Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli must have went to bed last night or woke up this morning with a smile on his face.
Not that the first 25 games of the season weren't important but, if it were me, game 26 would have been circled on my calendar. A chance to face his old team and the Big Bad Boston Bruins. It's been a tough start to the season and the smile may have only lasted a few seconds but it was a moment of happiness Wednesday night for Chiarelli and the Oilers. What might have made the new boss even happier than just winning the game was how they won it. It was a victory thanks to the stellar performance by Anders Nilsson.
I don't know if Chiarelli had always liked Nilsson from Anders’ time with the New York Islanders, or whether Peter had caught glimpses of him in the KHL. Whatever it was, and wherever, he saw bringing him to Edmonton was a stroke of GM genius.
Listen, when I first heard of this signing I thought: insurance. I thought Nilsson was here in case things didn't work out with Cam Talbot or Ben Scrivens. In case of a move or weak play Nilsson would be in Bakersfield ready to get called up when, or if, the Oilers ever needed him. Turns out, they needed him way sooner than I expected.
Before the 6-foot—5, 229-pounder was signed by Edmonton to a very cap-friendly one-year $1 million dollar deal on July 6, they first needed to get his rights. Mission accomplished when the GM sent forward prospect Liam Coughlin to Chicago. Coughlin, a former fifth-round pick, spent two seasons in the BCHL and is currently a freshman at the University of Vermont. The forward has played 12 games and has 5 assists. For now, it's a trade that is, in lopsided fashion, heavily in favour of the Oilers. It may just be the shrewdest, most successful move by Chiarelli yet and one that originally garnered a small ripple of publicity.
It made me wonder how this former third-round pick of the Islanders ended up in the KHL. At 25 he was trying to revive a career which included only 23 NHL games with the Islanders. While Nilsson is a hulk of a man, he wasn't always like that and he, along with the doctors, didn't know why. It started out as simply not feeling well and just continued to get worse for the Swedish puckstopper. Lethargic, short on energy, craving copious amounts of sleep… something just wasn't right. Throw in a large loss in weight and it gives you some background on how his health was adversely starting to impact his game. You can't play well when you don't feel well. This mystery lasted almost a year before doctors finally figured out that Nilsson was gluten intolerant. Doesn't sound like much, but it was weighing down him and his career. Once he started eating better, his weight went up and so did his play.
It meant taking a detour from New York to Russia and then back to North America. A round about way for Nilsson to get back to where he always wanted to be and that's the NHL. The number one job isn't his just yet, but he's making a great case for it. The Oilers uncovered a netminder and Nilsson got a second chance in a Swede heart deal for both sides.