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Going Back To The Well?

A return to Mike Smith is probably the easiest path towards securing a backup goaltender. It’s probably not the best.

New Jersey Devils v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Oilers GM Ken Holland is going to have his work cut out for him over the next few months. He’s got to figure out which pieces he’s going to move out, which pieces he’s going to keep, and how he plans on doing it on just a few dollars. He’ll no doubt want to make a deal with Ethan Bear, probably one for Matthew Benning. Maybe Adam Larsson is on the way out? Maybe it’s Kris Russell instead.

One of the easiest decisions Ken Holland should have is figuring out what he’ll do for a backup goaltender. I say “backup goaltender” because as nice as it would be to get a 1B goaltender in alongside Mikko Koskinen, there’s that pesky cost thing. There are a couple of goaltenders who are on the big ticket market like Robin Lehner or Braden Holtby, but the Oilers would have to move out a contract or two just to be able to afford that cap hit. Even then, convincing a prime UFA goaltender to come to Edmonton could prove to be a challenge.

Unless the Oilers move some big cap hits out, there’s no room for a big ticket goaltender. In other words, don’t expect a big ticket goaltender.

However they proceed, the Oilers ought to seriously consider moving on from Mike Smith. Ken Holland is quoted as saying that he’s “comfortable” with the idea of bringing Mike Smith back for another year. Unless this is an absolute last resort, I’d politely pass.

Smith was brought in last summer to help push Mikko Koskinen for the number one spot. A one year deal valued at 2MM, Smith’s deal was OK because if the wheels fell off completely, the Oilers were afforded the ability to cut the cord quickly and move on.

Smith finished the season at 19-12-6 with one shutout. He finished with a .902 SV% (.908 5 on 5, his lowest since 2010-11) and a 2.95 GAA. He allowed five goals in 27 shots over two periods of play during the play-in series versus the Chicago Blackhawks this year. Smith’s .902 SV% puts him at 36th out of 45 goaltenders who played 30 or more games this season. It’s a little bit better than Smith’s .898 last season with the Calgary Flames, but both of these seasons are significant dropoffs from a much more impressive .916 in 2017-18.

Smith turned 38 years of age in March, and I’d be especially worried that another dropoff is near. I’m not sold that another year of 30 or 35 games around .900 are what the Oilers need to help solidify a playoff berth.

The UFA route is lean this year, though there are a handful of journeymen available. If the Oilers are looking for a serious 1B, it sure looks like the Penguins are going to deal one of Tristian Jarry or Matt Murray. Could Holland send a piece back? Linus Ullmark posted a .915 SV% with the Sabres this year, though he suffered through a back injury. At 1.325MM last year, could the Oilers make a move? A few other goaltenders fill out the ranks - I’d pass on Louis Domingue (UFA), but kicking the tires on Laurent Brossoit (RFA) might not be terrible.

Holland’s got some tough sledding ahead of him, and finding a suitable netminder to play alongside of Mikko Koskinen is just one of those decisions he’ll have to come to. Unless it’s an absolute last choice, he ought to steer clear of Mike Smith in 2020-21.