The Edmonton Oilers have a big offseason ahead of them with a number of free agents they must decide what to do with as well as more than one trade they must pull off. In the midst of all that, the biggest need is finding a starting goaltender with the future of Mike Smith up in the air. Regardless, an upgrade is needed in net.
There are limited options available in free agency and the trade market is difficult and expensive to deal with, but may also be a path Ken Holland has to explore.
Wild Must Move On From Fleury
The Minnesota Wild have two veteran starting goaltenders, one in Marc-Andre Fleury who is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this year, and the other, Cam Talbot, whose contract is over after next season and has been stellar since joining the team. The only goaltender who is in the future plans of the Wild is Jesper Wallstedt, but he’s just 19 years old and hasn’t developed enough to take over the No. 1 spot. It was a luxury for the Wild to have both Talbot and Fleury on their roster for what resulted in a short playoff run. The repeated failures in the playoffs won’t convince Fleury to stay.
Now take into account the very little cap space the Wild have to work with. Fleury isn’t going to sign with a team to split time and take a big pay cut. He will be paid less, but not within the budget of the Wild who can’t even afford to sign Kevin Fiala and have $12.7 million tied up next season in buyout penalties of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter with $14.7 million the following two seasons.
The Wild must delve into the backup goaltender market in free agency and find someone who is serviceable for as cheap as they can get. It will be a tough couple of seasons for the Wild in terms of cap, and Fleury will be looking for more starts from a different team that doesn’t have Talbot on it.
Fleury Can Be a Solid Add for Oilers if it’s Very Short-Term
Enter the Oilers who, from the mouth of Ken Holland, don’t have a starting goaltender. They may have Smith, but his health/age are in question and whether he will retire, and Stuart Skinner, who has played 14 NHL games. If Fleury is looking for a chance to start and win, the Oilers can definitely provide both for him if he’s willing to take a fair price and not sign for longer than two years. Year 1 will be good, but former NHL goaltender Marty Biron suggests that it will likely start to go downhill in the second or third year of a deal.
I mentioned above that the few starting goaltenders that may be available in free agency will cost a lot and have a lot of interest in them. Those names include Stanley Cup-winner Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell when it isn’t even a sure thing they will reach free agency. As for the trade market, there are some options, but that will cost the Oilers and they will likely have to give up much more than just the pieces they need and want to trade this offseason.
Fleury has the pedigree and experience that the Oilers need in playoffs as he has actually won something and at age 37, is still a very good goaltender. He won the Vezina Trophy just two seasons ago and constantly stood on his head behind a very poor Chicago Blackhawks team last season (from ‘NHL’s top free-agent goalies in 2022: Darcy Kuemper, Marc-Andre Fleury and more,’ The Athletic, June 24, 2022). The plan is that the Oilers will clear unneeded cap space and make room for a starting goaltender. If they can’t lock someone up for a number of years, why not target another goaltender in the short term until someone of higher interest comes along in the next couple of seasons or Skinner/Ryan Fanti/Oliver Rodrigue show something that impresses the organization?
Are Goaltending Options in 2023 Free Agency Any Better?
Looking towards 2023 and the goaltenders that are set to become free agents if they don’t re-up with their teams, there are some better options but not a whole lot. Of the elite, there looks to be Frederik Andersen, Tristan Jarry, and Talbot, but only Jarry will be under 33 years old (28) when next offseason hits. That doesn’t mean Andersen wouldn’t be a good four- or five-year option, but he seems to thrive in the smaller markets like Anaheim and Carolina and not as much in Toronto.
As for the other options, there may be Alex Nedeljkovic, Mackenzie Blackwood, Adin Hill, and Joonas Korpisalo. Unless there is growth and improvement in any of their games, they are good for split time in net at best. I figure at least one of Andersen/Jarry will be locked up by their team, so the options are really not that strong for next offseason.
There are even fewer options in total but some intriguing names if they make it to free agency in 2023, which include Connor Hellebuyck and Ilya Sorokin. Both teams appear to be heading in rebuilding/re-tooling directions, so it’s unclear if those top goaltenders will want to stick it out through a rebuild or become sick and tired of losing and getting scored on like John Gibson with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Oilers definitely tried to go for Fleury at the trade deadline, but with Mikko Koskinen’s $4.5 million and very little cap space to work with, the Oilers stood pat in goal. Something big has to and is going to happen in net for the Oilers, and it very well may be bringing in Fleury.
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.
You can find more of his work here.