The Edmonton Oilers are in an interesting spot right now with their goaltending.
With Cam Talbot expected to be out of action for another week or so, the team will be relying on two goalies with less than 22 NHL games between them. Both Laurent Brossoit and Nick Ellis are reasonable NHL prospects, but the Oilers are taking a risk with so much inexperience between the pipes. And it doesn’t come at a great time either - the Oilers are second last in the Pacific division and desperately need to be winning games to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.
So what’s the best approach for management to take?
The first option they have is to stick with their young guys, and give them a chance to establish themselves as legitimate NHL options. The Oilers made a commitment to Brossoit in February of 2016, signing him to a two-year deal following his entry-level contract. And at last year’s trade deadline when the Oilers were making their push for a playoff spot, management reaffirmed their commitment, electing to stick with Brossoit rather than find a more experienced goalie for the post-season. Ellis was signed to a two-year entry level deal out of college in 2016, and has since started 45 games for the Bakersfield Condors. Considering the dollars and development time invested in both goalies, the team may feel compelled to give them their reps at the NHL level. But it is the riskiest course of action at such a critical point of the season.
A second option for the Oilers, which is probably the most conservative (and therefore most acceptable) approach, is to acquire a more proven, veteran goaltender that has experience as a starter in the league. The team likely won’t want to spend too many assets to acquire this level of goaltending, as it would be more of a stop-gap while Brossoit and Ellis continue developing. The assumption here is that the Oilers want to retain one or both of their prospects long-term and sign them to new deals when they become restricted free agents at the end of the season.
Both of these options are fine, but it would be in the Oilers’ best interest if they approached their goalie situation a little differently and took a more aggressive approach with a long-term vision for the roster.
What the Oilers have to be mindful of is the fact that Talbot’s contract expires after next season, when he’ll be 32 years old. Where his performance levels are at by then is unknown - we might see a decline in his numbers or he might be one of the few goalies that ages gracefully. Either way, the Oilers have to be prepared and be in a position of strength when negotiating Talbot’s next contract. And to really reduce the chances of them potentially overpaying Talbot and taking on unnecessary risk, the Oilers should today be targeting a goalie who could not only help them win games this season, but also make a serious push for the starting position.
This is by no means writing Talbot off as a starting goalie. He was one of the key players for the team last season starting 86 of the 95 games (regular season and playoffs), finishing with a 92.9% even-strength (5v5) save percentage. As fans, we obviously want him to get out of the funk he’s in right now and backstop this team to a championship.
But the reality is the Oilers have to be mindful of the cap and the risks that they take on with any player contract. If the team can transition the starting role to a more capable goaltender on a value deal, it’ll put them in a better position to fill other areas of the roster. It’s for this reason that the Oilers really should be targeting a goalie today that has starter potential, similar to what Talbot was when the Oilers acquired him from New York. Rather than pursuing aging, veteran netminders or AHL journeymen, the Oilers should be looking for younger goalies with upside.
Whatever the Oilers do with their goaltending, they need to focus on saving the season but also keep an eye on the ultimate goal of winning a championship. In my opinion, if the team is willing to move assets out to improve their goaltending today, they should address their long-term needs as well.