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Goaltending Options

The past two summers Ken Holland looked at Jacob Markstrom and Darcy Kuemper as goaltending options. Neither panned out and both times Holland opted to sign Mike Smith. Smith played quite well, despite some only focusing on the highlight reel errors. For the third consecutive summer Holland needs to figure out his plan in goal, but this time Smith might not be a fallback option.
Smith is considering retirement. He battled through injuries last season and rehabbing is not an enjoyable process. Only he truly knows how his body feels, and whether he is willing to go through another off-season of training. He and Holland will speak about his future soon, and likely did somewhat during Smith’s exit meeting earlier this week.

Whether Smith opts to return or not, Holland will need to acquire another goaltender. Stuart Skinner has played 13 NHL games. We won’t really know how many games he can play, and how well he will play, until the season begins. He could shine, he could be solid or he might struggle. He likely has stretches of all three levels of play. Finding consistency is difficult for veteran players, never mind rookies.

The Oilers don’t have a bonafide #1 goalie, in terms of someone who can start 55-60 games. Smith’s numbers the past two seasons, however, have been quite good. He’s had the sixth best Sv% among starters. Here is the list of goalies (minimum 40 games played) with a better adjusted Sv% (from Clear Sight Analytics) the past two seasons:

Igor Shesterkin
Thatcher Demko
Andrei Vasilevskiy
Ilya Sorokin
Jusse Saros
Ville Husso

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Smith can make some highlight reel errors, but the most important job of a goalie is to stop pucks, and he’s done that quite well the past few seasons. Finding a replacement who will play as well, and with a $2.2m cap hit might not be as easy as some think.

Let’s look the top free agents available, and three goalies who are possible trade candidates in Semyon Varlamov, McKenzie Blackwood and Alexander Georgiev. Georgiev will be traded for sure. Varlamov has one year remaining with a $5m cap hit, and Sorokin is clearly the starter for the Islanders, while Blackwood’s name as been out there for a bit. These stats are courtesy of Sport Logiq.

Slots Shots = SS
Sv% on Slots shots= Sv%OSS
Inner Slot Shots = ISS
Sv% on Inner Slot Shots = Sv%OISS
Expected Goals Against = XGA

All Strengths per 60 TEAM GP SOG GAA Sv% SS Sv%OSS ISS Sv%OISS XGA GSAEx
Darcy Kuemper COL 57 31.92 2.54 0.921 12.45 0.849 6.37 0.824 2.83 0.29
Eric Comrie WPG 19 31.55 2.58 0.920 13.29 0.868 6.09 0.788 3.12 0.54
Ville Husso STL 40 31.88 2.56 0.919 13.10 0.847 6.15 0.796 2.96 0.40
Mike Smith EDM 28 33.03 2.81 0.915 14.47 0.850 6.61 0.805 3.25 0.44
Jack Campbell TOR 49 30.93 2.64 0.914 12.88 0.840 6.10 0.771 2.79 0.15
Casey DeSmith PIT 26 31.31 2.79 0.914 12.65 0.819 5.50 0.777 2.89 0.10
Braden Holtby DAL 24 30.99 2.78 0.913 11.88 0.812 5.51 0.727 2.59 -0.19
Semyon Varlamov NYI 31 32.17 2.91 0.911 13.01 0.815 6.62 0.783 3.08 0.17
Scott Wedgewood ARI, DAL, N.J 37 33.50 3.14 0.910 14.08 0.832 7.33 0.763 3.30 0.16
Marc-Andre Fleury CHI, MIN 56 31.05 2.90 0.908 13.39 0.839 5.79 0.792 2.88 -0.03
Alexandar Georgiev NYR 33 28.35 2.91 0.898 12.38 0.818 6.05 0.746 2.93 0.02
Mackenzie Blackwood N.J 25 32.38 3.39 0.892 14.37 0.812 7.38 0.727 3.38 -0.01

Smith’s regular season was quite good compared to this class of UFAs. He had the fourth-best Sv% at .915, and he had the second-best goals saved above expected at 0.44. Only Eric Comrie was higher.

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I realize it wouldn’t be ideal to start next season with Smith and Skinner. An aging veteran, who has battled injuries the past two seasons, and a rookie with 13 NHL games of experience. I fully understand the situation, so which of these UFAs would be the best fit?

Husso gets a lot of attention due to his breakout regular season, but he struggled in the playoffs. It would be risky to start with a Husso/Skinner tandem as they’ve combined to play 60 NHL games. Edmonton could do it, but the inexperience is a concern.

Jack Campbell will be looking for the first big payday of his career. He’s made a total of around $5 million since turning pro in 2011/2012. That is great money for the average person, but he could command a three year deal worth $12-$14million this summer. Possibly even longer. Campbell had an up and down season in Toronto, but he’s also played in a hockey-mad market. He is very hard on himself, and in a hockey-crazed market that can be good or bad depending how he’s playing.

Marc-Andre Fleury can still play. His numbers in Minnesota were solid, after playing behind a porous Chicago defence. He didn’t want to come to Edmonton at the trade deadline due to the challenges of his family getting across the border to visit him. He didn’t want to move them out of school during the year. Makes sense. After watching the Oilers win two playoff rounds, Fleury, and many others around the league, likely see Edmonton a lot different than they have in the past. The Oilers are a competitive team, and coming to Edmonton as a UFA won’t simply be about taking big money. They will be viewed as a team who can compete.

@Sasey DeSmith wouldn’t be a great fit in my eyes.

Braden Holtby was injured late in the season and wasn’t even skating. I’d pass.

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Scott Wedgewood quietly had a very solid season. He isn’t a big name, won’t cost very much, but I could see him becoming a bargain deal. He’s better suited to start in a backup role, so not a great fit for Edmonton unless Smith returns, then it would make more sense. It could be a risk to start the season with him as your starter, but he looks like a late bloomer. I won’t be surprised if he has a solid campaign.

Eric Comrie is in a similar situation as Wedgewood. He’s best suited to start as a backup, and could play earn more starts as the season progresses. He turns 27 in July and many goalies have found their game in their late 20s.

Blackwood, Georgiev and Varlamov would all need to be traded to Edmonton. Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have a great relationship. Sorokin has learned a lot from Varlamov, but Sorokin is clearly their starter. Do the Islanders really want to pay Varlamov $5 million to be the backup again? Lou Lamoriello said there was a lot of interest in Varlamov at the deadline, but he didn’t get a deal he liked. Will he get one during the week of the entry draft? I think so.

Georgiev wants to be traded. He has posted solid, but not spectacular numbers in his career. In 129 NHL appearances he has a .908Sv%, which is around league average over the past five seasons. His Sv% has dropped every year starting at .918 (only 10 games), .914, .910, .905 and .898. Blackwood has 130 appearances in four years with a .907Sv%. His Sv% has also dipped each year going from .918, .915, .902 to .892.

Blackwood has one year remaining at $2.8m while Georgiev is an RFA who needs to be qualified at $2.65m. Georgiev is 26 and Blackwood turns 26 in December. They are the same age and will have similar salaries. Blackwood battled a heel injury last season. Georgiev is the clear backup for the Rangers, while Blackwood was looked at as their starter the past few seasons. I think the cost to acquire him will be more due to the organizational depth chart, and how many goalie analysts view Blackwood as slightly better today.

“Georgiev is an extremely hard worker, and has many excellent qualities,” said a goalie coach. “But he doesn’t track pucks as well as you’d like, turns on shots and creates a lot of exposure low over pads.” He added those are aspects you can work with him and improve. He has upside, but will need to tweak a few things, like many goalies do in their mid 20s.

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RECENT GOALIE TRADES…

We’ve seen many goalies traded in their mid 20s before they established themselves as consistent NHL goalies. Here are the recent off-season trades for goalies. I didn’t include Fleury to Chicago as that was a clear salary dump.

2021 off-season:
Seattle trades Vitek Vanecek to Washington for a 2023 second round pick.
Boston trades Dan Vladar to Calgary for a 2022 3rd round pick.
Carolina trades Alex Nedeljkovic to Detroit for Jonathan Bernier and a 2021 3rd rounder.
Arizona trades Adin Hill to San Jose for a 2022 2nd rounder and Josef Korenar.

2020:
Pittsburgh trades Matt Murray to Ottawa for Jonathon Gruden and a 2020 2nd round pick.
St. Louis trade Jake Allen and a 2022 7th rounder to Montreal for a 3rd and 7th in 2020.

2019:
Florida trades James Reimer to Carolina for Scott Darling and a 2020 6th round pick.

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2018:
Washington trades Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik (salary dump) to Colorado for a 2018 2nd round pick.

2017:
New York Rangers trade Antti Raanta and Derek Stepan to Arizona for Tony DeAngelo and a 2017 1st round pick.
Arizona trades Mike Smith to Calgary for Brandon Hickey, Chad Johnson and 2018 3rd round pick.
LA trades Ben Bishop (his rights as he was pending UFA) to Dallas for a 2017 4th round pick.

The cost hasn’t been that high in many of these trades, and while Georgiev and Blackwood haven’t trended in the right direction recently, we’ve seen many goalies find consistency and success in their mid to late 20s.

Many questioned Holland’s decision to sign Smith in the summer of 2020 and again in 2021, but Edmonton got great value from Smith at two million and $2.2 million. He played very well. Yes, he battled injuries, but when he played he was among the league’s top goalies in Sv% and adjusted Sv%.

Will Holland be able to find similar value this summer?

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