Oilers Search for a Goalie at the Deadline Complicated With Lehner Injury

The Edmonton Oilers have gotten to the point with their goaltenders that whoever is hot or playing better gets the net. After the win against the Florida Panthers, the crease should belong to Mikko Koskinen for the time being. Mike Smith has had himself two consecutive bad starts in a row as the Oilers continue to try and get him up to speed and back to form from last season.

Related: Oilers’ Options with Mike Smith: Keep, Trade, or Buy Out

The longer they try and do that without success, the higher the possibility that the Oilers lose ground to teams also competing for spots in the Western Conference playoff race. Every team knows that the team in most need of a goaltender is the Oilers, but depending on how long Robin Lehner is out, the Vegas Golden Knights may have just joined them. He was just placed on the injured reserve and will at minimum miss some games (from “Golden Knights report: Goaltender placed on injured reserve”, Las Vegas Review Journal, Feb. 25, 2022). Neither team can really expect to make a deep playoff run with mediocre goaltending, as almost every Stanley Cup in the past has been won on the back of a stellar performance in net.

There are options out there, but a dogfight may incur between the two clubs and any other that may be desperate for goaltending help before the deadline.

Situation With Lehner Injury

“The Vegas Golden Knights are trying to figure out what’s going on with Robin Lehner and the extent of his shoulder injury.” David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period says his understanding is that the Golden Knights will be in the market for a goaltender while he recovers from injury. “Kelly McCrimmon and the staff there (Vegas) are talking around the league”, and they are seeing what’s available at a reasonable price. It’s another year where the Golden Knights are a contending team that have been held back by injuries. But make no mistake, when healthy, they are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Robin Lehner Vegas Golden Knights
Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Having no number one goaltender to take you to and through the playoffs can be a real back-breaker. Take the Oilers, for example, they have more offensive firepower than the Golden Knights, and they’ve been playing all year without a real number-one goalie. Pagnotta suggested that Lehner could potentially land on the long term injured reserve (LTIR), and in the event of that, $5 million would be freed up to go out and fill their needs.

Even so, if Lehner is able to return sooner rather than later, the Golden Knights may still be looking around for a goaltender, just maybe not one of such a high calibre.

Goaltenders That Should Be Available To Acquire

The name in net that has come up now in discussion with both the Oilers and Golden Knights is Semyon Varlamov out of New York. The Islanders have their starter in Ilya Sorokin, so Varlamov is playing as an expensive backup right now. If they want to free up space and get a nice return for him in the process for next season, he may be the best option available who isn’t a rental.

The Golden Knights would only target Varlamov if Lehner does indeed land on LTIR so they don’t slip out of the playoffs and are guaranteed a starter in net. They ran with Marc-Andre Fleury and Lehner last season and combined to win the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the least amount of goals against. They are right against the cap and have utilized LTIR for Jack Eichel and now Mark Stone. As long as the rule remains unchanged, they will continue to take advantage of it. They may have to pull some magic, but McCrimmon has done so before and isn’t afraid to deal any player in an attempt to win.

The Oilers don’t have a real plan in goal for 2022-23, especially if Smith continues to struggle. He may not even make it to next season as a member of the team. That means they would have a clean slate to work with, so solidifying their crease for an extra year with Varlamov could help. He would also tidy things up in net this season and help the Oilers win while Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are in the prime of their careers.

Semyon Varlamov New York Islanders
New York Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Pagnotta also listed a few others including Joonas Korpisalo from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers, both of whom the Oilers have checked in on. This may be exactly what teams selling goaltenders have been waiting on, more suitors to emerge and fight over what will become an even more valuable trade chip.

Korpisalo definitely has the capability to be an impactful netminder in the postseason, as he went up against the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning and played sensational. Georgiev is on the verge of breaking out, and has been given a bit of time to shine for the Rangers when Igor Shesterkin has missed some games.

Oilers & Golden Knights Could Both Upgrade in Net

The Oilers have dealt with the injuries to Smith, and the overall mediocre play in goal. Koskinen has been very streaky and Stuart Skinner, the presumed goaltender of the future, has been up and down between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) a number of times, putting up the best overall numbers of the three goalies.

Smith has a record of 5-6-1 with a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.65 and a .891 save percentage (SV%). Koskinen has been better and has also won the majority of the games for the Oilers, going 18-8-2 with a 3.13 GAA and .901 SV%. Skinner is 6-6-0 with a 2.62 GAA and a .913 SV% but is in the AHL right now.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For the Golden Knights, Laurent Brossoit, the backup goaltender, hasn’t put together the best season behind Lehner, posting a .905 SV% after finishing 2020-21 with a .918 SV%. Logan Thompson, their third-string goalie, has done well in two games, but isn’t ready to step in and hold down the crease for an extended amount of time. His starts have been somewhat sheltered, getting them against the struggling Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks. It would be risky to trust Brossoit to hold down the fort if Lehner’s injury lasts more than a week or two, so we could see a move soon.

The Oilers were already going to have a difficult enough time acquiring goaltending help with their cap situation and teams knowing they have the advantage in trade negotiations. Now with another team entering the mix, the Oilers are either going to have to pay a bit more or stand pat and ride it out.

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