Oilers Out of Varlamov Sweepstakes, Turn to Skinner

It was released yesterday that Semyon Varlamov won’t waive his 16-team no-trade clause for the Edmonton Oilers per James Nichols, a New York Islanders’ correspondent. This is unfortunate for the Oilers since they have been considered one of the most likely landing spots for Varlamov with how their goaltending has held up this season.

Nichols also stated that it’s likely the most in a return for Varlamov the Islanders can get is a second-round pick and a third-round pick. Along with presumably forcing the Oilers to take a step back and reconsider their goaltending options, possibly costing them a real chance at contending, this hurts the Islanders since the Oilers would have probably been willing to give up their first-round pick for a solid goaltender who is under contract for one more season. Seemingly anything is in play for the Oilers as they fall in the standings.

Are the Oilers Running With Three Goaltenders for the Remainder of the Season?

Just four hours after news broke regarding Varlamov, Ken Holland decided to send Markus Niemelainen to the American Hockey League and hold onto three goaltenders. This includes Stuart Skinner along with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith (from ‘Edmonton Oilers recall Stuart Skinner as Mike Smith sidelined with ‘non-COVID illness’, Edmonton Journal, March 6, 2022).

This has to make you think there is finally some doubt in Smith from management after what he has given the Oilers since returning from injury and that Skinner, who has put up the best numbers in net overall, will be seeing more starts and staying with the team. Just like how it was long overdue to change coaches midseason, there has been too much trust placed in Smith.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This also brings up the question, if the Oilers are now going to be running with three goalies for the foreseeable future, does that mean Holland isn’t going to address that problem externally until the offseason? This could be the case, or he wants the Oilers to have a better shot at winning games without embarrassing Smith or seemingly admitting he made a mistake by signing him for two seasons and not properly addressing the goaltending before the season.

It’s well known that Smith’s numbers have been very poor this season for the Oilers, and coming in and out of the lineup hasn’t helped that and given him consistency. Sometimes age catches up to players quickly, and the drop-off from last season gives the indication that is the case.

Koskinen has been streaky but very good when he’s been on. He is being played like the starter right now and should at least get half of the starts until the end of the season if goaltending isn’t addressed before the trade deadline. Skinner’s last start before he was last sent to the AHL was a shutout, so look for him to try to build on that and prove to Holland that he belongs in the NHL.

Still a Chance for a Deadline Goalie Deal?

Varlamov was an option for the Oilers that would have helped them with their goaltending this season and next. There are still other rental options available and also big names that will become available in free agency. If the Oilers are willing to stand pat regarding goaltending until the offseason, Skinner on the roster is the best course of action.

Related: Oilers Can Cheaply Replace Mike Smith to Upgrade Goaltending Position

If not, the Oilers may be able to make a deal sending Smith and his contract to a team willing to take that on. It would be worth the extra asset that it will cost them. That could also be a reason why the Oilers haven’t sent Smith through waivers, a loss in confidence could make it even more difficult or cost them something a bit higher.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Regardless of if the Oilers move Smith at the deadline or in the offseason, their best chance at winning games and making the playoffs lies in Koskinen and Skinner, so we will see over the next week and a half with five more games how things play out.

A Look Ahead to the Offseason

Koskinen’s contract is over at the end of the season and it isn’t likely he will be back with the Oilers next season, even with less money. Smith’s numbers are not NHL-caliber and can’t be what the Oilers are planning on relying on for a fourth season at nearly 40 years old. His .891 save percentage and 3.57 goals-against average are by far the worst of his career. He is making $2.2 million this year and next, so that is money that is sorely needed in other places.

Skinner is the goalie of the future, and the future is now. He has won four of his last five starts, is coming off his first NHL shutout of his career, is 23 years of age and has had enough time to develop, and is making just $750,000 next season, very affordable and needed with the cap situation the Oilers are in after this season.

The Oilers lose out on the chance to bring in goaltending help from the Islanders, but it may also give them the opportunity to look a bit younger, so that the goaltending position can be stabilized for years to come.

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