The Edmonton Oilers’ goaltending position has been an area of concern for the team over the last few seasons. They failed during the 2020 offseason to address their needs, missing out on multiple free-agent goaltenders, including Braden Holtby (signed with Vancouver) and Jacob Markstrom (signed by Calgary). Similar to the last offseason, the upcoming free agent goaltender class is also very strong and very deep, and the Oilers will need to take advantage to finally bring stability between the pipes.
Current Goaltending Situation
The Finnish goaltender is in the second year of his three-year deal that’s worth $4.5 million per season. He started a career-high 55 games in the 2018-19 season, posting a 2.93 goals against average (GAA) and .906 save percentage (SV%) that earned him his extension. His numbers improved the next season, albeit he lacked that starting goaltender workload with only 38 games played, virtually splitting games evenly with Mike Smith.
With the injury to Mike Smith this season, Koskinen saw almost all of the starts for the team early on, making 13 consecutive starts. His play has wavered significantly this season, and he has been very inconsistent compared to previous seasons. Perhaps some of the up and down numbers could be related to fatigue because of his high usage rate. However, if he wants to emerge as a number one goaltender, he will need to show he can handle a starting workload and put up the numbers to back that up. So far, he is more suitable splitting the net with another capable goaltender on a tandem basis.
Since the Dave Tippet era began behind the bench for the Oilers, it’s no surprise that Smith has played a big role for the team. He came over as a free agent on a one-year deal worth $3.75 million after playing with long-time rival Calgary Flames. He started 39 games for the team last season, playing one more game than Koskinen while putting up a 2.95 GAA and .902 SV%.
Despite being 38 years old, he was re-signed by the team this season on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. He recently returned from a lengthy stint on injured reserve and has rattled off a 6-2-0 record with a 2.33 GAA and .923 SV% through the first eight games played of the 2020-21 season. He is no longer a workhorse starter, and while he is a suitable back-up goaltender, he is not the answer to the Oilers goalie situation.
Claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Wild earlier on this season, Stalock is a goaltender who has shown in recent seasons that he is capable of being a solid backup who can step in as a starter if needed. While he is still on the Oilers injured reserve, he adds to the team’s goaltending depth, which was a glaring area of need earlier this season. Stalock comes on a low-risk contract, only costing the team $725k per year until the end of the 2022-23 season.
Stalock gives the Oilers the opportunity to make a move for a legitimate starting goaltender this offseason to pair with Koskinen, with Stalock filling in should injuries occur. If they do land a starter, Stalock and Koskinen’s contracts will both expire at the end of the 2022-23 season, and if Stalock can prove he is a capable backup, the team would be able to move on from Koskinen once his deal expires and allocate that $4.5 million in extra cap space to other areas of the roster while bringing back Stalock on a much more team-friendly deal.
Potential 2021 Offseason Goalie Targets
The Oilers will surely have a goaltender upgrade in their plans this offseason and will need to set some cap space aside to sign a starting-caliber goalie. They’ll have upwards of $24 million in cap space come the offseason, although there are names like Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Kailer Yamamoto needing extensions.
They will also need to bring back several bottom-six forwards to fill out their lineup, but that should still leave a significant amount of cap space to sign a number one goaltender, and there are several options below (in no particular order) that should be prime targets.
Chris Driedger – Florida Panthers
The Ottawa Senators draft pick has found himself a home in Florida and has taken big leaps forward in his development. He’s had limited starts at the NHL level but showed flashes near the end of last season of being a solid option between the pipes. He has 12 starts this season for the Panthers, owning a 2.25 GAA and .926 SV% through those games.
He has virtually split starts evenly with former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who is undoubtedly the team’s number one option after they signed him to a monster seven-year deal worth a total of $70 million. Driedger has put up better numbers than his Russian counterpart and may be tempted to leave to try and take on a starter’s role elsewhere if the opportunity arises. He will only be 27 years old come the offseason and would likely pounce on the chance to establish himself as a number one, especially with top prospect Spencer Knight in Florida’s pipeline.
If the Oilers want to take a chance on finding a starting caliber goalie at a respectable cap hit, Driedger should be atop their list. He may be somewhat unproven in terms of handling a starting goaltender’s workload, but with Koskinen and Stalock both still under contract for next season, they will be able to split starts, which is a role Driedger has flourished in with Florida for the past few years.
Petr Mrazek – Detroit Red WIngs
Mrazek has put together two solid seasons since joining the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent in 2018. He has not had a season with the Hurricanes that has seen him start over 40 games, but he did start 50 games or more in back-to-back seasons as a member of the Detroit Red Wings between 2015 and 2017. He started four games this season with a GAA below 1.00 and SV% of .955 before going down with a thumb injury.
With James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic doing a great job filling in for Mrazek during his absence this season, the team will have a decision to make on which goaltender to keep moving forward. Both Mrazek and Reimer are unrestricted free agents at season’s end, and Nedeljkovic has proved he is good enough to play at the NHL level, leaving the team to likely re-sign only one of Reimer or Mrazek.
If Mrazek does hit the open market, he makes a lot of sense for the Oilers because of the familiarity between the goaltender and general manager Ken Holland. Mrazek was a fifth-round pick by the Detroit Red Wings at the same time that Holland was the Red Wings’ general manager and was brought up through the organization while Holland was at the helm. If anyone knows the potential Mrazek has, it’s Holland. And if he is not able to take a full starter’s workload, at the very least, he can be a “1A” goaltender that can be paired with Koskinen or a potential “1B” goaltender in the future.
Philipp Grubauer – Colorado Avalanche
The 6-foot-1 German goaltender has been nothing short of consistent throughout his entire career between the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche. While he has been a beneficiary of playing for such a strong Avalanche team that is defensively sound and provides lots of goal support, he has shown the ability to produce at a high level consistently. He has taken the bulk of the workload with the injury to Pavel Francouz this season and unproven Hunter Miska as the team’s backup. He boasts a 1.95 GAA and .920 SV% through his first 21 starts this season and has been able to provide stability for a team that has battled injuries yet again.
Over the span of Grubauer’s career, he has never finished the season with a GAA above 2.64 and a SV% worse than .916 since making his debut in the 2012-13 season. The downside that Grubauer brings is his injury history, as he has never started more than 37 games in a single season.
The 29-year-old netminder is in the final year of a three-year deal he signed back in 2018 that comes with a cap hit of $3.33 million per year. For someone who has not taken the lion’s share of the starts, it may be tough for the Avalanche to bring back their starting goaltender with captain Gabriel Landeskog and reigning Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar up for new contracts this offseason. Grubauer should be atop of the Oilers’ goaltending targets, given his consistency throughout his career with the hopes that the injury concerns are behind him, which has been the case so far this season.
Linus Ullmark – Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender has been with the team since they drafted him back in 2012. Despite being on significantly poor Sabres team’s over the years, his numbers show his potential as a true number one goalie at the NHL level. Since playing in his first NHL game back in the 2015-16 season, Ullmark has played in 109 games at the NHL level with a career 2.77 GAA and .912 SV%, which is remarkable considering that the Sabres have finished no better than 23rd in league standings since the 2015-16 season and will likely finish in the same range in the 2020-21 season. He has been limited to only 12 starts this season after suffering an injury back in February.
With the Sabres looking more and more like sellers with each passing game, they may be looking to get value back in trades no matter what the position is, including in the crease. Buffalo may be looking to strip down the team back to the foundation, and with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen waiting for his chance, it may make sense for the team to avoid paying Ullmark this offseason.
The Oilers would be getting a starting-caliber goaltender who should see improvements in his numbers with a better team in front of him and much more goal support. He could be an under-the-radar goalie to target that has the upside to handle a starter’s workload who is under 30 years old and should come in below a $5 million dollar cap hit per season.
Consistency in the Crease
While the Oilers have been getting good goaltending this season and last, there remain consistency issues and risk with the current situation that has often been masked by offensive outbursts from two of the league’s top players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. If they can get a goaltender that can provide consistency every night, that could put the Oilers on another level and increase their chances of being legit contenders in the NHL without having to rely solely on offense to get the job done.
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Many of these goaltenders listed should not break the bank in terms of their cost and could be prime targets that could outperform their contracts in a few years. While there is some risk associated with all of these options, the long-term payoff may be worth taking the chance and could pay big dividends to the team in the future.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I have been covering the Edmonton Oilers here on The Hockey Writers since 2019. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.