“He’s been excellent whether he’s been playing or he’s not been playing,” Bylsma said of Nilsson. “He’s been ready to play well every time he’s stepped in there.”
Raanta and Talbot both thrived in the limited role and showed the ability to carry the load should Lundqvist be out for an extended period. Nilsson has shown as least the propensity for the first half of the role and if his KHL performance in 2014-15 is any showcase of NHL ability, he can perform in a longer term as well.
Of course, what should also make Nilsson attractive to the New York brass is that he should come relatively cheap. Last season, in Buffalo, Nilsson earned $1 million even. Since nobody is going to be giving him starter money, considering his inconsistencies in the NHL, a moderate raise should be appropriate. Mike Condon just signed a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.4 million, but that’s probably on the high end for Nilsson while Raanta’s previous two-year, $2 million dollar deal seems a bit low. There are a number of backup goalies (Budaj, Montoya, Hutchinson, Khudobin, and Hammond) who all fall between $1 million and $1.5 million, and that’s a safe bet for Nilsson. Something like two years and $2.70 million should be the sweet spot.
The most fascinating aspect of a potential Nilsson signing is that he provides a template to set fair expectations for prospect Igor Shestyorkin, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2014. Though when Shestyorkin will make the jump from the KHL to the NHL is anybody’s guess, it’s even harder to say how well KHL success as a goalie translates to the NHL. Generally speaking, the elite KHL goalies are guys who have made their careers in Europe or Russia and rarely are legitimate NHL prospects amongst the best.
Dating back to the 2008-09 season, just two goalies who have spent significant time in the NHL—Semyon Varlamov and Kari Ramo—have finished in the top-five in save percentage in the KHL. Not even Sergei Bobrovsky did it, though he did have sixth- and seventh-place finishes.
While it’s hard to define Nilsson’s limited NHL experience as “significant” to date, he posted a .936 save percentage to finish third amongst all KHL goalies in the 2014-2015 season. Last year, Shestyorkin finished fourth with a .937 save percentage. The parallels there are striking, even if the two goalies’ styles are vastly different, and it’s interesting to think that part of the appeal to Nilsson is that he can help Gorton and Allaire better understand how to measure Shestyorkin’s KHL production and sustain his growth.