It has become official that Mikko Koskinen has signed with HC Lugano of the National League (Switzerland), as he would’ve been an unrestricted free agent on July 13. He spent the last four seasons with the Oilers and is returning overseas on a two-year deal after an eventful stint in Edmonton.
Koskinen’s Performance Over His Time With the Oilers
In four seasons with the Oilers, Koskinen was never considered a true starter, but he was part of two tandems and was relied on heavily at points throughout his tenure. Fans may have had a love/hate relationship with him, but he still went out there and played to the best of his ability. It became clear during the 2020-21 season that the contract given to him mid-way through just his first season with the Oilers was going from bad to worse.
Koskinen started 51 games in his first season with the Oilers, where he had below-average stats despite finishing with a positive win/loss record. He never lost more regulation games than he won in any of the four seasons, if you can believe that, despite a 2.98 goals against average (GAA) and a .907 save percentage (SV%). He had an overall record of 83-59-13 with the Oilers, with six shutouts and a negative-9.0 GSAA (goals saved above average).
Koskinen had a tendency to start the game late and often allowed a goal on the first shot of the game or an early goal. The blame can partly be placed on the Oilers team as a whole, but he is the last line of defence. Typically, he would bounce back nicely during the games, but the Oilers were also left with the thought in their minds that they would have to score a handful of goals to win every night.
Related: Oilers’ Mikko Koskinen Is NHL’s Most Underappreciated Goaltender
When Mike Smith dealt with injuries on multiple occasions, Koskinen did as well as anyone could’ve asked for this season. He had a record of 27-12-4 with a .903 SV% and 3.10 GAA and got the Oilers through the first half of the season as their starting goaltender. He also started the season with a 12-2-0 record and was right among the leaders in the NHL before the Oilers entered their slump. If you looked at Koskinen for what he actually was, a backup goalie, and not by how much money he was getting paid, he did a fine job in Edmonton.
Koskinen Wasn’t Able to Find the Success He Had Overseas
The Oilers made the right call in giving a European goaltender who had found a ton of success overseas a chance by signing Koskinen to a one-year deal to bring him over to the NHL. But soon after re-signing, things started to get more difficult for him. Comparing the level of play of the leagues overseas to the NHL, the NHL is the highest level anyone can play at.
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After being drafted in the second round of the NHL Draft in 2009 by the New York Islanders, Koskinen struggled in his four games for the team and also in the American Hockey League (AHL). After then, he eventually headed to the SM-Liiga in Finland for just over a season and then to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). His numbers were incredible for the six seasons he was in the KHL, highlighted by his final season in 2017-18, when he posted a 22-4-1 record, 1.57 GAA, .937 SV% and five shutouts. He also posted a .935 SV% in 15 postseason games, but it helped that he played for KHL powerhouse, St. Petersburg SKA.
Contract of Koskinen Left Oilers in a 3-Year Bind
Peter Chiarelli, the general manager at the time, made his final questionable move when he signed Koskinen to a three-year, $13.5 million dollar deal (a $4.5 million cap hit) after not even completing his first season back in North America. That is the kind of money starters get paid, and money Koskinen wasn’t going to say no to. The firing of Chiarelli followed the signing by two days.
Although he improved in the first season of his new deal, it went downhill in each of the past two despite his record being above .500 in that time. As he declined, the Oilers got better at their other positions but were limited with goaltending options they could bring in, considering the money already allocated in net. Again, in no way is it Koskinen’s fault that he wasn’t able to play to the level of his contract, as he played much better with rest and as a backup goaltender (from ‘Shot fired! Koskinen blasts media: ‘That’s something you guys pretty well made up in your heads’,’ Edmonton Journal, Mar. 14, 2022). He is able to get hot for stretches, but too much playing time wore him down, and you saw the signs of fatigue and the decline in his play.
With the contract of Koskinen off the books, it frees up some much-needed cap space the Oilers must use to re-sign players and bring in a starting goaltender that isn’t an overpayment. Best of luck to Koskinen in Switzerland as he brought the Oilers many memorable moments, good and bad.