The Edmonton Oilers got unfortunate news this week as goaltender Mike Smith was sent back to Edmonton for more imaging after joining the Oilers on their current road trip. His “lower-body” injury was supposedly a day-to-day thing and not considered to be long-term. Head coach Dave Tippett said that Smith suffered a setback in practice and will not be ready. Tippett called “it a concern.”
It’s not clear what the actual injury is but many are wondering if this is a groin issue. If so, there’s no telling how long Smith will be out and the day-to-day diagnosis becomes a week-to-week diagnosis.
The question in Edmonton now is, how many games before the Oilers have to start looking at other options in goal?
The Koskinen/Skinner Tandem
Mikko Koskinen has played well for the Oilers so far this season. He’s certainly having a bounce-back year. Meanwhile, Stuart Skinner has only played one game. Not including one gaffe where he misplayed the puck, Skinner was strong in the game against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. All that said, the reality is this tandem isn’t enough.
Even if Koskinen and Skinner play well in Smith’s absence, the Oilers, specifically general manager Ken Holland, can’t feel confident in this tandem if it’s the tandem that will be asked to play for the Oilers in the playoffs. Obviously, that is speculating the worst-case scenario and operating under the assumption Smith’s injury is going to cause issues all year long. If so, the Oilers will need to get someone else as the window to compete for the Stanley Cup started this season and Koskinen’s inconsistency and Skinner’s inexperience are concerning.
Does This Need to Be Addressed Immediately?
The good news comes on two fronts. First, the Oilers have built a bit of a cushion with their 9-2 start to the season. This gives them the opportunity to see how the duo of Koskinen and Skinner play out over the next 5-10 games. As for what gets discovered about Smith, it’s likely to be a couple of weeks before a diagnosis reveals how long he’ll really be out.
The Oilers also owe Skinner a chance. He’s been lights-out good in the AHL and he played well in Detroit. If he has a couple of strong games (likely starting against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday), the Oilers should give him a chance to help the team pad their record and stay at the top of the Pacific Division.
Skinner could impress and Koskinen could stay strong. If that happens, Holland has time. He can look around the NHL and make the best move, not one that’s made in panic mode.
The bad news is that the Pacific Division is extremely unpredictable. There are a number of teams in the hunt that few expected to be there to start the year. The Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings are all playing better than expected. The Calgary Flames are only one point behind the Oilers in the standings. The one team that isn’t in the conversation, but many who had to lead the division, were the Vegas Golden Knights. This could be a tight race for the Oilers and a couple of losses could really hurt them in the standings.
What Options Are Out There For the Oilers?
The obvious options are Joonas Korpisalo (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Alexandar Georgiev (New York Rangers) who are both unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and likely available out of their respective organizations. The front-page name that has been connected to the Oilers of late is Marc-Andrey Fleury out of Chicago.
For the Blue Jackets and Rangers, it’s likely about cost. Both teams are moving on from those netminders before next season and if the Oilers give up the right asset, should be able to land either without much issue. Fleury is in a different situation because of his contract cost, status, age, and family situation.
Assuming the Blackhawks write off the season, Fleury has trade control in his contract and will have to approve any trade to the Oilers if he’s approached about one. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and TSN’s Chris Johnston recently looked at Fleury’s trade status. He carries a $7-million cap hit and a 10-team no-trade list. The Oilers, cap situation doesn’t make a Fleur acquisition easy. With Oscar Klefbom, Josh Archibald and Alex Stalock on season-ending long-term injury reserve, plus the Oilers operating close to the cap as is, some fancy salary-cap maneuvering would have to be done and Smith on LTIR doesn’t make up the difference.
The options for the Oilers go in this order. First, find out how bad Smith’s injury actually is. Second, give Skinner and Koskinen a chance to prove they can carry this team over the next few weeks. Finally, start searching the market and making calls just to see what the options are.
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.”