There are plenty of cheap backup goaltenders that could be considered upgrades to Mike Smith right now for the Edmonton Oilers. I believe that it will be too difficult to acquire a netminder that is more of a long-term solution at this year’s trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a mid-round pick to give them a fighting chance for the rest of this season.
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It’s not too much of a task for the Oilers to look at a cheaper upgrade, and there are many out there that would be capable of posting a save percentage (SV%) of over .900. With the playoff picture pretty clear in the Eastern Conference and some teams falling out of the race in the Western Conference, there are some solid options who have had runs and have played well in the past. A change of scenery could do them well, and the opportunity to split time or give Mikko Koskinen the allotted rest he needs would help the situation in the Oilers’ net.
Related: Oilers’ Options with Mike Smith: Keep, Trade, or Buy Out
Of course everyone wants to see Stuart Skinner, and his numbers in the NHL this season suggest he is capable of helping the Oilers’ goaltending struggles this season. However, it seems like he will only get the call if one of Smith or Koskinen misses time. They need to act now after losing back-to-back games against bottom-feeders with a chance to climb in the standings in the midst of a tight playoff race before another season is wasted.
Mike Smith is Having Negative Impact on Oilers
The way Smith has played hasn’t given the Oilers a chance to win very much since returning from injury. He is 3-6-0 since returning to action and has posted a SV% over .900 only three times. In five of those games, he’s allowed four goals against. In his last matchup against the Montreal Canadiens, a game the Oilers needed to make up ground and stay with other playoff teams, he allowed four goals while two more beat him and got called back.
Smith is looking slow, and he is taken out of position very easily to the point where even the defence can’t cover the mistakes. He also recently allowed two goals on the first six shots or fewer seven times in a span of 10 games. Against the Canadiens, Smith didn’t start as poorly, but he did allow two on the first nine (“Mike Smith’s struggles are real and they are spectacular. Whatever are the Edmonton Oilers to do?”, Edmonton Journal, Feb. 24, 2022).
It’s understandable that Koskinen needs a break even when he is playing well, and Smith is supposed to be there to take at least half of the starts. That’s not the case, and enough evidence has been seen to say that Koskinen should remain the primary starter. If nothing is done, he will have to start at a rate of 2:1 to avoid tiring out and stay able to give the Oilers the goaltending that will be good enough to make the postseason.
Smith’s last start emphasized the fact that the Oilers can’t continue to be loyal to someone who is hurting them more than helping at a dire time in the season and the organization. The Oilers have options and should seriously look into all of them. Buyouts mid-season aren’t normal, but they could send Smith down to the American Hockey League (AHL) to make room for Skinner who is the cheapest upgrade. It’s a very slim chance, but someone could claim Smith as he passes through waivers. If not, the Oilers give themselves a young goaltender with the best numbers of the three to play some games.
At this point, Smith shouldn’t start any more games for the Oilers, so trading him before the deadline is the most immediate option and one the team should look at. No contender is going to want a 39-year old goaltender with a sub-.900 SV% unless they are very desperate, and even then, they would have to deal with his contract for next season. Rather, the Oilers will have to look to a team willing to take on contracts for something extra to help with a turnaround. Teams who are trading a goaltender could potentially take Smith on as well.
Below I will run through some options, all on expiring contracts, that the Oilers should be interested in to help close out their season over Smith.
Upcoming Free Agent Targets for the Oilers This Season
Martin Jones may be one of the cheaper options on this list because his SV% has dropped to below .900. Look at the team in front of him and the injuries and losing streaks the Philadelphia Flyers have piled up. It’s hard to post good numbers behind that. Just five years removed from back-to-back seasons finishing in the top-seven in Vezina Trophy voting, he finds himself climbing his way back to being a solid goaltending option in net.
His SV% is up from the previous four seasons, but so is his goals against average (GAA), meaning he has faced a ton more shots per game and has been left out to dry on many occasions. With the new defensive structure in Edmonton forcing more shots to the outside, it makes it easier for the netminders to make more saves to keep the confidence level up.
The Oilers were reportedly in talks with the Flyers a while ago about Jones, but things didn’t progress. He is most likely on the move. As a team that is out of the playoff race, the Flyers have no real need for him for the remainder of the season.
Braden Holtby has become the backup to Jake Oettinger after starting the season off well. Oettinger is the goaltender of the future for the Dallas Stars, and even if they are in the playoff race, there could be a chance they trade Holtby for the right price.
The Oilers are a team that might make them a good offer since Holtby would be a major upgrade when it comes to GAA and SV%. He has had a stellar bounce-back season this year, going from a .889 SV% last season with the Vancouver Canucks to a .913 SV% this year with the Stars. Their team has been up and down this year, so the next couple of weeks will determine their deadline strategy moving forward with Holtby. As he makes less than Smith, the Oilers wouldn’t have a difficult time fitting him in.
Pavel Francouz is another backup goaltender on an expiring contract that will most likely be moving on to a new team after the season. Both of the Colorado Avalanche’s goaltenders are in the last year of their deals, but at the very least, they have one of the top goalie prospects in Justus Annunen in their system.
The Avalanche are also being talked about as a team that upgrades their goaltending since both of their netminders have had injury trouble during their careers. What happened to them two seasons ago can’t kill another season, especially when they’re the top team in the NHL.
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If the Avalanche do decide to look at goaltenders, the Oilers could take Francouz off their hands and hope he stays healthy and gives the team a fighting chance. With a .923 SV% and two shutouts, there’s no goaltender on an expiring contract for $2 million or less that may be available and put up those kinds of numbers.
Anton Forsberg has given the Ottawa Senators great goaltending when he’s taken the crease despite another year of rebuilding. Earning just $900k, he has posted an 11-9-2 record with a .918 SV% and 7.3 GSAA (goals saved above average).
The Hockey Writers’‘ Sean Panganiban goes into depth as to why the Oilers should bring back Forsberg, a goaltender they signed before the start of last season and lost to waivers. He is young enough and may have put together enough starts and solid numbers to give the Oilers a chance to win more games with good goaltending.
Craig Anderson’s age may be a concern for the Oilers, as they are trying to move on and upgrade from an old goaltender. His numbers on the Buffalo Sabres can’t be overlooked though. He has posted a .907 SV%, sub-3.00 GAA, and has a fair record on a team that is 18-30-8.
Anderson would cost very little to acquire, and the Sabres could easily take on the contract of Smith with the cap space they have and the lack of players signed for next season. Anderson would be counted on to allow Koskinen to get his needed rest and continue to play at the top of his game. He would allow the Oilers to have a chance of winning when he is in the crease. He has the fourth-highest playoff SV% of all-time and impressed last season when he was called upon for the Washington Capitals in the first round. He could be an option to turn to if the Oilers make the playoffs with his help.
Alexandar Georgiev is the last and most expensive option the Oilers could realistically acquire before the deadline for a relatively cheap price. He makes just under $250k more than Smith and is also the only restricted free agent (RFA) on this list. He is looking for a home where he will have a fair chance of being the starting goalie, and the New York Rangers isn’t that place with Igor Shesterkin as their starter.
Georgiev’s numbers don’t pop out at you. He has a sub-.900 SV%, but he has also been playing in front of a young defence and is getting comparisons to Shesterkin’s Vezina Trophy-calibre season in New York. Georgiev could be an option for the future if the Oilers acquire him, but if they are going to trade for a short-term upgrade, they better not miss on it.
Thomas Greiss and Joonas Korpisalo could also be names Ken Holland looks into before the deadline. However, their stats this season are concerning and not an upgrade to what Smith has given the Oilers, despite being on worse teams. What do you think of the cheap options the Oilers have to upgrade in goal? Who would you target if the decision was up to you and why? Comment below.