Mike Smith had a good season in 2020-21.
It was a very good season.
In a season limited to 56 games, Mike Smith performed yards, metres, football fields better than I would have given him credit for. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is - can he do it again?
Mike Smith has now spent two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. The two seasons couldn’t have been more different from each other. Smith was signed as a 37 year old free agent in the summer of 2019 to push Mikko Koskinen, and he had a pretty good first month. Smith posted a lot more good numbers than bad ones from the start of the season until his first game in November, where he put together a .935 SV% over that time.
Unfortunately for Smith, he’d have a hard time replicating that success through the remainder of the year. Smith would pick up just 14 wins in his next 39 games played, taking his sparkly .935 SV% down to a .902 SV% by the end of the year. He’d start game 1 of the play-in series against the Chicago Blackhawks, but would be pulled after yielding five goals in just over 26 minutes of play. Koskinen finished the season with a much nicer .917 SV% over the course of 38 games, and it seemed reasonable that Koskinen would likely be the de facto number one going into 2020-21.
My frustration level was high when Ken Holland was unable to land a goaltender in the 2020 offseason. Smith was brought back for a year on a reduced contract and promptly began the year injured. Now at age 38, I thought that might be the last we’d hear from Mike Smith, but he made his way back into the lineup after missing the first 11 games of the year. Koskinen was decidedly less good than one would have hoped. He yielded five goals in three of those 11 games, and the crease was Smith’s for the taking once he returned from injury. Save for a three game stretch against Toronto (one of which he didn’t start), the crease was decidedly Mike Smith’s house from mid-February until the end of the year. Smith put up numbers that I wouldn’t have thought possible, a .923 SV% coupled with three shutouts. Everything was coming up Mike Smith, at least during the regular season. Mikko Koskinen finished with a sub .900 SV%. Smith was rewarded with a two year deal with a 2.2MM cap hit each year.
While Ken Holland got Mike Smith in for two more years, Holland made it obvious that he’d try to be a player in the goalie market once again. Darcy Kuemper’s name was floating around for a half minute, but the Avalanche were able to pick him up before the Oilers were able to make a good enough offer. It seems pretty clear to me that Holland was looking for a Koskinen replacement, but other clubs were reluctant to make a deal. I don’t really know what that says for Mike Smith going forward in 2021-22. I think Smith will be given every opportunity to run in the crease this year, but I also think that Holland sent a message this offseason that he realized Smith was going to turn 40 and that’s not an age that goaltenders tend to maintain their stock for very long. Now that he came back empty handed for a second season in a row, he’ll reluctantly open camp with the same Smith / Koskinen tandem, though Smith is likely to emerge the starter when the regular season opens up.
So what’s Mike Smith going to do this year?
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have Mike Smith doing nearly as well as he ended up doing last year. A .923 SV% and three shutouts? I would have lost a lot on that bet. Now that he’s got a new deal for two years, it’s a very tall order to do it again Smith had a very nice SV% last season, his finest in 9 years. A .923 SV% in 32 games would be spectacular, though I think Tippett will move to have Smith play in at least half of the 82 game regular season in 2021-22. There’s always the chance that Mikko Koskinen comes in and blows the doors off in training camp and emerges with the starting gig, but based on what we’ve seen over the last six months it’s clear that Smith has an inside track to being the number one today.
I don’t think the defence will be as solid this year as it was last year. Bringing in Duncan Keith for any sort of measurable time on the second pair to be paired with one of Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci or Evan Bouchard could cause headaches for everyone involved, and that includes the netminders. The club is apparently still looking for a player to suit up for third pairing left defence even though their roster is littered with them already. Edmonton could find themselves in quite a few 5-4 and 6-5 matchups, which could cause any goaltender’s numbers to look less impressive than they might otherwise.
I’ve got Smith starting about 45 games this season, finishing with a SV% near .910 and two shutouts. I think Mikko Koskinen starts a few more than 30, and we’ll see a game from Alex Stalock here and there. I think he’s the starter on day one, he’s earned a rapport with Dave Tippett and he will see the lion’s share of time in the Oiler crease this season.