner doesn't possess any potential to go beyond his 50 points. Nilsson does. This guy made me an Oiler fan by himself. I sincerely think, the Oilers are the wildest gamble in ALL the NHL. Possesing so much talent, so much 1st rounders, that could explode at any moment, or just flat out fluke. Well i hope they explode, but at least, give Nilsson a full chance.

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