These days, the conversation around the NHL is predominantly focused on what’s going to happen with the remainder of the regular season and if there will be a playoff season. If so, ‘What will it look like/’ and ‘Who will get in?’ are the questions everyone seems to be asking.
For the Edmonton Oilers, regardless of the decision that gets made, they performed well. They’ll get in should the playoffs go on and much of that can be attributed to the performances of their goaltending tandem, Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith.
Koskinen Is Edmonton’s Starter
Even if he’s not necessarily won the job, Koskinen is the Oilers No. 1 netminder. Based both on his play being equal to the level of his netminding partner, but also because of his contract, the Oilers will have Koskinen in the fold for at least two more seasons after this one.
As such, not much of a decision needs to be made with this player, other than how many starts he gets over the course of his time in Edmonton and how best to maximize his potential. His deal looks like a bargain if he can maintain his numbers and GM Ken Holland’s focus should be on how to ensure that happens.
Having an experienced goalie pushing for games seems to have helped.
Mike Smith Has Made a Case to Stick Around
When the Oilers signed Smith to a one-year deal, the idea was likely to give Koskinen a rest, while also providing that push he needed to stay engaged. Over the course of the 2018-19 season, Koskinen often tired and one of Holland’s mandates over last summer as the new GM was to find an experienced backup that could lessen the load.
Smith answered the call in more ways than one.
A real competitor and leader, head coach Dave Tippett knew what he was getting in Smith. He’d had him on his teams in Dallas and Arizona prior to this run with the Oilers and he knew this was a player he could count. Still, even Tippett has to be surprised by how good Smith has been.
Not only has Smith given Koskinen all the rest he could ever need, but he’d wrestled the starting spot away, and on more than one occasion. Tippett was keen to run his goalie duo with two games, then rest each. It lasted about half a season, until Smith went on a tear.
While not always consistent, Smith has gone on hot streaks that kept the Oilers in the mix of a tight Pacific Division race, and he did so while the Oilers weren’t always playing up to their ability. He’s certainly earned the praise he’s received this season and even more, players have learned to play with him and adjust to his style.
To call Smith a $2 million starter would not be a stretch.
The Drawbacks of Retaining Smith
While his style is unique, it can pose issues. His desire to play everything within a 10-foot radius has caused some ill-timed goals against. He can be extremely fun to watch at times and extremely aggravating. Tippett has learned, the positives have far outweighed the negatives, so there’s not much to say when it happens. For a GM, the negatives are worth noting.
All-in-all, Smith’s strong play has likely earned him a raise. A $2 million netminder now, he may not see a big increase, but another team who has real goaltending issues might consider an offer that’s a bit too rich for the Oilers blood. What’s the line in sand Edmonton isn’t willing to cross?
Finally, his age is something to think about. Smith is a freak athlete, no doubt considered among the tops in the NHL for staying in shape. Still, he’s 37 years old. Should that concern the Oilers, who if they give him another one or two-year contract could see his numbers drop while under their employ?
Another One-Year Deal Makes Sense
If Smith will take a similar deal, Edmonton would be well advised to try this goaltending tandem one more time. In fact, the Oilers might want to consider using their downtime with no regular season to see if Smith will re-sign another deal at $2 million?
He may not and if that’s the case, it’s ok to wait until the season and the salary cap picture becomes more clear. That said, anything beyond a one-season renewal might be a risky proposition for the Oilers regardless of which way the NHL goes over the next couple of months.
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Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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