Oilers’ Stalock Could Have Bigger Than Expected Role

The average Edmonton Oilers fan might have seen the recent videos of Alex Stalock in something called Da Beauty League and figured that the veteran goalie is onto his next stage of life now, back home in Minnesota and just having fun playing shinny with the guys on weekends.

It’s an understandable presumption, given Stalock hasn’t played a minute of pro hockey since the 2020 NHL postseason, recently turned 34, and is rarely mentioned in conversations about the Oilers’ muddy goaltending situation.

Well, be assured that Stalock has not retired, and he may yet have a role to play on the Oilers in 2021-22, especially if those highlights of him turning aside shots at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina, Minn., are to be believed.

It’s a Beautiful League

While it may sound like one, Da Beauty League is hardly your local beer league: Stalock’s teammates include the likes of Vancouver Canucks scorer Brock Boeser, center Derek Stepan of the Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings blueliner Nick Leddy.

Da Beauty League was born as an outlet for Division I, American Hockey League and NHL players to get ice time in the summer without completely sacrificing their competitive edge. Over the last few years, it’s developed a cult following in the Twin Cities, and now sees dozens of NHL players competing for the John Scott Cup. (From “Da Beauty League brings summer hockey back with dozens of NHL players,” Pioneer Press, 6/23/21)

With a four-on-four format, it’s hardly goaltender-friendly, so that’s why no one should be alarmed that Stalock posted a goals-against average (GAA) of 8.67. In fact, his save percentage (SV%) of .764 was actually second-highest among goalies that faced at least 100 shots in the eight-team league, offering hope that Stalock can once again be that netminder who in 2020 wrested the Wild’s starting job from All-Star Devan Dubnyk.

Stalock’s Lost Season

Before the pandemic brought the 2019-20 NHL season to a premature conclusion, Stalock was playing the finest hockey of his decade-long pro career, going 9-3-1 with a 2.22 GAA and .934 SV% in February and March. He remained Minnesota’s No. 1 when the NHL resumed last August, starting all four games in the Wild’s Stanley Cup Playoffs qualifying round loss to the Canucks.

The St. Paul native seemed poised to take the reins for his hometown team in 2020-21 but missed training camp and ended up on the injured list when he was diagnosed with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) after testing positive for COVID-19. Stalock took some time to recover and was eventually waived by the Wild then claimed by the Oilers on March 1.

At the beginning of April, Stalock was activated to the Oilers 23-man roster, but that was only to avoid putting him on waivers, in which case he likely would have been claimed by another team, possibly even the Wild. (From “Oilers Snapshots,” Edmonton Sun, 4/3/21). Oilers coach Dave Tippett continued giving Mike Smith the majority of the starts in goal, with Mikko Koskinen in the No. 2 role and Stalock never saw game action.

Oilers’ Crowded Crease

From the moment last month that pending UFA Smith signed a two-year contract to remain in Edmonton, it’s been widely assumed that the Oilers will roll with the same goaltending arrangement as in 2020-21. Not because it’s seen as ideal, but because there is believed no choice.

Koskinen is heading into the final season of a three-year, $13.5 million contract that has made him virtually untradeable and a near-certainty to go unclaimed on waivers. With the buyout deadline passed, it seems Koskinen will be back with the NHL team. The Oilers have a logjam in the minors and don’t need a veteran goalie with the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors (AHL) eating into time from their top prospects, Stuart Skinner and either Ilya Konovalov or Olivier Rodrigue.

This has been a source of great consternation in Oil Country, where many believe the caliber of goaltending as all that is stands between Edmonton and a run at the Stanley Cup.

Despite having a year left on his contract and at a bargain rate of $785,000, Stalock has never really entered the public discourse. Perhaps that’s because he was never really got on the radar in the first place, or it was assumed that after dealing with a serious health condition, he wasn’t going to come back. But the latter is now obviously not the case.

Stalock vs Koskinen

Who could be a better goalie with Edmonton in 2021-22 won’t even start becoming clear until training camp opens and the pre-season gets underway in several weeks. Still, there are several comparisons that provide perspective on Koskinen and Smith.

Alex Stalock Minnesota Wild
Alex Stalock has 9 shutouts in his NHL regular-season career (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At 33, Koskinen is a year younger than Stalock. The former is also much taller (6-foot-7 compared to an even 6-feet), while both weigh around 200 pounds.

Their career NHL regular season stats are markedly close in several categories: Stalock is 61-49-18 (.547 points percentage) with nine shutouts in 151 games, posting a 2.61 GAA and .909 SV%. Koskinen is 58-48-9 (.543) with five shutouts in 123 games, registering a 2.97 GAA and .907 SV%. Stalock is 1-4 with a 2.54 GAA and .910 SV% in eight postseason appearances, while Koskinen is 1-2 with a 3.16 GAA and .889 SV% in four playoff games, all with the Oilers in 2020.

Mikko Koskinen Edmonton Oilers
Mikko Koskinen has an NHL career record of 58-49-9 (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Both have had limited runs as the go-to-goalie in their NHL careers, Stalock in the second half of 2019-20, Koskinen most recently at the start of last season when Smith was injured and he played 12 of Edmonton’s first 13 games, going 5-7 with a 3.55 GAA and .889 SV%.

In shootouts, Koskinen has stopped 22 of 28 attempts (.786) and has a 4-3 win/loss record. Stalock has an 8-9 record and has turned aside 42 of 61 shots in the post-overtime skills contest.

Oilers’ Options

The Oilers could conceivably start the season with Smith, Koskinen, and Stalock all on their 23-man roster, but that doesn’t seem like an option over the long term, considering the number of skaters the Oilers may want to carry.

As mentioned, adding another goalie to the mix in Bakersfield seems unideal. However, there is perhaps something to be said for having a veteran mentoring Edmonton’s up-and-coming netminders in the minors. If the Oilers try sending Stalock to Bakersfield, there is a good chance another team plucks him off the waiver wire, just as Edmonton did several months ago. Notably, Koskinen in the minors would carry a hit of $3.425 million, which if added to Koskinen’s $785,000 contract is $4,210,000 — $290,000 less than Koskinen’s current $4.5 million hit in the NHL.

The emergence of Stalock has only added to the number of difficult questions the Oilers face concerning their goaltending situation. Still, it may ultimately result in a more desirable answer.

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