Playing Edmonton Oilers veteran goaltender Mike Smith in back-to-back games most likely cost head coach Dave Tippett his job. Riding a six-game point streak before the 2022 NHL All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, the Oilers’ positive momentum came to a screeching halt after two tough efforts from Smith. Let’s be perfectly clear, Smith didn’t completely cost the team the losses against the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Chicago Blackhawks, but he was also the second-best goalie on the ice in both games after the break.
Starting Smith in back-to-back games might have been the final straw that pushed Oilers general manager Ken Holland to fire a coach in mid-season for the first time in his career. In fairness to both Tippett and associate coach Jim Playfair, Holland never got them a true number one goalie during their two and a half seasons in Edmonton. Holland gambled on Smith recapturing his form from last season, and hoped that backup Mikko Koskinen could provide solid support provided he wasn’t overworked.
Holland’s gamble on his goaltenders is one of the big reasons behind this midseason coaching change. Now that the Oilers have promoted Jay Woodcroft from their American Hockey League affiliate in Bakersfield to be their new head coach, you have to wonder how Woodcroft and new assistant coach Dave Manson will handle the goaltenders?
Will Oilers Woodcroft Go With Stuart Skinner Over Smith and Koskinen?
The changing of the guard in Edmonton could result in Stuart Skinner gaining more playing time over both Smith and Koskinen. Skinner could benefit from more playing time as he had done nothing but impress down on the farm with Bakersfield.
In fact, Skinner is now at the point where he has nothing left to prove at the AHL level and is ready for prime time. Woodcroft knows Skinner well, and he might lean on the young goaltender to try and help the Oilers gain ground in the Pacific Division standings.
Smith Was a Favourite of Tippett’s
Smith and Tippett go back over a decade to their time together with the Arizona Coyotes. Smith obviously was a much younger man then and a better goaltender, and his time with the Oilers might be over now that Tippett is gone. Smith signed a two-year deal in the offseason, and there’s a possibility he could be now be used as a trade chip with the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline on March 21.
Will the Oilers Keep Goaltending Coach Dustin Schwartz?
During this time of upheaval and examination for the Oilers, you have to wonder if goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz isn’t under the microscope. Under Schwartz, the Oilers’ goaltending hasn’t progressed, and it might be time to move on in this area as well. That will depend on Holland as well as Woodcroft, who might have ideas of his own if he is hired to a longer-term contract.
Tippett’s Departure Might Signal the End of the Line for Smith
Signing an often injured 39-year-old goalie was a huge gamble for Ken Holland. Yes, Smith is a good leader and a veteran voice in the dressing room, and he did play well last season. However, Smith was outclassed by the Winnipeg Jets Connor Hellebuyck, who was the better goaltender in the Jets’ four-game sweep over the Oilers in last season’s playoffs. So now that Tippett is gone, do the Oilers make a dedicated effort to bring in goaltending help before the trade deadline and give up on Smith?
The team doesn’t have much time to decide because they have to be in playoff mode now to catch the teams ahead of them in the Pacific Division. The Oilers can ill afford to have their goaltending let them down for the remainder of the season. You can look at the Montreal Canadiens as an example of just how important goaltending is. Ironically, Montreal and Edmonton made coaching changes within a day of each other.
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D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.