It feels like a tale as old as time when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers. Their goaltending isn’t good enough and as a result, the team will never be seriously considered contenders. Heck, the way things have gone lately, they might not even be a playoff team if the organization can’t solve an issue that has been plaguing this franchise for a while.
The tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen has been good enough to get the Oilers out of the regular season and into the playoffs, but the duo has never come through in the clutch. Now, with Smith’s on-again-off-again injury situation and Mikko Koskinen faltering and having words with head coach Dave Tippett via the media, things look worse than they have in quite some time.
The Oilers need a permanent fix. Whether that comes this season or comes during the summer, general manager Ken Holland can’t fail to make an upgrade for the third season in a row.
The Short-Term Fix
There are two ways to get from Point A to Point B. The most talked-about path is that the Oilers can try to find a trade option this season and before the March 21 trade deadline and then look at a more permanent option during the summer. If that’s the direction they go because a rental is less expensive now than making a full-blown hockey trade would be, names like Marc-Andre Fleury, Braden Holtby, Joonas Korpisalo and others are out there.
Fleury would be a costly addition and the Oilers will likely have to blow through most of the trade cache on him if they want to make that deal, but he’s proven and no one would be harping on the Oilers for not going out there and getting the best available option, other than the fact the team has holes in other areas.
Going the short-term route doesn’t eliminate the team’s need to still find a long-term solution. It simply kicks the can down the road. That said, it does give the Oilers a little time.
The Long-Term Fix
If the Oilers look to solve their goaltending issues right away, there are a few names out there in the trade market the team could key in on over the next few weeks. Some of these players could be had for a fair price based on their current team situations and all would be potential upgrades over what the Oilers have now.
Stefen Rosner of NYI Hockey Now took a look at the New York Islanders’ situation and wondered what could happen with Semyon Varlamov. He notes, “at the age of 33, with one year remaining on his contract, should Varlamov be dealt elsewhere comes the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?”
With only one season left on his deal, he doesn’t sound like the most long-term of fixes. Still, at his age, should he join the Oilers, play well this season and next, he’s likely to earn another contract. At 33, it’s reasonable to think he’d get a good deal that he’d be open to accepting.
The Islanders are not likely to make the playoffs and there will be change. It’s a matter of whether or not Varlamov is part of that change or not. If he’s a player the Islanders consider a chance of scenery for, the Oilers should be looking at him. He hasn’t been wonderful this season, but he dealt with an injury and he’s not far removed from a Vezina-caliber season as he posted a 2.04 GAA with a .929 SV%, along with a league-leading seven shutouts in 2020-21.
Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman
With the news that Tuukka Rask signed a PTO with the Providence Bruins on Thursday, it’s just a matter of time before the veteran netminder makes his way back to the NHL and that means a move is likely in Boston, with Jeremy Swayman being the likeliest casualty.
Don’t get me wrong… this is not a suggestion that the Bruins will be looking to trade Swayman. Quite the opposite as he’s the player who can be sent down without needing to clear waivers and he’s the easiest short-term fix for the Bruins as Rask tries to make his comeback. That said, what if the comeback works?
Eventually, the Bruins will need to make a decision on their goaltending. If Rask plays well and wants to sign for one more season, Ullmark or Swayman could be moved. If the Oilers offer enough, maybe Swayman can be plucked out of Boston. If not, Ullmark is signed for three more seasons after this one at $5 million per season.
That the Seattle Kraken haven’t been a terribly competitive team isn’t a shock to most insiders. Unlike the Vegas Golden Knights, not a lot was expected of this team after the first 20 games of their inaugural season. What has been surprising is the team’s goaltending, which was thought to be a strength of the roster coming out of the expansion draft and free agency, but hasn’t been anything close to what was expected.
The NHL’s newest team picked Chris Driedger from the Florida Panthers and Philipp Grubauer was signed as a free agent from the Colorado Avalanche. Neither has played well — Grubauer has a 3.30 GAA and a .882 save percentage through 25 games, while Driedger has numbers just as poor, with a 3.49 GAA and .892 save percentage. What’s interesting is that early on, the Kraken’s defensive numbers as a team weren’t terrible.
Keeping in mind that Driedger has only played nine games this season, with the Kraken looking at being major sellers, the team could be convinced that investing heavily in both of those goaltenders was an unwise move financially. Perhaps, Driedger can be pulled out of Seattle, leaving the Kraken with Grubauer, Joey Daccord, and the chance to add another less-expensive backup.
It’s a risk for the Oilers if Driedger’s injuries are continual, but if he’s healthy, he could be a great addition at a good price point for the next two seasons after this one. He’s still only 27, he’ll be a UFA in 2024-25, just as the Oilers are getting set to plan out new contracts to some pretty key players. Driedger does have a 10-team modified no-trade clause worked into his deal, so the Oilers would have to be a team not listed in that 10.
Options Exist, But It’s Not Clear How Realistic They Are
Between short-term fixes and three longer-term solutions, the Oilers might have trade options. Frankly, none of these deals will be easy to make and there’s a good chance the teams these goaltenders might be coming from won’t have interest in moving on from their netminders just yet. Still, it can’t hurt GM Ken Holland to pick up the phone and inquire about each player’s respective situation.
The Oilers are now at a point where turning over every rock is necessary. When it comes to fixing the goaltending woes of this franchise, no question is a dumb question and Holland has to be calling everyone, even if the odds of him hearing what he wants are slim.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”