Oilers Likely Sticking With Goaltenders, Targeting Defence

The 2022 Trade Deadline is less than three weeks away, and the Edmonton Oilers will be in the mix. They can use upgrades at all three positions, including goaltending, defence, and a depth forward. Keep in mind the right deal for the right price has to be available. General manager Ken Holland has stated he isn’t going to use his first-round pick or a top prospect for a rental, but that doesn’t mean he won’t go out and get a rental for cheaper if he thinks it’s the right fit. A netminder with term would be ideal.

Chris Johnson of TSN joined Edmonton 1260 to talk about the Oilers’ goaltending situation and their possible strategy going into the trade deadline. He said, “At this point, Edmonton has done plenty of due diligence on who may be out there and what it might cost.” There’s still time left for teams to switch positions in the standings and goaltenders to come at a more reasonable price. He went on to say, “It seems like there’s just not an answer easily available for them at a price point that makes sense, especially with limited cap space.”

Cap space is definitely an issue and will continue to be for many competitive teams. While the Oilers will have some cap space freed up after the season, they also have players to sign. Johnson said, “We’ll more likely be talking about them trading for a defenceman.” Whether it’s a rental or a defenceman with term, I’ll discuss it in detail below.

Analyzing the Oilers’ Goaltenders & How Far They Can Take Them

If the Oilers do stick with their goaltending trio of Mikko Koskinen, Mike Smith, and Stuart Skinner, that’s the best option available for them right now. They don’t have to use assets to acquire a goaltender that may help them this season, and each of the three goalies has shown they can play well. It will probably take more than just playing well, however, as teams that go far typically do so on the backs of stellar goaltending.

Mikko Koskinen Edmonton Oilers
Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But getting into the goalies and the numbers, Koskinen has been an impressive netminder of late. He is 7-0-2 in his last nine starts and 12-2-3 on the road this season, the best in the NHL. The coaching change to Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson has really helped shore up the defensive play in front of the goaltending, but some credit has to be given to the netminders as well.

Koskinen recorded his first shutout of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Before his loss against the Chicago Blackhawks, when he allowed four goals, he hadn’t lost or allowed more than three goals in a game since Jan. 20 vs the Florida Panthers. There was a glimpse of the old Koskinen when he coughed up the puck for a goal that was entirely his fault to give the Blackhawks the lead in the third period. But before that, the game could’ve gotten out of hand sooner, but he came up with some big saves.

He also allowed a goal on the first shot of the game in typical fashion, but again, something we hadn’t seen in a while. Koskinen has been getting more starts as of late, and that could be a cause for his game starting to get worse. He is best when he’s rested and isn’t overplayed. Since Smith is healthy, the Oilers should probably turn to him next game.

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Speaking of Smith, he has lost three games in a row, allowing 10 goals on 58 shots. Since returning from his most recent injury on Feb. 9, he has given the Oilers three starts that were impressive and gave them a real chance to win. At this point, the starter label has been stripped from him, and whoever is playing better will now get the crease, seeing as the team is in dire need of good performances in net every night (from ‘Mike Smith’s struggles are real and they are spectacular. Whatever are the Edmonton Oilers to do?’, Edmonton Journal, 2/24/22).

Smith does still have the ability to perform well, and maybe with just a bit more time, he can return to form. But in the playoffs, he may be the goaltender the Oilers turn to given his career. Last season, he had a .912 save percentage (SV%) and 2.40 goals-against average (GAA), which is pretty good. Not quite the numbers needed to win a series, but enough to win games. Unfortunately, the Oilers couldn’t score to support him. Career-wise, Smith has a .931 SV% in the playoffs, second-best all-time behind Tim Thomas (.933 SV%). He is old, but he may have a little left in the tank.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The final option that we will likely see again is Skinner, the Oilers’ projected goaltender of the future. He has bounced between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) this season a number of times, playing well for the Oilers and great for the Bakersfield Condors. His last game with the Oilers before being sent back down was a shutout. There have been two shutouts under Woodcroft after the team hadn’t earned a shutout all season under Dave Tippett. Of the three Oilers’ goaltenders, Skinner has given them the best stats, providing a .913 SV% and 2.62 GAA. If things get worse in net for Smith or Koskinen, it’s not out of the question that Skinner gets recalled, even if neither starter is injured.

Oilers’ Realistic Defence Options

Just like goaltending, if a big-name defenceman is available, people are going to be throwing the Oilers in the conversation. Jakob Chychrun, who has been number one on TSN’s trade bait board for a couple of weeks, doesn’t make sense with what the Oilers would have to give up and what they have coming. He is an excellent young defenceman on a very good deal, but that makes it that much tougher when every other organization knows that as well. The future behind Darnell Nurse is Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen, Dmitri Samorikov, and even William Lagesson right now.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While the left side looks like the spot that should be addressed right now, the long-term plans should be to get Nurse a partner. Evan Bouchard isn’t quite the defenceman to take on top-line duties on a regular basis, and Tyson Barrie doesn’t have the defensive capabilities to do so either when going up against the opposition’s top lines. While Cody Ceci has been very solid for the Oilers, he is best in his second-pairing role and could even be used on the third pairing.

There has been talk that having both Bouchard and Barrie is redundant since they both have a similar style of play and play on the same side. While it is likely Barrie will be moved before his contract is up, the Oilers should be looking for a shutdown defenceman who has the ability to play top-line minutes. The most likely option is a rental for this season, and management gets more serious in the summer when they can move contracts around more easily. There will be better options on the free-agent market or players that teams will be willing to move on from when they aren’t in the middle of a playoff race.

Related: Oilers Are Showing Interest in Trading with Canadiens & Jets

Ideally, the defence group could be shifted around and addressed in the short time before the trade deadline, but that isn’t realistic and wouldn’t bring the best options that a best-case scenario could garner by waiting. I know people are tired of waiting, but patience is sometimes worth it.

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