Oilers: 4 Free-Agent Targets to Replace Mike Smith in Net

The Edmonton Oilers didn’t get the goaltending they needed after Round 1 of the playoffs and for half of the regular season. This was inevitably the team’s biggest downfall and why they are now eliminated. Starting goaltender Mike Smith has one year remaining on his deal at $2.2 million, while Mikko Koskinen is said to have a deal in place in the National League (NL) in Switzerland.

Related: 4 Oilers Who Likely Won’t Return for 2022-23 Season

The Oilers have young goaltender Stuart Skinner who should be part of the tandem next season, but they have seen enough to know they can’t trust the 40-year-old Smith to carry them any further than the conference finals next season. This means the Oilers should be looking to move out Smith and get themselves a legitimate starting goaltender to help them get over that hump. Here are the top free-agent options the Oilers should consider signing this offseason.

Darcy Kuemper

Not the best timing as the Oilers were just eliminated by the Colorado Avalanche, but it wasn’t at the hands of Darcy Kuemper. Pavel Francouz actually played most of the series as Kuemper was injured halfway through Game 1, and Francouz won all four games. Kuemper was healthy enough to be the backup in Game 4, but the Avalanche decided to go with Francouz instead.

This doesn’t mean the Avalanche don’t want to re-sign Kuemper, but it’s a confidence boost for Francouz and shows that the team would be fine without the goaltender they went out and paid a good amount for last offseason. This is where the Oilers come in. They were right next to the Avalanche as the top teams in contention to land Kuemper in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes in 2021, but the Avalanche offered a better prospect. The Oilers then needed to put their trust in the Smith/Koskinen tandem for one more season, and it ended in the conference final.

Darcy Kuemper Colorado Avalanche
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers are fortunate that Smith took them as far as he did, but, in 2022-23, the Oilers must have a change in net. Kuemper is without a deal for next season and may test free agency, especially if he wins the Stanley Cup. The Oilers would have to give him a nice payday, but paying top dollar for the last piece of the puzzle in a search for a Cup with two of the best players in the world in their primes would be worth it.

His career numbers are impressive, with a 143-95-36 record, a 2.48 goals-against average (GAA), a .918 save percentage (SV%), and 25 shutouts; his SV% this season was higher than his career average. Kuemper is 32 years old and is more injury-prone than the average goaltender. That is a risk, and the Oilers may be hesitant on the term he will likely ask for after another great season in net.

Jack Campbell

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Jack Campbell don’t seem to be close in contract talks because the Maple Leafs are, as they always are, strapped for cap space. While Campbell has performed very well for the team over the past two seasons while making $1.65 million, he deserves a raise. There was a stretch when he just couldn’t seem to find his game, but as all good goaltenders do, he bounced back and wasn’t the problem in the playoffs.

Campbell is asking for around $5 million per season, which is in line with other top goaltenders in the NHL, but the Maple Leafs came in with an offer of $2.75 million, per Elliott Friedman, which is insulting. He has gone 51-14-9 with a 2.50 GAA and .916 SV% over the two-plus seasons he’s been in the Maple Leafs’ net and was one of the very best in the NHL for the first half of 2021-22. He is going to be paid much more than $2.75 million and will make more money than the Maple Leafs’ other goaltender Petr Mrazek ($3.8 million), whether that is with the Maple Leafs or as a free agent.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers could offer something better for the 30-year-old netminder to be their starter and provide the team with stability in net for several years. The team has money freed up but also has important pieces they will have to decide if they’re signing. I think a goaltender who can help the team win games more often than not and someone the Oilers can count on should be at the top of their list. Given the distance between Campbell and the Maple Leafs in negotiations, the Oilers could make him a decent offer if he makes it to free agency. Edmonton took Zach Hyman from them last offseason because the Maple Leafs couldn’t afford him, and look how that turned out for the Oilers.

Ville Husso

Ville Husso is an intriguing option for the Oilers as he is the youngest and most inexperienced of the four goaltenders on this list. Nevertheless, that could work in the Oilers’ favour as they have been relying on veterans in net for too long. He will be looking for a big pay raise, and the St. Louis Blues don’t have the money to keep him around with how their team is built. They already have Jordan Binnington under contract for five more seasons at $6 million, so they can’t afford to allocate much money to a 1B goaltender.

Husso may be the most likely to hit free agency of the group, and there will be interest in him. In his sophomore season, he went 25-7-6 with a 2.56 GAA and .919 SV%. His stat line was much higher in the first half of the season, but he provided average play down the stretch, still earning the net in Game 1 of the playoffs.

Ville Husso St. Louis Blues
Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Husso struggled in the playoffs, lost the starting job, but regained it when Binnington went down with an injury in Round 2. That offers a few points to look at: first, the Blues now have confidence back in Binnington, and he has confidence in himself after his elevated play in important games. Second, they will be comfortable letting Husso walk since they have options cheaper options for their next backup. Finally, it was Husso’s first crack at the postseason, so nerves may have been involved. But it wasn’t the most ideal matchup to be thrown into a series against the Stanley Cup favourite and offensive juggernaut Colorado Avalanche.

The Oilers should be able to offer Husso a shorter term than the first two options, as he will have to prove himself once again after the playoffs. Edmonton needs a goaltender who can play well when the games matter the most and not just in the regular season; their goal is to win the Cup.

Braden Holtby

The final solid option in free agency is Braden Holtby. He will be the most inexpensive option while also providing the Oilers with quality goaltending if they are more strapped for cap space and choose to prioritize re-signing players over making big improvements in net. Maybe they lose out on the sweepstakes for the other big-name netminders as they have the past couple of years. Either way, Holtby has had a ton of success in his career and is still only 32, like Kuemper.

Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars
Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In his 12-year career, Holtby has won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals and won the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16, the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2016-17, and is a two-time All-Star. He also finished in the top-four in Vezina voting in two other seasons. He posted a 10-10-1 record for the Dallas Stars last season and played most games closer to the beginning of the season when the team was struggling.

Despite that, he put up solid numbers, and his record would have been much better with an offence like the Oilers have and provided for Koskinen. Holtby had a 2.78 GAA and .913 SV%, which the Oilers would have killed for in the first half of the season. Jake Oettinger is the starter in Dallas now, so Holtby may be moving on to find a landing spot where he can fight for that job. Edmonton could be the place, but I would be wary of signing him for more than two or three years, so the Oilers can see what Skinner can develop into.

There may not be a ton of options out there to replace Smith as the Oilers’ starter in 2022-23, but the team proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, and a good goaltender should want to join them if they want a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

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