It is no secret that Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was on the hunt to address his goaltending situation during the 2020 offseason. He made a significant push to ink former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom to a long-term deal that fell apart and did not materialize, allowing him to end up with their province rival Calgary Flames. This should tell people a lot in terms of where Holland thought his team needed to improve. With the team missing out on Markstrom, he pivoted back to veteran Mike Smith for the 2020-21 season, signing him to a $1.5 million deal, who rewarded his GM with an amazing season.
The Oilers are one of the teams who could be poised for a busy offseason considering their lack of playoff success in recent years, a plethora of cap space available, and Holland looking to put his stamp on this organization. With all these things in mind, we can expect several changes, and goaltending should be among the top priority on Holland’s list to address in the upcoming offseason for these reasons.
Oilers Need for Goaltending Upgrade
With the 2020-21 season now in the rearview mirror, there are again concerns regarding the Oilers’ goaltending situation. Mikko Koskinen has shown flashes of being good but has also struggled and been inconsistent through various points of his time with Edmonton. He also only has one more year on his deal, which would mean the Oilers will need to address their crease again at the end of the 2022-23 season.
Holland has stated his intent on bringing back Smith, but due to his age and injury history, questions remain on whether he can sustain the high level of play he had last season. While there is optimism that he will return to the team next season on a team-friendly deal, there are many risks involved if the Oilers goaltending tandem stays as-is for the 2021-22 season.
While the Oilers do have a young goalie in Stuart Skinner, who was great for the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, there are definite concerns with having a young and inexperienced, 22-year-old goaltender step into a starting NHL role. The Oilers also picked up Alex Stalock via waivers last season, but his health remains a concern and it is unknown if he will be able to return to the ice. With so many questions regarding the current situation of the Oilers crease and the future of their crease, the need to address this position is essential for the team to continue to progress towards building a true Cup contending team.
Seattle Expansion Draft Provides Unique Opportunity
This year poses a unique opportunity for the Oilers to use to their advantage and will not present itself for the foreseeable future and that is the Expansion Draft. With the Seattle Kraken entering the fold, the Oilers have the ability to get rid of some of their bad contracts to create cap flexibility on their roster and use it to free up space to address their goaltending position.
Related: Oilers Need to Leave Klefbom Unprotected In Expansion Draft
General managers around the league have become more creative when making deals to get salary cap relief by taking on contracts that can be placed on long-term injured reserve done most recently by the Tampa Bay Lightning. This approach is one that the Oilers can take in terms of finding relief from some of their tough-to-move contracts in Mikko Koskinen (1 year remaining at $4.5 million) and James Neal (three years remaining at $5.75 million).
We have also seen team’s make deals with Vegas during their expansion draft to help gain additional assets, but we have also seen how making side deals could come around to bite some teams back in the future, just ask the Anaheim Ducks who gave away Shea Theodore in the Vegas expansion. Although the risk involved in giving up picks and prospects in deals, using the expansion team to your advantage is an opportunity that Holland must take advantage of if he’s looking to add to his spending budget this offseason.
The Oilers would gain even more cap flexibility if they pursue a trade with Seattle over the offseason to move a bad contract and if Koskinen is the one who can get moved, it will make room for the team to sign a goaltender to pair with Smith (if he re-signs) or with Stuart Skinner sometime down the road.
Deep Free Agent Goalie Class
If you’re not convinced that this is the year for the Oilers to land a goalie that they can trust in the future, the depth of the goalie free agent class this season should help push you over the edge. The unrestricted free agent goaltenders this season will likely be the strongest available on the open market for the next two to three seasons. With no top goalie prospect in the organization ready to emerge as a clear number one, the need for solid goaltending to compete with Connor Mcdavid and Leon Draisaitl in their prime is a glaring need.
Related: Edmonton Oilers’ Offseason Goalie Targets
While Skinner has shown glimpses of being an option with his strong play in the minors, he is yet to prove he is the team’s clear successor of the crease. If Koskinen does get moved in the offseason, the Oilers would be going into the 2021-22 season with Smith, Stalock and Skinner as their goaltending options with assumptions that Smith is re-signed and Stalock is healthy, which is clearly not enough depth or security in the goaltending position to be competitive now or in the near future.
Frederik Andersen and Philipp Grubauer are two of the top options in a deep free-agent class. Grubauer is probably less likely to be moved out of the two because of his willingness to take a discount to remain in Colorado. Andersen, however, could be cast off by the Toronto Maple Leafs thanks to the emergence of Jack Campbell and the team’s lack of cap space.
If Edmonton is reluctant to give a big cheque to one of these two netminders, they have more cost-effective options with number one goaltender upside, such as Chris Driedger, Linus Ullmark, or Petr Mrazek. Assuming Koskinen’s contract is moved, these options provide the team with an upgrade to their current goaltending situation on what will likely be a cost-effective contract that could turn into a bargain deal if these players can play to their full potential. These middle-tiered goalies will also help provide a solid tandem with Smith for this season while allowing Skinner to continue his development without rushing him into an NHL role.
Looking ahead to the 2022 unrestricted free agent goalie class, the leading names include Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, and Braden Holtby, who will all be older than 32 years of age. Both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo will also be available and are under 30 years old there aren’t too many more high upside goaltenders that can perform at their level that are ready to help a team win now.
Adressing Goaltending Should Be Top Priority
If you put all these reasons together, it is obvious that Holland should be headed into the offseason with a plan on improving his goaltending position. He will have a lot of work ahead of him to determine if he can use Seattle as a way to create even more cap relief for the team and allow them to address more needs in other areas of the roster.
Related: Oilers 2020-21 Season Report Cards: Barrie, Puljujarvi, Turris, Smith, and Ennis
If the goaltending is not addressed this offseason, the Oilers will risk having a below-average tandem heading into the 2021-22 season, considering Koskinen’s inconsistency and the unknowns surrounding Smith and his age. If it is not addressed, it also could force the team to rush Skinner into the mix, which could do more harm than good in terms of his development. The time is now to make a move to find a goalie, especially with Draisaitl and McDavid in their prime and ready to become a strong playoff team.