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Photo Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Recapping day one of the Edmonton Oilers in free agency and what’s next in net for them?

The dust has all but settled from a hectic day one of free agency. Despite a flat cap, some big money got thrown around with the Oilers being one of the more active teams.

The Zach Hyman deal was made official, Tyson Barrie was re-signed, Cody Ceci was brought in, Ethan Bear was traded for Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan was signed as Ken Holland was in the middle of a press conference. Impressive stuff.

All in all, I think the Oilers had a fine day one of free agency. Hyman is exactly what the Oilers needed to address the top-six. Barrie is a question mark, but his offensive value is there on a decent deal. Ceci is going to be interesting, and I think he’ll be fine being asked to play a defence first game. Foegele is going to be a great addition to the top-nine and the penalty kill, while Ryan is exactly the depth centre the team needs.

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Looking at these moves in and of themselves, I’d be willing to give the Oilers a B+. Sure, there’s some risk on three and four-year terms for Barrie and Ceci, but they’re both all-salary contracts that the team can get out of via buyout with relative ease should things really go sideways. Ceci’s probably a little overpaid in term and money but the market for right-shot defenceman wasn’t very deep.

The biggest issue? The Oilers three NHL goaltenders right now are Mikko Koskinen, Mike Smith and Alex Stalock. Ilya Konovalov is right on the cusp after some great seasons in the KHL.

There’s been such a buzz about the situation in the net, especially after Holland re-signed Mike Smith to a two-year deal to serve as a backup. Koskinen, meanwhile, has had his name in the rumour mill for some time after some tough struggles.

Ken Holland said yesterday he feels the goaltending has been “solid the last two years,” and when asked if he had tried to look at bringing in a new goaltender, he seemed to get a bit defensive.

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“The only way I can get into the goaltending market is if I trade a goalie,” said Holland. “Mike Smith’s got a two-year deal at $2.2 (million) and Mikko Koskinen’s got a one-year deal at $4.5 (million). I could not get into the golden carousel if you wanted me to because of contracts.”

Sure, Holland inherited Koskinen’s brutal contract, but bringing in Smith again was his own doing. Let’s look at the goaltending situation over the last two years at 5×5:

GP SV% Shots against/60 GAA GSAA
Smith 71 .912 29.07 2.55 -2.33
Koskinen 64 .915 32.34 2.74 2.65

And in all situations:

GP SV% SA/60 GAA GSAA
Smith 71 .912 30.08 2.65 2.38
Koskinen 64 .910 33.18 2.94 -.77

Holland isn’t exactly wrong in saying the goaltending has been good the last two years. For Koskinen, his 2019-20 season was much better than last year, while Smith the opposite.

Both goaltenders, however, have had their big struggles. Koskinen was a sieve for the club last year and I’d be willing to bet he led the league in goals allowed on the first shot of the game. Smith somehow found the fountain of youth, and while that’s great, it’s not a sustainable strategy.

The Oilers were reported to be deep in conversations with the Arizona Coyotes yesterday in trade talks for the services of Darcy Kuemper. Edmonton got outbid by the Avalanche, who surrendered a 1st round pick, a young, promising defenceman in Connor Timmins and a conditional pick. A steep price, and one the Oilers likely would’ve needed to add more on.

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Truly the only way the Oilers would be able to add another goaltender is if they found a way out of Koskinen’s contract, a task proving to be more difficult than it seems. Financially the Oilers have ~$7M in cap space left accounting for Klefbom LTIR bound, but they still have to sign RFA’s Kailer Yamamoto and Warren Foegele to contract. I’d imagine they take up ~$5M of that space. (A Zack Kassian trade could still happen to free up some space, too, but that seems to have cooled in the rumour mill).

Holland said he wants to add another depth defenceman, likely a left-shot defence first defenceman who could help steady Evan Bouchard on the third pair. I’d imagine he finds someone there around ~$1M.

So that leaves roughly $1M in space for Holland to address the goaltending making it clear Koskinen needs to either be moved or bought out. A trade will require the Oilers to likely move some serious assets. A buyout requires the Oilers to take $1.5M cap hits this year and next, freeing up $3M this season.

The free agent goaltending market has all but dried up. Devan Dubnyk is the only “starter” that remains on the market, but his game has dropped off steeply in the last two years and has allowed 23.7 more goals than expected in that time.

So now, the Oilers have a few options: A) the Oilers go back into next season with Koskinen and Smith, allowing Stalock to compete for some games too; B) buyout Koskinen and trade for a goalie; or C) trade Koskinen ++ for a goaltender.

The market on goaltenders is still there. The Columbus Blue Jackets are a likely partner. They have $14M in cap space and could still be looking to move one of Elvis Merzilkins or Joonas Korpisalo. The New York Rangers ($18M cap space) could move Alexander Georgiev, a young goaltender whose name has been floating around for a while. Would the New York Islanders ($17M cap space) consider trading Ilya Sorokin? They also have Semyon Varlamov under contract for two more years.

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Whatever way the Oilers go, I think the team returning both Koskinen and Smith to the crease next year is a recipe for disaster.


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]