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Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The 20-Footer

Whenever I can, I stop out at the Little Lot, a classic car place off Winterburn Road on the outskirts of town, to shoot the breeze with my pal Jeff Danyluk about old cars and hockey. I like to think that I know a lot about both, and he likes to pick my brain about the Edmonton Oilers while I kick tires around his place.

When it comes to goaltenders, I tend to jump to conclusions very quickly based on first impressions – how they move, what their reactions are like. For me, it’s a feel thing, not a spreadsheet thing. I spent 20 minutes one Saturday afternoon during the pre-season ripping Mikko Koskinen for how badly he looked, how stiff his hands were. I went on and on – I think I told Jeff he could write it in ink – that Koskinen would fall on his face and be a brutal, over-priced mistake by GM Pete Chiarelli.

I know I wasn’t alone in that opinion, but after Koskinen’s silky smooth 40-save performance in a 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday, I already know I was dead-wrong about the big Finn. After beating the Nashville Predators 5-3 Oct. 27 in his first start with the Oilers, Koskinen took it up another notch or two in waxing the Blackhawks. One great night does not a career make, but I fully expect an earful of razz from Jeff the next time I stop by. As it should be.

I used to call an outing like Koskinen turned in Thursday SIUTBOHC – a performance that shoved it up the backsides of his critics – and this was certainly that. More important than whether I was right or wrong, maybe Chiarelli got it right when he coughed up $2.5 million for a back-up who can spell off Cam Talbot without having the crease turn into a tire fire. Based on a longer look, there is at least a possibility that’s the case when I thought there was none.

SO FAR SO GOOD

Sep 27, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) skates at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Koskinen, 30, was an expensive bet by Chiarelli — a goaltender who hadn’t played in the NHL since 2010-11, when he got into four games with the New York Islanders. Like me, a lot of people were rolling their eyes in the pre-season. Koskinen, all six-foot-seven of him, looked awkward. Bad hands. Lousy control of rebounds. Since then, he’s been better every time out. After going .873 with the Islanders, he’s .955 today with the 7-4-1 Oilers on the way to Detroit to start a four-game road swing.

“Honestly, I only care if we win or lose, so it feels good because we won,” said Koskinen, who got into a groove with 15 saves in the first period and stayed in it. “That’s all that matters. We need points and we got two, so we’re happy.” Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville had a front row seat. “Their goalie was getting confidence as the game progressed.”

The problem for me right out of the blocks with Koskinen was his price point. There were several options out there last off-season who came a lot cheaper than $2.5 million. I know that colored my opinion of the towering stopper before I ever saw him during the pre-season. Might Koskinen be a bargain? Still too early to say, but he’s damn sure better than I thought he would be at first glance. That brings me back to the Little Lot.

In the classic car business, there are cars known as 20-footers. From 20 feet away, they look great. Good-looking paint. Nice chrome. Priced right. Get a little closer, take a longer look, and you see the flaws. Full of body-filler. Tires burned off. Suspension shot. Motor sounds like it’s ready to grenade itself. Interior worn out and it smells like there’s a corpse in the trunk. What looks like a great deal is really a POS money-pit when you look a little closer. I never get sucked in by one of those, but some people do.

Koskinen looks like he might be the flipside of that. He wasn’t much of a looker early on, but I’m liking him more the longer I look – granted, that’s only two games, but he’s been way better than I thought he had any chance to be at first glance. There’s no doubt we’ll get another look at him on the upcoming road trip. If he can play 20 games this season and give the Oilers a chance to win every time out, the initial sticker shock won’t matter a bit.

WHILE I’M AT IT

  • There was much moaning in some corners about Drake Caggiula getting another look alongside Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last night. Caggiula responded with two goals, including a shorty, to provide his own version of SIUTBOHC. He’s now got four goals in just eight games this season, fourth on the team to McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Alex Chiasson. Caggiula’s not a long-term fit on the first line, but he he’s better than some people are willing to give him credit for.
  • Smart play by the Oilers sending Evan Bouchard to London of the OHL and calling up Kevin Gravel. Bouchard showed well here, but he’ll head back to the Knights with a couple of pay cheques in his pocket and a chance to get in the kind of minutes he needs. He’ll be back, and he’ll stay.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • OldOilFan

    November…Acid Test
    with the roster now “set,” I will look at November as perhaps the real “acid test” for the Oilers. This [roster] is the team we will see for the rest of the season. By month’s end, we should know if the Oil are playoff bound/worthy, or not.

    • MrBung

      Agreed. The Pacific teams the Oilers will play will be critical. The Canucks and the Swedish Gretzky, The Flames, and Yotes are not the pushovers some are making them out to be. Throw on top of that the Sharks, it is going to be tough for the Oil. And the Knights and Ducks are still dangerous even though they are struggling right now.

  • OilerForLife

    Good to see admitting fault in Kostinen, and the Oilers past is riddled with KHL quality players not making good in the NHL. This was one player that I was trying my best in supporting him and I had a different feeling about him because I believed Chiarelli; in that, the price was 2.5M because other teams both in the NHL & KHL were pursuing him.

    At this point anyway Chiarelli took a lot of heat for his offseason acquisitions seem to be exceeding expectations. This is by no means a “mission accomplished moment”, but a feather in the cap for the job he’s done.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Agreed, but let’s not forget the effect of Keith Gretzky & the scouting staff?
      Regarding Caggiula & Rattie and the rest of the line-up. It’s great that we can change the line-up based on the systems of the opposing teams. Caggs on the top line worked well against a team like Chicago or Anaheim. But may not work as well against a speedy team like Toronto or Colorado? It’s great to now have the luxury of PROACTIVELY starting different line combos, depending on what team we play.
      Caggiula, on the top line may not be as effective against other styles of play. Other great teams like Pitts and Nashville change their starting lineups all the time, depending on who they play. It’s great that I’m starting to refer to the Oilers as being in that “great” category… “starting”…

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    In the spirit of Alex Burrows (hhhaak, spit) and the Sedins, why isn’t Drake a long term fit for the Mach David line?
    He’s got hands (evidenced last night), he’s got wheels, and he’s got heart. If he plays smart, he’s a complementary piece for that line, giving them a net-front capability and hitting to amplify their chances.

    • ziyan94

      Exactly. We have overplayed Talbot in the past and gotten him fatigued, leading to bad play (and then people blame Talbot for inconsistency). Now we can see the best of both goaltenders

  • Redbird62

    Many pundits, by December 2015, had thought Nilsson had permanently supplanted Talbot as the Oilers starter. By the end of December that year, Nilsson’s save percentage was plummeting after a string of bad starts, and Talbot’s was rising allowing him to take the starting job back. I really like that Nilsson’s performance has improved in literally each game since the start of pre-season (many were as sure he was horrible as they were that Jesse and Yamo were going to set the league on fire). He is full marks for his part in the team’s 2 victories. I hope he keeps it up for both his and the team’s sake.

    I also think it will help Talbot both physically and mentally. Not having to play as many games would help him physically. Its possible that the negative stress of “if I go through a slump, the team is screwed” can be alleviated and be replaced by the positive stress of “I have some competition for my job, so I better not have a string of bad games”. One bad game here or there by either is okay. I expect that Talbot will continue to be the number one goalie for the rest of the season, but stranger things have happened.

  • Oilman99

    Kokinen’s ability to cover the top corners of the net could become a factor, as it appears teams have the book on Talbot that that is where his weakness is. Kane kept trying to pick the top corner, but Mikko had it sealed off.

  • XL Lebowski

    It’s early but one can only hope Koskinen writes a story similar to fellow countryman Mikka Kiprusoff. Been a long time since we’ve had two strong keepers here in the land of Oil. It would be great if Talbot/Koskinen turned into any combination of: Fuhr/ Moog, Fuhr/Ranford, Rollison/Markkanen, Jacques Plante/Ken Brown.

    • MrBung

      Lets slow down. It is two games Koskinen has won. I would not even put their names next to any of those – lot more wins/playoffs to put up before they can be uttered with any of those combos.

      • Gravis82

        Let me rephrase. 2.5 million was above market value. Would have been nice to turn one of our 1 million dollar wingers into a 3.5 million dollar winger and still have the same goalie.

        He is not the only goalie in the world who is better than Talbot that was available for less than what we signed him for.

        • Kneedroptalbot

          Oh Please, everyone whines about paying Koskinen 2.5M. There was no risk there at all, in fact it was a double down. One Year Contract for the Best Goaltender in the KHL, who is 6’7″, who has won a Championship and played very well in the playoffs. If he doesn’t play great in the NHL you don’t have to resign him. As for Talbot, he is in the last year of his contract too, has been very inconsistent. His 4.2M contract is done at season. So you Double down, choose to sign the best one moving forward, trade one at the deadline, or walk away. No risk at all, let the games begin. Bonus too, 4.2M off the books.

          • Gravis82

            What does double down mean? Accept one more full year of inconsistency just because? If its not working, move on. The faster you get someone else in there for less the faster we win more games

    • AJ88

      Or maybe 800K? Do you know how negotiations even work? Do you think there may have been other teams involved? I believe if it takes 2.5M to light a fire under Talbot’s butt then it is well worth it. Remember how well Nilsson played for a stretch and how Talbot ended up responding?

      • Gravis82

        Sure, anything can happen. But what is the most likely thing to happen? The most likely thing is that past performance predicts future performance. When that happens, move on. Sure talbot could rebound but I don’t care. Swap him out for a goalie that is playing better now and we will lose less games while we wait. This should have been done in the offseason.

        This is a cold perspective I know, but I have spent 15 years watching this team hype and wait and fall in love with players who never turn out or fail to meet even marginal expectation but because management have crafted some beautiful narrative about what type of player they think they are instead of objectively looking at what they actually are.

        Oh, and when one of them actually did, they trade him.

        • Kneedroptalbot

          Exactly, falling in love with players like Tommy Salo and Ben Scrivens. What did that do for us in the playoffs?
          “Playoffs?…are you kidding (with those 2), Playoffs I just wanted to win a damn game.”

    • It has been confirmed that Koskinen had more than one 2 year offers on the table from other clubs. PC paid more on a 1 year deal to attract him to Edmonton. This also tells us Koskinen believes in himself thinking he will get a raise if he has the opportunity to show his talent.

  • Ty Guy

    okay…so we are still 10 feet away from Koskinen….still looks fine. Hope its not too hard to see in his massive 6’7″ shadow when we get to 1 foot…..

    no mention for his record? Biggest Oiler EVER!!!

  • btrain

    No doubt that was a brilliant game from 19. However, I think we need to go against our short term bias tendencies and pump the breaks a little. Don’t get me wrong, last night was a terrific sign and in my mind Koskinen deserves the next start because of it. Lets even hope its the first step towards a legitimate competition for Talbot, who along with being in a contract year, should have no shortage of motivation now.
    However, I don’t think we can hang our hats on a measly 2 games to either be on the “i told you so” side or the “I was wrong” side. We should be cautiously optimistic at best. Just as Chiasson will likely not score the 55 goals he is on pace for, Koskinen is unlikely to maintain such a insane level of perfection (or close to it) in the crease.

    Anyway, I am extremely happy with how things have been going, Koskinen is no exception to this, just want to be realistic. I also want to note, regardless of how great 19 performs, I will still wonder if they could have/should have got him for less. I am very much against retrospective evaluations that let gambling GMs off the hook. For example, Dre’s contract will probably look great within another year or two (if not already), but it should have looked better IMO!

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Wasn’t it Ben Scrievens that had some mind-blowing game when he first started on the Oilers???
      Something like a 67 save shut-out or something like that? Look how that turned out?
      It was awhile ago, & knowing myself like I do, I wanted to forget about Scrievens as quick as possible.
      I do think I remember that game though, vaguely? Shows how volatile Goalies are, be careful how we feel, he might rip our hearts out.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Anyone else get a weird double-take feeling looking at the Pacific standing and seeing all Canadian teams in the top 3 along with Winnipeg in the Central’s top 3? Not to count any chickens, but that would be one helluva post-season.