When the Ottawa Senators take the ice in 2020-21, all eyes will be on newcomer Matt Murray in net. The big off-season trade acquisition is set to take over as starter and appears ready to hold that role for many years to come. Seemingly lost in the shuffle has been the Senator’s previous notable goaltender addition, Anders Nilsson. Acquired midway through the 2018-19 season, Nilsson outperformed the now-departed Craig Anderson down the stretch. The performance won him the starter’s share over Anderson to begin last season, as Nilsson made 20 appearances in the first three months of the year. However, his season would end at 20 games as a concussion in mid December kept him sidelined for the remainder of the campaign. If not for the addition of Murray, a healthy Nilsson likely would have again been seen as the favorite to start in Ottawa in 2020-21.
It’s fortunate then that GM Pierre Dorion and company made the move to bring in Murray, as Nilsson is still not healthy. Senators goalie coach Pierre Groulx tells Bruce Garrioch of The Ottawa Citizen that Nilsson is still struggling with post-concussion syndrome and is unlikely to start the season on the active roster. While the ultimate decision of whether or not Nilsson begins the year on the injured reserve will not be made until he returns from his native Sweden, the odds are slim that Dorion will entrust a key roster spot to Nilsson if he is not fully healthy. According to Groulx, Nilsson is still suffering through headaches and issues related to his neck and eyes.
While Ottawa does not have any other veteran option to back up Murray in Nilsson’s place, they have a number of prospects who can battle for the role to begin the year. Marcus Hogberg, who served as Anderson’s backup in the second half of last season following Nilsson’s injury is the clear leader, and has a one-way contract to support his case, but he will not go unopposed. The recently-extended Joey Daccord, whose new deal also includes a one-way season, will have a say in the position battle. So too will top goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson, who is currently dominating while on loan in the the SHL. Even first-year pro Kevin Mandolese may get a look in training camp. It will be a hard-fought position battle, but an even more difficult decision may be coming down the line when (or if) Nilsson is finally healthy enough to return to the mix as well.