After the Edmonton Oilers’ loss to the New York Rangers on Monday, head coach Dave Tippett was asked what happened and he responded with the following: “I thought we did a lot of things well tonight. Our goaltender wasn’t very good and we didn’t find enough pucks at the net to get us back in the game.”
When asked further about the first goal scored by Alexi Lafreniere on a turnover after Mikko Koskinen wandered out of his net to play the puck, Tippett added, “What do you want? It’s a brutal mistake. What are you gonna do? Call it what it was, we were playing well. It’s a brutal mistake.”
While this is the most blatant display of the Oilers’ coach calling out a goalie that didn’t play well (and hasn’t often played well), Tippett’s decision to throw Koskinen to the wolves here is also a pretty ugly ribbon wrapped around a package of consistent displays of mistrust, bias, and underappreciation for a goalie who is stuck on a team that has little in the way of options.
Oilers fans are crying for the team to finally move Koskinen. One has to wonder why Koskinen would even want to stay after the way he’s been treated?
Koskinen Hasn’t Been Good
Before readers get all up in arms about the fact that I’m defending Koskinen, let’s be clear: Koskinen was not good. Koskinen often hasn’t been good. He’s not a starting goaltender in the NHL and he’s not the future of this franchise. He leaks early goals against, it’s clear he can’t play an extended run of games without faltering and he’s often in his own head, getting progressively worse when things go wrong.
All that said, he’s never been given much respect in Edmonton. The moment he signed a contract that was too rich for his level of NHL experience, the writing was on the wall with this franchise. His current three-year deal was one that fans and management have watched closely, with the expectation this season will be the last season he plays with this team. Every offseason there’s been talk about the Oilers upgrading the position and he’s always been listed as the guy who needs to go.
That’s got to be a difficult environment to play in and frankly, if the Oilers can, Koskinen knows they’ll move him before his deal has expired.
Oilers’ Bias Towards Other Goalies
Tippett calling out Koskinen but refusing to call out Mike Smith is part of the problem here. And, it’s pretty astounding that he’s chosen to do so when Smith’s future is anything but certain. As bad as Koskinen has been, he should get credit for also putting up strong performances. More importantly, Smith has been just as unreliable. It might be a different kind of unreliable, but the Oilers don’t have the luxury of casting Koskinen away and relying on Smith.
Despite his age, propensity for bad games, and injury history, Tippett has relentlessly defended Smith. Whether it was for the same error — coming out of the net and misplaying a puck that led to a goal — or whether it was a weak one Smith let through — like in overtime against the New Jersey Devils — Tippett’s bias for Smith over Koskinen is evident. Smith is held to a different standard within this organization and Tippett’s latest comments show just how obvious that is.
Granted, Smith is a veteran, and with his level of experience and desire to compete, he gets a bit more leash. How much more is a fair question Tippett should be asking before he ignores the faults of one to call out the mistakes of the other.
Amazing Koskinen Hasn’t Asked Out
Whether they were accurate statements or not, just to show just how preposterous Tippett’s comments were after Monday’s game, social media was flooded with reactions to what the coach did here. From people calling out GM Ken Holland’s inability to address his goaltending issues, to the team not standing up and saying they gave their goalie the support he needed, there was a wide range of reactions.
“1. Never sewer your goalie. 2. Definitely don’t sewer your goalie if he’s been the better of your tandem and you defend the other guy. 3. Definitely DEFINITELY don’t sewer your goalie if your team has lost 10 of 12, with the two wins coming when you personally were in protocol.”
It’s hard to disagree with that take and that Tippett has called out the one goalie who has some NHL experience while Stuart Skinner remains in the AHL and Smith is still day-to-day, means he did so while the Oilers don’t have a better plan. He also did so when his own job security is in question. There have been more than a few fans calling for Tippett’s dismissal lately and this wreaks of him looking for a scapegoat.
No doubt, the Oilers will try to move Koskinen before the March 21 deadline. That said, there probably aren’t going to be a lot of takers for the goaltender’s $4.5 million contract. If the Oilers called all 31 other NHL teams and said ‘We’re moving him, what’s your best offer?”, it’s hard to imagine there would be a lot of interest nor would the Oilers get anything of value in return.
Part of the problem now is that other teams likely know this hockey marriage is going to end in divorce. If news leaks that a trade request has come forward, don’t be surprised. If you’re Mikko Koskinen, why would you want to stay in Edmonton? The team clearly has little confidence in your ability, the fan base has turned on you and now your coach has called you out when you’re not even close to the only problem on a team that scored 1 goal in support. Teams may be waiting for Koskinen to be available for pennies on the dollar.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”