With Cam Talbot signed to a three year, $12.5M contract, half of the Oilers goaltending tandem is now in place for the next couple of seasons. Given the options that might have been available in free agency and the limited assets available to fill other roster holes, I feel this is a reasonable gamble by the Oilers. Another option available to team would have been another month or two before making the deal, but if you’re a GM who’s willing to commit to a deal like this I’m not sure another eight or ten starts would do much to change your mind.
If I had to guess, I’d say that this is more or less the deal that the Oilers hoped to sign Talbot to before the season started. His early season struggles made them hit the pause button briefly (he could have signed an extension starting on January 1st), but as he began to look more and more like the goalie they thought he was when they made the deal with the Rangers to acquire him at the draft, they pulled the trigger. To be clear, the deal itself is far from a sure thing, with only 86 games played and not even 2,000 shots faced at even strength there’s about a one-in-five chance that his performance to date is nothing more than luck.
For better or worse though, the deal is done and now we can start looking at the other half of the Oilers’ goaltending tandem, the backup. Right now that role is filled by Anders Nilsson, a man who looked like he might be the Oilers number one goalie of the future a couple of months ago but is now struggling and is rarely playing. In the last month Nilsson has played in five games (one appearance was in relief), and has posted a 0.905 save percentage, not the kind of number that’s likely to get him a lot more playing time.
Like Talbot, Nilsson is a restricted free agent at the end of the season; he’s making $1M on a one-way deal this season. Is bringing Nilsson back next season in a similar roll, on a similar contract, an option for the team or should they start looking for a new backup right now? Given his play over the last six weeks many would say that it’s time to seek out another option. Of course, if you’re willing to look past the start of Talbot’s season as just a bad run, you should probably do the same for Nilsson before deciding whether or not he can be a capable backup. Goalies rarely get the views necessary to make truly informed decisions though and when there is a younger option knocking on the door the timeline tends to be sped up even more.
Which brings us to Laurent Brossoit. With an 11-7-3 record, three shutouts, and a 0.927 save percentage, Brossoit is getting closer and closer to the NHL with every start. His save percentage ranks him fifth in the AHL and is a nine point improvement over last season. Since becoming an AHL regular with the Oklahoma City Barons last year, Brossoit has posted a 0.921 save percentage in 74 games. With his 23rd birthday not until March, he might be considered to be too young for the NHL, but if as a believer in "goalies don’t improve with age" I think he’s at least ready for a shot at making the big club.
Should that shot come right now? I don’t see why not. With the injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, an injury that'll keep him out of the lineup until mid-March, this season is effectively over. The team is still within shouting distance of a playoff spot, so they’re not dead and buried like they have been at this point in recent seasons, and that’s nice, but they’ll need to climb over multiple teams, teams that all have games in hand, to get into a playoff spot. If a healthy roster was on the horizon, maybe they could do it, but as it stands now it’s just not likely to happen. And that gives the Oilers the flexibility to give Brossoit an opportunity right now.
In February and March the Oilers play 29 times in a span of 56 days, finding a start a week for Brossoit shouldn’t be difficult. Ideally he plays well over the last couple of months and helps answer questions about his readiness to be the Oilers’ backup next season that couldn’t have been answered if he was playing in the AHL. Ideally doesn’t always happen though. If he struggles that’s fine too because the team’s playoff fate won’t be affected and he can be sent back to Bakersfield, swapping places with Nilsson who can then play out the rest of the season as the backup. What the team has to gain from bringing him up right now certainly outweighs what they have to lose.
Regardless of how Brossoit plays this season though (assuming a call up of course) the Oilers would still be wise to be careful heading into next season. Anointing him as the team’s backup after a dozen games during garbage time wouldn’t be smart and could set them up for failure should Talbot miss time with an injury next season. If Brossoit is going to be the Oilers backup next season it should be because he beat out someone for the job, someone who preferably has a little longer track record than Nilsson, so a search outside of the organization for that player would be preferable.
For Brossoit’s next contract, his current deal expires at the end of the year as well, I liked a suggestion by speeds on Twitter last night to sign him to a two-year deal, with the first year being a two-way contract. This makes it easier for the Oilers to send him back to the AHL next year if need be while also putting the NHL in his sights in two seasons at the latest. And it means that he’ll sign another deal before the final season of Talbot’s recently signed extension, which should, again, give the Oilers a couple of options and a little flexibility.
If it was up to me to map out the next couple seasons in the Oilers’ net this is what I would do.