Sticking with Skinner
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
What have you done for us lately?
Human nature being what it is and hockey fans being what they are, it’s no big surprise more than a few of the Edmonton Oilers faithful have been casting an eye at the goal crease as an area of concern with the off-season having arrived sooner than expected after a second-round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s understandable. After a regular season in which Stuart Skinner took the starting job from Jack Campbell, posted a 29-14-5 record with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage on the way to being named a finalist for the Calder Trophy, he wasn’t good enough in playoffs. Skinner went 5-6-0. His GAA ballooned to 3.68 and his save percentage dropped 31 points to .883. That’s what fans, not surprisingly, focus on.
We know Campbell’s story. Inked to a new five-year deal worth $25 million, he was supposed to be Jay Woodcroft’s starter, but he lost the job to Skinner in a hurry and finished up at 21-9-4 with a 3.41 GAA and .888. Campbell was the exact opposite of Skinner as he got better in the post-season, albeit in limited duty, with a win in four appearances to go with a 1.01 GAA and .961 save percentage in 119 minutes.
Ask fans what should top GM Ken Holland’s to-do list this off-season, as we did in Monday’s Mailbag, and goaltending comes up a lot. Like I said, I get it. I understand the concern. I just don’t agree. I expect Skinner, who was really good for the vast majority of the season, and Campbell will bounce back just fine and that Holland won’t have to go shopping for another stopper this off-season.
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
What was somewhat lost in the excitement and anticipation of a long playoff run is that Skinner, 24, didn’t have a single minute of NHL playoff experience to draw on when the post-season opened against Los Angeles. That’s not an excuse, but it could have been a factor, although he never used it as a crutch. What we do know is Skinner was pulled four times in 12 games over the two series.
“I thought the games that he was pulled in, it wasn’t all on him, it was sometimes on the team,” said Woodcroft, who first coached Skinner in 2018-19 with Bakersfield. “The one thing he showed was a bounce back ability.
“He’s proven that over time, that’s also a belief or an experience that I have seen at different levels with him. In the end, our team lost the series and those are all things that we think about, talk about, examine, discuss, study and will eventually inform a lot of the things that we do moving forward.”
After making it to the Western Conference final a year ago, I sense the disappointment of this early exit has been amplified by the Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl contract clock that’s ticking in the heads of so many Oilers fans. Even though McDavid and Draisaitl have said here is where they want to win, it’s another year gone by without a sip of the suds.
As for Campbell, Holland says: “First off, I think quite often, players that sign long-term big contracts, their biggest contract, feel a ton of pressure to live up to the contract and it puts a lot of stress on them. I know there are other goalies in the NHL this year that signed big deals a year ago, and year one was a tough go and year two turned out pretty good. I’m believing that year two is going to be pretty good.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Unless you believe Skinner used smoke and mirrors to look as good as he did for the majority of the season, why would Holland even consider bringing in somebody ahead of him for next season? And who might that be? Do you think that Holland should or could move Campbell? Where is he going to go? What is that going to look like?
If I’m Holland or Woodcroft, I stick with Skinner as my starter. I give Campbell a vote of confidence as somebody the kid and the team can lean on. If Campbell wrestles the starting job back from Skinner next season, so be it. With the additions made at the trade deadline, my sense is this team, flaws and all, is closer to the Stanley Cup than it feels right now with the second-round exit still stinging.
Skinner and Campbell are my guys.
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