The Edmonton Oilers have two of the best players in the NHL. Both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have proven to be superstar-caliber players who can lead a team into playoff contention when surrounded by the right talent.
Unfortunately, the Oilers’ postseason aspirations were cut short in 2020 following a successful 2019-20 regular season being cut short due to the global pandemic. Though every team was playing under the same circumstances in the bubble, certain teams reacted to the return to play differently than others and the Oilers unfortunately didn’t play up to the standard they’d have hoped for.
Part of this can be attributed to the extremely lengthy delay between the regular season and postseason, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Oilers had some glaring holes on their roster during the 2019-20 season and they were likely to be an issue at some point or another.
The tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith would share the net for the Oilers this past season. Smith would put up a disappointing first season with the Oilers, putting up a .902 save percentage, 2.95 goals-against average and -7.71 GSAA. The Oilers would go 19-12-6 with Smith starting.
Koskinen, on the other hand, would actually have a good 2019-20 season and would go 18-13-3 with a .917 save percentage, 2.75 goals-against average and 9.25 GSAA. It was a good season, but unfortunately it wouldn’t translate to postseason results as he’d allow 11 goals on 99 shots through four games, good for a .889 save percentage, 3.16 goals-against average and -2.75 GSAA.
Smith wouldn’t be any better in his one playoff start, allowing five goals on 23 shots.
Oilers Have Legitimate Questions to Answer at Goalie
At 38 years old, Smith obviously wasn’t going to be a long-term fix for the Oilers. Still, the expectation was that he could help share the net with Koskinen to provide more consistent goaltending for a team that felt ready to take the next step.
This still appears to be the plan for the Oilers next season as general manager Ken Hollan believes that the NHL is trending towards a two-goalie system for most teams. He’s not mistaken either as the statistics show that teams who win the Stanley Cup very rarely have a starting goalie who’s played more than 58 games in the regular season.
Still, while Koskinen may be a good option for half of the team’s starts, bringing Smith back as the other part of that equation may not be the play for the Oilers.
The team is still open to bringing Smith back for the 2020-21 season, but they can’t stop searching for other options and doing their due-diligence this offseason. Running things back for the 2020-21 season doesn’t feel like the most ideal scenario for the Oilers, but it’s also hard to overreact to the 2020 Playoffs given the situation.
It’s a tough spot to be in for all general managers this offseason due to the circumstances. Still, that doesn’t mean teams can just ignore what’s in front of them and stand pat when there are glaring holes that need to be addressed.
Goaltending Not the Only Issue in Edmonton
For the Oilers, the need to fill a top-six winger spot and even their third-line center spot could also be considered this offseason. If the team is looking to address these needs, they’ll be tasked first with deciding what the priority is and what’s most pressing.
Beyond that, they’ll also have to explore what options truly exist for them at any of the three positions mentioned; just because a team has a need, it doesn’t mean there are instant fixes available in free agency or on the trade market.
Though the Oilers have McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who are all top-six caliber centers in the NHL, the team can’t afford to move two of those three players outside of their top six. With Nugent-Hopkins skating alongside McDavid, the team was forced to roll with Josh Archibald on their right flank. Draisaitl anchored a line with Andreas Athanasiou and Kailer Yamamoto while Jujhar Khaira took on third-line center duties.
If the Oilers can acquire two top-six wingers or a third-line center and a top-six winger, they could have room to open up their forward lines next season. Still, with McDavid and Draisaitl playing such important top-six roles, the Oilers have been able to get by without another winger to play on the right side.
Given how disappointing goaltending was for the Oilers during the playoffs and the team wanting to run a two-goalie stable moving forward, though, the goaltending issue seems to be the one that would make the most sense to allocate attention towards.
This isn’t to say that Holland won’t explore all avenues and kick tires for all of the team’s needs, but it does feel like something has to give on the goalie front.
The Goalie Market is Full of Talent
There could be options this offseason with Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, Robin Lehner, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Matt Murray, Jacob Markstrom, Thomas Greiss, Anton Khudobin and a plethora of other potential options all in search of new contracts this offseason.
Obviously there will be a market for any potential starting goalie who could be available via free agency or trade this offseason. It’s also unlikely that all of the goalies named above actually find themselves available this offseason as their current teams could look to bring them back into a familiar situation.
Still, the options are there and the need is apparent; if the Oilers are going to address their goaltending situation, this just feels like the offseason to do so.
It’s unclear what the Oilers will ultimately decide to do this offseason. They’ll also have to compete with the rest of the league in one of the more interesting offseasons that we’ve entered in recent history. From uncertainty with the salary cap to player health and even fan attendance and revenue in the near future, teams have a lot to consider.
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