The Oilers have signed 37-year-old netminder Mike Smith to a one-year contract. TSN’s Frank Seravalli announced the signing last night. It is a one year deal with bonuses. Smith and Mikko Koskinen will battle for time between the pipes, but the starter’s job is Koskinen’s to lose. I assume, if he starts well he will keep it, but if he has a rough start Dave Tippett won’t hesitate to run with Smith. The Oilers need to make the playoffs this season, and they can’t afford to wait while their starting goalie “finds his game.”
Was Smith the right choice? I have opinion on it, but first I reached out to someone who knows much more about the position to see if Oilersnation should be excited or nervous about signing Smith.
Kevin Woodley from In Goal Magazine watches a lot of film on goalies. He watches for strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and more. He can breakdown a goalie much better than I, so I asked him four questions about Smith.
1. What do you like about Mike Smith?
“Puck handling. I have already seen the jokes that he may be Oilers best puck-moving D now, but the makes plays few goalies try. And while the mistakes become glaring, the overall zone exits were up in Calgary when he touched the puck based on some internal numbers shared with me. I also love his size and competiveness. He plays deep, but isn’t passive, if that make sense. H remains active with his hands, which is a necessity when you play that deep, but was lost early last season, in part because of the changes to the chest protector and his struggles to adjust to new model. He ended up getting compact with his hands to protect himself, creating double coverage with his hands in front of his body and losing some of that crucial reactive element. Once he solved the chest protector issue with a Frankenstein combination of three models, he played closer to his level of recent seasons.“
2. Why you think he could have success in Edmonton?
“Part of the problem during the first half of last season was he didn’t handle being second fiddle to David Rittich very well; something he candidly admitted to me late in the season. Also he’d hadn’t been a backup for a long time, or had to struggle to find his game without much playing time; and that’s not an easy adjustment for some guys.
“Defined roles and having been through it should benefit him in Edmonton. So should being re-united with Tippett, but ironically he’s also been a goalie that plays better when busy. I predicted that would also be an adjustment in Calgary under Bill Peters, whose teams in Carolina tended to take away the outside shots that let a goalie feel his way into a game and pad the SV%, but then give up odd-man rushes after dominating possession at the other end. A heavier workload within games, like what he saw in playoffs, and a more balanced workload over the course of a season should help him with the Oilers. He’s also somewhat less vulnerable on lateral plays that the Oilers have tended to give up in recent years, because his deeper style means he barely has to move on a side-to-side pass to get post-to-post.”
3. Concerns about his game?
“Strengths can become weaknesses at times: dead angles can be problematic as a result of playing deep. Deep can (doesn’t mean it will) equal flat along the goal line instead of squaring up on these plays, but he’s improved those areas in past few years too. Also at times he can overplay the puck trying to do too much.
“He can get reaching with those active hands at the expense of balance and end up on his belly, which means one big save but he’s done after that. If (Dustin) Schwartz (Oilers goalie coach) can get him moving into those a bit better, tracking into pucks more, it will help because when he stays over his knees and on balance, he’s a big body that takes up a ton of space.
“The one concern is injuries. He can’t play too much. If Koskinen struggles, they can’t overuse Smith.”
4. Why you weren’t as high on Petr Mrazek as Smith?
“It improved in Carolina, and maybe that could have continued in Edmonton, but there’s always been an exposure in Mrazek’s aggression and over reliance on athleticism that leaves him more dependent on the right team structure and less consistent overall. I’m not sure the upside is enough to ignore the potential lows or tendency to swing between them.
“Mostly though, there was a sense he wanted term and more money and I’m just not sold even after last year, that he is a guy who can lock in to be a #1 for long periods,” answered Woodley.
I don’t mind the signing, especially the term. Smith will have the drive to prepare to be a starter, and when he gets in if he plays well that will force Koskinen to maintain the same standard. But he was signed to be the backup, if he has to become the starter, then Koskinen has really struggled, and that will make the goaltending situation much muddier. If Smith plays 30 games, then the Oilers should be happy, because it means Koskinen was reliable.
The Oilers have also signed Markus Granlund to a one-year $1.3 million contract. He is listed as a centre, but he’s played more on both wings the past three years than he did centre with the Canucks. I wrote about Granlund last week after the Canucks didn’t qualify him and became an unrestricted free agent.
“Markus Granlund scored 19-13-32 in 69 games in 2017, then got banged up in 2018 and produced 8-4-12 in 53 games and last season potted 12-10-22 in 77 games. All three seasons were with the Canucks. He, along with Brandon Sutter, were their top two PK forwards in PK TOI the past three seasons. The Canucks PK was 29th in 2017, 21st in 2018 and 11th last season. He is listed as a C, but he has played more wing than centre the past three years. He was sixth, seventh and sixth on the Canucks in total faceoffs in each of the past three seasons. His GF% at 5×5 is an ugly 40%, and the rest of his underlying numbers are less than ideal. I’d pass if anything more than a one year deal.”
Granlund can play both wings and at centre. Over the past three seasons, he played 2403 minutes, and his most common linemates were Brandon Sutter (784 minutes), Loui Eriksson (596), Jake Virtanen (327), Henrik Sedin (245) and Daniel Sedin (210) and Bo Horvat (201). He has played more wing than centre, so I’m curious where Dave Tippett will employ him. I could see him starting on the wing, especially if the Oilers sign a centre in free agency.
I thought Ken Holland would sign three forwards during free agency, and I’m told they are looking to land a centre if they can. The problem is there aren’t many right-shot centres out there.