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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Encore in the Crease?

For all the consternation last off-season when Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland circled back to Mike Smith and re-signed him after his pursuit of UFA Jacob Markstrom proved too pricey, I wasn’t surprised when he told reporters Wednesday he’s interested in an encore for the 39-year-old stopper next season.

Smith, after all, shoved it up the backsides of his critics — me included — who thought he didn’t represent the upgrade needed this season. He made 32 appearances and had a 21-6-2 record with a 2.31 GAA and .923 save-percentage. He took the crease from Mikko Koskinen and was the go-to guy in the playoffs, playing every minute against Winnipeg. He had a .912 save-percentage despite a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Jets. Smith had himself a hell of a season, and for a bargain $1.5 million contract.

“Yes, I do want to re-sign Mike Smith,” offered Holland, who said he intends to sit down with Smith in the next few weeks in the Okanagan — Smith has a home in Kelowna and Holland has a place in Vernon. “I told Mike we’ll get together . . . in 10 days or two weeks from now. I’ll get out there (Kelowna) and talk to his agent, but yes, I do want to re-sign Mike Smith.”

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No surprise there. Despite his age, I think Smith showed he’s still got some gas left in the tank and earned himself a contract, likely another one-year-deal. What is surprising, what stood out for me as much as anything Holland said during his 65-minute availability, is he also said he’ll look at bringing back Smith and Koskinen as a tandem. While Holland didn’t address that directly during his Zoom call with reporters, he talked about it later with Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer on 630 CHED. More Koskinen?

WHAT HE SAID

Feb 15, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) is replaced by goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Asked Stauffer: “Can you come back with the same goaltending tandem?”

“Why not? It was a good tandem for us,” Holland said. “Now, I know Smitty is 39 and Koski is, what, 33, I think. You know, it’s not a young tandem, but if you’re in the win-now mode, you know, I’m in the win-now mode, to try to be the best we can be.

“The statistics tell us that we got good goaltending. The eyeballs I used to watch our team over 56 games tells us that, once Mike Smith came back . . . Koski got here just before training camp, then he had to sit in a quarantine for a week and all of a sudden, he had to play with no extra pre-season games. Koski had to play 10 of the first 11 games. He helped us to get out of the gate. 

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“Once Mike Smith got back and we got our tandem going, we had really good goaltending on an every-night basis. There’s the odd night where it was an off-night, but our goaltending, it was excellent, so, could I bring them back together again for 2021-22? Why not? They gave us good goaltending.

“They’re older, but you’re only making a move if you think you can get better goaltending. I don’t want to try to start putting in kids, to go through the growing pains of young players. We’re trying to take the next step . . . would I bring the same guys back? Why not?”

Why not? Well, for starters, the four goals Koskinen allowed on the first four shots he faced in a 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks comes to mind. That was historically bad, tying an NHL record. To be fair, that’s a freakish one-off. He also struggled early when overworked with Smith injured, which is the book on him. All told, Koskinen, who has another year left at $4.5 million on the three-year deal he was gifted by Peter Chiarelli, finished at 13-13-0 with a 3.17 GAA and .899 save-percentage in 26 games.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Oct 27, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) replaces goaltender Mike Smith (41) after Smith let in 3 second period goals by the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place.

Koskinen has been dragged plenty for crapping himself against Vancouver and for his penchant of having to dig first shots out of the net. Rightfully so. There’s no question the swings in his performance are stunning. It’s that inconsistency that gives me the willies about Holland being willing to settle on the same tandem — even with the Oilers finishing 11th in goals against and goals-against per game.

I’d like to think Holland will at least explore the goaltending market this off-season. Like I said off the top, I wasn’t sold on bringing Smith back this season after his poor performance against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first game of their play-in series. He proved the doubters wrong. Might Koskinen come back, get his game together and do the same if Holland doesn’t bring in another option? It’s possible, I suppose, but not probable from where I sit.

I’m fine with more Smith. Koskinen? Not so much.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee