The Edmonton Oilers recently traded for goaltender Anthony Stolarz when they moved Cam Talbot just prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. For years, Talbot was the Oilers starting netminder but the organization had just chosen Mikko Koskinen as their goaltender of the future. With that decision now made (right or wrong), it made sense to move Talbot’s salary out. Coming to the Oilers was backup Stolarz who was part of a crowded netminding house in Philadelphia.
The Potential Stolarz Dilemma
Another big netminder with a higher potential ceiling than some of the other options out of Philly, the second the Oilers acquired Stolarz, the background buzz was that Stolarz would need to get in 10 games, with at least 30 minutes in each to move from a pending unrestricted free agent to a restricted free agent. If that happened, it gave the Oilers control over his future contract and leverage on an extension.
So far, he’s played relief in one game, allowed two goals with a .900 save percentage and 3.41 goals against average. With only 16 games left in the Oilers regular season, it’s virtually impossible for Stolarz to get in the games needed for his contract status to change.
As such, the Oilers traded away Talbot for a player that could very well leave them in the summer and essentially cleared out the netminder who helped them make it to the playoffs in 2016 for cap space.
Why This Really Isn’t a Dilemma At All
Despite how this looks from a wide view, this “dilemma” with Stolarz might not actually be a dilemma at all.
First, assuming he makes it to the summer as an unrestricted free agent (which he likely will), the assumption is they’ll be plenty of choices for Stolarz to make when it comes to his playing future. As we’ve learned from past free agency periods, this is not the case. Goaltenders of Stolarz pedigree often find themselves struggling to land gigs in the NHL and for someone with his lack of NHL experience, he isn’t exactly going to have teams beating down his door.
Sure, he’ll be an inexpensive contract, but even as a UFA, he’s as likely to sign in Edmonton as he would be anywhere else on the open market. There isn’t really a benefit for Stolarz to him leaving.
Second, the more Koskinen plays — specifically, the more he plays well — the better things get for Stolarz. Sure, the Oilers won’t know what they have in Stolarz if he doesn’t get regular game action, but what they will know is that Koskinen can potentially handle the load of being a starting netminder in the NHL. The Oilers took a large gamble that Koskinen was ready when they signed him to a three-year extension with only 30-or-so games on his NHL resume. He’s been hot of late. If he stays hot, Stolarz benefits.
With confidence in Koskinen, the Oilers won’t need to try and acquire a No. 1 “A” goaltender in free agency. They can stick with Koskinen, bring in a cheap backup and not worry about getting that backup into more than 20 games next season. That about perfectly describes where Stolarz is at for next season.
So too, if Edmonton enters the 2019-20 season with confidence in Koskinen, but he’s somehow shaky out of the gate, Stolarz gets the opportunity he’ll want.
As the Oilers spend the next few games vying for their last glimmer of hope that the playoffs this season are not out of reach, Stolarz won’t be much of a factor. And, while any netminder would want to play, if he watches Koskinen kill it over the last 16 games, this is a good thing for Stolarz in the long-run.
He has less pressure riding on him to perform when every loss is monumental for the Oilers, he’ll likely be offered a backup position by a team that isn’t looking much further than their current starter and patting themselves on the back for a wise decision and Stolarz will probably have a job waiting for him in a market that might not otherwise offer one.
If Koskinen struggles, Stolarz is not the guy Edmonton will look to. They’ll know they have much bigger problems.
Keep in mind, while the organization will potentially have a new GM, no one wants to move a piece like Talbot for what amounts to nothing. For that reason alone, Stolarz will get a longer look than he might have otherwise, even if he doesn’t play another single game this season.