The Edmonton Oilers’ decision about the goaltending situation moving forward will have to be addressed soon. But if anything is going to get done, Mikko Koskinen and his $4.5 million contract is going to have to be moved out somehow and somewhere. The Oilers have played this game of guessing which Koskinen will show up every night for long enough. It has its highs, but also has its lows, which has proven to be almost detrimental to the season after a very good start.
They could be looking to just dump Koskinen’s contract, but the New Jersey Devils’ situation is unique right now and the Oilers could be able to get a return that helps them more than freeing cap space for this season. This would be acquiring a defensive defenceman in Ryan Graves.
The Oilers should be pretty well set in the forward department, so a defenceman and goaltender are the last concerns to address for this season roster-wise. Since the Oilers are right up against the cap, the most likely candidates to be moved are Koskinen and skaters who may not fit in the lineup anymore, which includes someone like Zack Kassian.
With the Devils’ need for a goaltender for the rest of the season and their playoff hopes slim, they could be looking to sell a few assets that are worth something to help put themselves in a position to improve next season, which looks likely.
Oilers Check Two Items of Need Off Their List
There are two needs that the Oilers would check off if they are able to deal Koskinen to the Devils and receive Graves in return. This would be acquiring a defensive defenceman with one more year remaining at a fair price ($3.17 million) and moving Koskinen’s $4.5 million cap hit out simultaneously.
Graves is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenceman who can play either side of the ice. He is labelled as a left defenceman, but has been playing alongside Ty Smith who is also a left defenceman. For his size, Graves doesn’t hit the most, but he is still physical nonetheless. In his short career, he has been heavily relied upon defensively, starting in the defensive zone 63 percent of the time. Pairing him with either Tyson Barrie or Evan Bouchard can make up for what they lack defensively and allow them to take more chances offensively.
This season hasn’t been the most kind to Graves. He is a career plus-54 in four seasons, taking into account that the first three were with the Colorado Avalanche. This season, he is minus-5 but the on-ice save percentage of his team has dropped to 87.5 when it was 90.7 or higher in each of the first three seasons of his career.
The penalty kill of the Oilers definitely needs help as of late, so a big body like Graves who has helped the Devils to a 12th-ranked penalty kill would be welcomed at this time.
Moving Koskinen and one of the forwards mentioned above frees up roster spots, clears $1.33 million at minimum, and opens the door for the Oilers to make a deal to acquire a starting goalie. It also brings in a defenceman with term that fills the lack of effective defence-first defencemen the Oilers have on their active roster. Even if a player like Markus Niemelainen is ready to make the jump full-time to the NHL next season, Graves is versatile and what a shutdown pair that would make.
What the Deal Would Include
There, of course, would have to be a sweetener in the deal coming from Edmonton to New Jersey since Graves has another year left. The Devils are in a position to take on bad contracts due to their cap space and position in the standings if it helps them build for the future. It’s no guarantee that the Devils will be competitive enough to make the postseason next year either, and with Graves an unrestricted free agent after next season, he could be seen as a rental they are just moving out early for a larger return.
The Devils traded away a second-round pick and Mikhail Maltsev, a young fringe-NHLer at this time to acquire Graves before the expansion draft. Maltsev wasn’t a part of the Avalanche’s opening-day roster, but has played 18 games this season, recording no points.
If the Oilers are going to try and mimic this type of deal but also dump a contract on the Devils, they will too have to probably include a pick and a fringe-NHL player in the deal. Due to the need in net right now by the Devils and half a year used up since the Avalanche and Devils made their deal, I figure the pick will be a fourth rounder at the most and the Oilers will include one of the three: Tyler Benson, Brendan Perlini, or Cooper Marody.
Sadly for Oilers fans, all of these players are well-liked, except there doesn’t seem to be any room in the lineup for them this season and even next. This would give any of them a better shot in an NHL lineup that each of them deserves.
How it Would Help the Devils Right Now
The Devils got hit with some bad news a while back that Jonathan Bernier is out for the season with a hip injury. With the recent and less serious injury to Mackenzie Blackwood, the team has been running with two American Hockey League (AHL)-level goaltenders for the time being in Jon Gillies and Nico Daws.
Gillies just isn’t an NHL-calibre goaltender, posting a 1-6-0 record with a 3.43 goals-against average (GAA) and .894 save percentage (SV%). While Daws is just 21 years old and has been forced to make the jump sooner than he is ready. Koskinen would be able to come in and stabilize the goaltending situation for the rest of the season.
In acquiring the goaltending help they need for the season, they should be receiving assets to go along with it in the form of a younger player with potential and a draft pick. The Devils will be playing out the rest of the season trying to analyze the players they have, so moving a defenceman out can give the opportunity to either Colton White or Kevin Bahl to get games in on the Devils.
Contract talks would be able to begin with Graves in the offseason, but there won’t be much room with Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Smith, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Luke Hughes, Bahl, and White forming their group down the line, with a few more names who could make themselves known as well. (from ‘Who are the top prospects in the Devils’ system?’, Elite Sports NY, May 15, 2021)
This opportunity for both the Oilers and the Devils makes a lot of sense right now given each of their circumstances and the plans for the future.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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