The 2018-19 season was quite the rollercoaster for Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen. His only other tenure on an NHL team was back in the 2010-11 season with the New York Islanders, starting in four games. After his struggle to find a spot in the NHL, he moved back and forth from the SM-Liiga and the KHL before ultimately finding his way back with the Oilers. This was in the form of a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.
This was essentially a one-year deal where he had to prove that he was capable of stopping an NHL level offense. There was a great chance that if he didn’t succeed, he would most likely have gone back to the KHL. That wasn’t an option for Koskinen.
He started the 2018-19 season on an absolute tear, putting up an 11-3-1 record and a .930 save percentage in his first 16 games. The Oilers were set on using a 1A/1B system of him and Cam Talbot, however, they played the hot hand and Koskinen got the majority of the starts after this run. Right after the run, he essentially did the exact opposite in his next 16 starts, going 3-10-1 with a .881 save percentage.
The Oilers thought they had an answer in net, but Koskinen’s lack of consistency proved fatal to that conclusion. Talbot was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Flyers later in the season and Koskinen was once again given the majority of the starts. After the bad stretch of 16 games, he finished with an 11-8-4 record and a .904 save percentage.
The aforementioned flashes of brilliance at the beginning of the season was enough to earn him an extension at three years worth $4.5 million. With that type of money, the Oilers are hoping that Koskinen can gain some consistency and put up more quality starts.
The Oilers aren’t expecting Koskinen to be a 65-plus start workhorse that can put up a .920-plus save percentage. He’s making the same as players such as Antti Raanta, Cam Talbot, Carter Hutton, and Thomas Greiss. These are all players that can play on a team that opts to use a 1A/1B system for their goaltending.
However, this contract also shows that he needs to be able to play at a 1A/1B level. For a team that has two superstar forwards and a pretty defensively reliable blue line, it is completely realistic to have playoff aspirations in mind. Koskinen will need to improve his .906 save percentage from last year if the Oilers are even going to have a chance at playing in the postseason.
This is ultimately why Mike Smith was acquired in free agency. The Oilers need a stop-gap if Koskinen goes on long stretches of subpar play. Despite last season, Smith should be able to bounce back and prove to be a quality backup for the Oilers.
NHL Comparisons to Koskinen’s Stats
There were 20 goalies for the 16 teams that made the 2018-19 NHL playoffs that started more than 30 games. There were only three goalies with a save percentage lower than .906.
One was Jake Allen who finished with a .905 save percentage in 45 starts. Allen’s subpar goaltending played a large part in the first half collapse of the St. Louis Blues. This was enough to have his starting spot removed in favor of Jordan Binnington who managed to help get the Blues their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. His .905 save percentage is only one point away from Koskinen’s for comparison.
The next was Mike Smith. Smith was a disappointment after putting up a .898 save percentage in 40 starts. Like Allen, this was enough to eject Smith from the starting job in favor of David Rittich. Rittich started 42 games and played the majority of the starts down the stretch, putting up a .911 save percentage. The Flames were also tied for the second-highest ranked offense and could get away with not having a great goaltender.
The last was Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks. Jones went from a solid goaltender to absolutely collapsing last year after putting up a .896 save percentage in 62 starts. In an identical fashion, the Sharks tied the Flames for second in goals scored with 289. Their outstanding offense allowed them to get away with subpar goaltending and defense.
The Oilers finished last season at 20th place in goals for, below the league average. This level of goaltending is something that simply can’t be overlooked. While the depth has almost certainly improved, the goaltending will need to improve drastically if the playoffs are to be made and Koskinen is a large piece of the puzzle.