Oilers Should Try to Ride a Smith/Koskinen Tandem Into the Playoffs

This entire season the biggest question and concern has been the goaltending of the Edmonton Oilers. With Mikko Koskinen on the last year of his deal at $4.5 million, the idea was to let the contract run its course and start fresh in 2022-23. This would have been more manageable to this point if Mike Smith, who had an amazing season in 2020-21 had stayed healthy and put up average numbers.

Instead, Smith has been injured three times for periods of time and has played just nine of the Oilers’ 45 games this season, posting less than ideal numbers across the board. Koskinen has been one of the streakiest goaltenders in 2021-22, but when he’s on, he gives them the opportunity to win games.

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

Stuart Skinner may not be completely ready to take over NHL duties as a full-time backup just yet but has been a serviceable third goaltending option when Smith has gone down with an injury. The big question is, can the Oilers ride out the season with Smith and Koskinen between the pipes and address goaltending in the offseason when there are more and possibly better options, or does Ken Holland try and acquire a goalie at an inflated price to possibly boost the team this season?

What it Will Cost to Acquire a Goaltender Midseason

The Oilers have more than likely checked in with every team that may have a goaltender on the trade block. From teams that are out of the playoff picture to teams that are in contention. From rentals to upcoming restricted free agents (RFA), to longer-term options, it all depends on how much each costs and if they are an actual upgrade to what the Oilers have right now in Smith and Koskinen.

The Oilers apparently offered the Philadelphia Flyers a fifth-round pick for Martin Jones, but they declined because they thought he was worth more. They may be right, as his numbers have been decent on a poor team, but it shows that Ken Holland intends to low-ball teams and possibly strike a deal to help the team at a cheaper price.

Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers
Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Once the trade deadline gets closer, we will get a more clear indication of which teams intend to sell, which intend to stand pat, and who will be buyers. There shouldn’t be too many competitors for the Oilers if Holland plans on waiting a bit to see who else may become available, but expect teams like the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, and possibly the Boston Bruins to look to shore up their goaltending too. Not all of these teams have a lot of cap space, so the lower-tier options may be more of a dogfight to acquire, thus raising the price.

It’s likely a goaltender like Marc-Andre Fleury will cost a first-round pick and more, and Holland has made it clear he doesn’t intend on dealing the Oilers’ first-round selections or any top prospects for rentals. This would take them out of the race for some goaltenders that should be available and leave them with a possible sideways move, costing them even more since they would have to also move Smith or Koskinen to clear the cap space and a roster spot.

Who’s Available on the Trade Market?

There may be even more options available once deals start firing off, as when some teams acquire a goaltender, it will push their current backup out of the lineup. Some of the contenders I mentioned above could see this happen, and goaltenders like Pavel Francouz, Alexandar Georgiev, Casey DeSmith, and Ilya Samsonov/Vitek Vanecek could be odd men out.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks
Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rentals that are unrestricted free agents (UFA) in the summer that may be available include Fleury, Kevin Lankinen, Jaroslav Halak, Braden Holtby, Ville Husso, Joonas Korpisalo, DeSmith, Jones, Thomas Greiss, and Anton Forsberg.

The RFAs include Georgiev, Vanecek, and Samsonov, while there are three solid trade options the Oilers could check in on in Semyon Varlamov, Jake Allen, and James Reimer.

If the Oilers wait until the offseason, they will have $4.5 million freed up from Koskinen’s contract to target a starting goaltender like Darcy Kuemper or Jack Campbell, while I already mentioned Fleury and Husso as solid options once they become UFAs. The offseason would be easier to pull off a trade, seeing as teams will have time to adjust and evaluate the direction their franchise is headed, along with contracts and money being freed up.

Related: 3 Oilers Who Will Be Negatively Impacted by Coaching Change

The offseason may be the best option for the Oilers if they can get solid goaltending from Smith and Koskinen because of the cap space that will become available. Not only will it be easier to make a trade, but there will also be many goalies to bid on at the cost of only money, not picks and prospects.

Smith/Koskinen at Their Best Can Be an Effective Duo in Net

To be fair, overall, Smith and Koskinen have not given the Oilers an advantage in the goaltending department on most nights. Smith has a 3.50 goals-against average (GAA) and a .901 save percentage (SV%) in nine games while Koskinen has a 3.15 GAA and .900 SV%. Holland has stated that you can’t win games 5-4, but what he meant to say was, you can’t expect to win like that every night. Some nights they won’t get the bounces and despite having a dangerous offence, will hit a bunch of posts/crossbars and find it hard to score. Thus losing 4-0 and 4-1 to teams like the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks recently.

But, if we take a look at the great seasons both have had while a part of the Oilers, I understand Holland’s thinking and why, with how difficult it would be to move the contracts, elected to go with the tandem for one final year. Over his 16-year career, Smith had his second-best season in the NHL in 2020-21, posting a 21-6-2 record in 30 starts with a 2.31 GAA and .923 SV% and three shutouts, finishing seventh in Vezina Trophy voting and receiving a vote for the second time in his career.

Koskinen’s career year with the Oilers came in the second year he was with the team and first with his new contract. He started just under half of the games and wasn’t working on a starter’s load. He was able to be replaced for stretches when his play dipped and not have his confidence take a hit while playing badly. In 33 starts, Koskinen went 18-13-3 while posting a 2.75 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout, while finishing with a 9.3 GSAA (goals saved above expected).

Connor McDavid,Mikko Koskinen
Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen celebrates with Connor McDavid (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

If the Oilers could get goaltending numbers around a .915-.920 SV% from the tandem combined, their offensive firepower should score enough to win close games and blowouts. This will rely on Smith staying healthy and playing like his old self as he did in the win against the New York Islanders where he was without a doubt the first star (“JONES: Oilers goaltending performance comes too late to save Tippett”, Edmonton Sun, Feb. 12, 2022). While Koskinen should be able to settle into a backup role and thrive while playing less.

Sign up for our regular 'Oilers Newsletter' for all the latest.