TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger recently stated on Insider Trading that it’s likely that Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith will go on long-term injured reserve for the remainder of his contract. Having said that, all signs point toward Edmonton looking for a new netminder between the pipes this offseason. Now the fun part begins, as talks and speculation about a new goaltender for the Oilers start to increase.
Former NHL goaltender and now hockey analyst Mike McKenna spoke on the Daily Faceoff about potential trading partners with the New Jersey Devils for goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. The two teams he considered a good match for the Devils’ goaltender were the Buffalo Sabres and the Oilers.
Yet, the teams he mentioned are trending in opposite directions. The Sabres are rebuilding, and the Oilers — who finished with 29 points more than the Sabres in the regular season — clinched a berth in the Western Conference Final this past season. Although they were eventually swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche, it was a good learning opportunity for them.
They learned that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have yet another gear to pull off legendary playoff performances, but also learned that giving up 59 goals in 16 playoff games isn’t a long-term winning strategy. They learned that they need an upgrade in goal, a true No. 1 goaltender, and Blackwood, who posted a 3.39 goals-against average (GAA) last season, wouldn’t be a solution to upgrade their net.
Blackwood Struggled With the Devils This Past Season
The 25-year-old Blackwood has played in 130 NHL games and has a career 2.94 GAA and .907 save percentage (SV%), yet this season his numbers dipped from his career average. He sported a 3.39 GAA and .892 SV% in 25 games this past season, going 9-10-4, and missed time recovering from heel surgery, a neck injury, and also due to COVID protocols. That said, his inconsistency and durability raise enough concerns to be considered an upgrade in net for the Oilers.
The former second-round draft pick is young and still has promise, but that’s not a player the Oilers should take a gamble on at this point in the team’s progression. In fact, hockey insider Frank Seravalli states that the Devils themselves have lost faith in Blackwood. He makes $2.8 million average annual value (AAV) next season and is a restricted free agent thereafter. All things considered, he makes sense for the Sabres since they’re in a rebuilding phase and Blackwood is a player that can grow in their system. Edmonton, on the other hand, moved the needle forward for their organization with their playoff success and can’t afford to gamble on a relatively unproven goaltender who underperformed last season.
McDavid has four years left on his contract, while Draisaitl has three. Whether they decide to re-sign with the Oilers after their contracts expire is a completely different story, but in the meantime, they need to get serious. Let’s say their window of opportunity to capture a Stanley Cup is within the next three years. They can’t afford any more seasons “to see” if a goaltender with potential can pan out, which is exactly what they’d be getting in Blackwood. In the hypothetical scenario that Smith doesn’t return, they give up assets to acquire Blackwood and the gamble fails — that’s just one more wasted season in McDavid and Draisaitl’s prime years.
The Oilers Have Other Options to Upgrade Their Goaltending
McKenna also mentioned that Blackwood can grow with the team, but the Oilers already have that type of goaltender with the young Stuart Skinner, who appeared in 13 games for the Oilers this past season. He won six games and posted a shutout while sporting a 2.62 GAA and a .913 SV%. He also had success in the American Hockey League (AHL), winning 22 out of 35 games and recorded a 2.22 GAA and a .920 SV%.
I previously wrote an article stating that Skinner will have a bigger role with the club next season and I’d expect him to land the full-time gig to be the team’s backup goaltender, playing in 30-35 games next season. I’d imagine that if he continues to develop well, he’ll push for the No. 1 role within a couple of seasons.
In saying that, what makes sense for the Oilers is not another “what if” player between the pipes, but a reliable goaltender that can hold down the fort until Skinner is ready for a starting role and the Oilers can run a 1A and 1B goalie tandem within the next few years.
So, what goaltender options are out there for the Oilers? Pending unrestricted free agent Jack Campbell posted a 31-9-6 record this past season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and is a reasonable choice, depending on his cap hit. Also, there are rumours the Oilers will be pursuing Ville Husso. He had a good season with the St. Louis Blues, going 25-7-6 with a 2.56 GAA and a .919 SV%, yet, like Blackwood, is still relatively unproven with only 64 NHL games under his belt. There’s also the possibility that Edmonton will kick tires on recent Stanley Cup champion, Darcy Kuemper, who is in for a big payday.
It’s an exciting time in Oil Country because the team has some big decisions to make this offseason. Will Evander Kane return? Will Jesse Puljujarvi be traded? Who will be next season’s starting goaltender? Time will tell, with the NHL Entry Draft kicking off on July 7 and free agency starting on July 13.
He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.