It is more than fair to argue that Jacob Markstrom is a better all-around goaltender than Mike Smith. When you factor in age, career statistics, and overall value to a franchise, Markstrom comes out ahead in a number of categories. That said, after watching the Edmonton Oilers make Markstrom look nothing short of average, going back and looking at what might have been can make one ask: What would have happened if Oilers GM Ken Holland had succeeded in his quest to sign Markstrom when the netminder left the Vancouver Canucks in free agency?
Hindsight is 20/20. Not to mention, the dominos that fell when the Oilers had to go to Plan B in the wake of Markstrom choosing the Flames could have fallen in a number of different ways. Still, the five-game Battle of Alberta win by the Oilers seems to suggest it all worked out for the best.
Oilers Had Markstrom’s Number
It’s hard to explain why, but Markstrom doesn’t fare well against the high-powered offense of the Oilers. He’s so bad against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, and Zach Hyman (to name a few), that there were plenty of instances during the playoff series between these two teams that he should have or could have been pulled. His performance against Edmonton is not what the Flames paid for, and while it’s fair to argue you can’t judge a goalie on his stats versus a single team, his numbers against the Oilers do matter. These are two clubs that will face each other often, and potentially in future playoff series.
Markstrom’s goals-against average versus Edmonton was more than double that of any other NHL team. His save percentage was abysmal. He couldn’t seem to shut the Oilers out, even though he shut down almost everyone else, and was really good against the Dallas Stars in the Flames’ first-round series. The Oilers exposed his glove hand and it seemed to shake the otherwise-unshakable Vezina Trophy Finalist.
I understand the argument that any team should want a Vezina-caliber goalie, but is this a storyline to watch moving forward? Did other teams take note? Elliotte Friedman said during Friday’s 32 Thoughts podcast, that the theory is that Markstrom was thrown by Edmonton’s speed. If that’s true, in a league that keeps getting faster, is that trouble for the Flames? It would be hard to imagine that if these two teams ever met again in the playoffs that Markstrom would feel confident going in.
Oilers Made Other Moves
Say what you will about Mike Smith, but he’s done his part in this year’s playoffs. Those who wrote him off (myself included) have been proven wrong. The Oilers don’t sign Smith if Markstrom is inked to a deal. When Holland chased Markstrom in free agency, he kindly asked Smith to wait on the sidelines until things with Markstrom had been figured out. It was only when talks fell apart in the final hours that Smith was extended.
It’s not just Smith the Oilers signed in the wake of the failed-Markstrom deal either.
A signed Markstrom would have meant no extension for Tyson Barrie, which — whether the first-unit power-play quarterback stays or goes this offseason — is a big deal. The rumored $5 million by seven year-deal for Markstrom would have potentially meant the funds wouldn’t have been available for Zach Hyman, and it probably means no Duncan Keith trade or the Oilers having the confidence to elevate Evan Bouchard knowing Barrie is there to back him up and Keith is there to mentor him. Perhaps Edmonton doesn’t have the funds to chase Evander Kane.
There are many what-ifs there, but it’s fair to argue all things are true.
Holland Will Get Another Good Look at a Goalie of Interest
If the Oilers continue to find success in this year’s playoffs, doing so with an older goalie isn’t new territory for Holland. It worked for him in Detroit when he called upon aging netminders to help his Red Wings win multiple Stanley Cups. He didn’t panic when Markstrom didn’t sign because he was confident he could build around what he had. Fans weren’t always on his side, but he’s turned a number of them into believers now that the Oilers are on their way to the Western Conference Finals.
Perhaps most ironic about all of this is that the goaltending duel of Smith versus Darcy Kuemper will be an interesting one. Kuemper is another goaltender the Oilers were rumored to have a keen interest in and he’ll be a free agent at the end of this season. The Oilers will get a close-up look at someone they can pitch for in the summer, should they so choose. If they make a pitch for Kuemper in the offseason, it’s important to remember he wouldn’t have been on the Oilers’ radar if Markstrom had been signed.
And, if Kuemper isn’t on the Oilers’ radar, Holland can look to start his goaltending search from scratch at the end of the 2022-23 season.
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.”