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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Assessing Edmonton’s goaltenders, whether the current tandem is good enough, and options to improve

Last weekend, I put together an overview of Ken Holland’s off-season and took a look at how he can use the Expansion Draft and the buyout period in order to create more salary cap room to work with this summer. This week, I’ll assess the Oilers’ roster, take a look at the players who are in need of new contracts, and how the team can be improved in free agency. Today, let’s talk about goaltenders. 

The Oilers have rolled with a Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen goaltending tandem in each of the past two seasons and both times it was good enough to get the team into the playoffs.

In 2019-20, it was Koskinen who was the stronger netminder of the tandem, as he put together a .917 save percentage in 38 games while Smith posted a .902 save percentage. In 2021, the tandem flipped and Smith was the strong point, putting up an impressive .923 save percentage while Koskinen posted a .899 save percentage.

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Edmonton also a trio of interesting goaltending prospects that they selected between the 2017 and 2019 drafts developing in the minors. The organization hasn’t developed a quality goaltender since Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog in the 80s (Devan Dubnyk didn’t hit his stride until he left) and the hope is that one of Stuart Skinner, Olivier Rodrigue, or Ilya Konovalov can become the goalie of the future.

It wouldn’t be prudent to have any of those youngsters step into the NHL in 2021-22 so Holland has to decide if he wants to give the Smith-Koskinen tandem a third go-around or if he wants to go in a different direction.

Here are Edmonton’s goaltenders and how they did in 2021…

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  • Mike Smith: 32 NHL games, 0.923 SV%, $1.5M cap hit, UFA in 2021
  • Mikko Koskinen: 26 NHL games, 0.899 SV%, $4.5M cap hit, UFA in 2022
  • Alex Stalock: 0 games played in 2021, $785k cap hit, UFA in 2022
  • Stuart Skinner: 31 AHL games, 0.914 SV%, 1 NHL game, 0.868 SV%, entry-level deal, RFA in 2021
  • Dylan Wells: 0 games played in 2021, entry-level deal, RFA in 2021
  • Olivier Rodrigue: 11 AHL games, 0.894 SV%, 23 ICEHL games, .908 SV%, entry-level deal, RFA in 2023
  • Ilya Konovalov: 19 KHL games, 0.923 SV%, entry-level deal, RFA in 2023

There were seven goalies in the Oilers’ organization in 2021.

Smith and Koskinen split the net at the NHL with the former taking on more of the load. Stalock was claimed off of waivers mid-way through the season but never suited up for the team. Two prospects, Skinner and Rodrigue were the goalies in the AHL, while Wells, a non-prospect at this point, didn’t play a game anywhere. Konovalov spent his whole season in the KHL and inked an entry-level deal when Lokomotiv was eliminated.

The Oilers will have three legitimate goaltending prospects in North America next season. I would guess that Wells doesn’t receive a qualifying offer and the organization will need to decide what the tandem will be in Bakersfield. Skinner is a no-brainer to return to the AHL after his strong showing and it makes sense to play Konovalov at that level given his experience playing pro in Russia. That would result in Rodrigue being the main guy in the ECHL.

What about the NHL team?

Koskinen’s inexplicable three-year, $13.5 million deal that Peter Chiarelli left as a parting gift has one more year left on it but there has been speculation that Holland might use a buyout to free up some more salary cap room. If Koskinen does get bought out, he’ll cost the Oilers $1.5 million against the cap for two seasons. Holland also said that he’s interested in bringing Smith back for another season.

Now, to be fair to Koskinen, a big reason why his numbers in 2021 were as mediocre as they were is because he had to play virtually every game for the Oilers for the first month of the season. After Smith returned from injury, Koskinen put together a respectable .910 save percentage over 14 games. The four goals on four shots against Vancouver is still fresh in everyone’s minds, but Koskinen wasn’t terrible when he was a part of an actual tandem, which has been the case for his entire NHL career.

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Also sort of forgotten in this entire discussion is Alex Stalock, who carries a dirt-cheap contract and has a .909 save percentage in 151 career games. He could remain in the mix, especially if the Taxi Squad is still a thing in 2021-22.

It’s difficult to assume what’s going to happen because we don’t know yet if Holland is going to use a buyout on Koskinen or if he’s going to reach another deal with Smith. If I was to guess, I believe that Koskinen’s final season will be bought out and the team will re-sign Smith to another one-year deal with performance bonuses.

Regardless, here are the options on the free-agent market for Holland to consider…

  • Chris Driedger: 23 games, 0.927 SV%, $850k cap hit in 2021
  • Petr Mrazek: 12 games, 0.923 SV%, $3.125M cap hit in 2021
  • Phillipp Grubauer: 40 games, 0.922 SV%, $3.333M cap hit in 2021
  • Linus Ullmark: 20 games, 0.917 SV%, $2.6M cap hit in 2021
  • Jonathan Bernier: 24 games, 0.914 SV%, $3M cap hit in 2021
  • Tuukka Rask: 24 games, 0.913 SV%, $7M cap hit in 2021
  • James Reimer: 22 games, .906 SV%, $3.4M cap hit in 2021
  • Antti Raanta: 12 games, .905 SV%, $4.25M cap hit in 2021
  • Jaroslav Halak: 19 games, .905 SV%, $2.75M cap hit in 2021
  • David Rittich: 19 games, .901 SV%, $2.75M cap hit in 2021
  • Frederik Andersen: 24 games, 0.895 SV%, $5M cap hit in 2021

Beyond those names, there will also be some goaltenders available via trade this off-season.

The Blue Jackets will need to decide whether Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzliknis is the goalie of the future as both are close to hitting unrestricted free agency. The Stars could also look to move 2020 playoff hero Anton Khudobin after Jake Oettinger’s impressive debut. The same goes for the Islanders with Semyon Varlamov after Ilya Sorokin broke into the league this year.

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So, all told, there are quite a few options for Holland if he wants to roll with a different tandem in 2021-22. Smith and Koskinen have been good enough to get the Oilers to the playoffs in back-to-back years but believing in them to get the team over the hump and on a deep playoff run is another question.

Previously in my off-season series…