Evaluating the Edmonton Oilers' goaltending options
Anyone who has read my work will be well aware of my distaste for goaltending. Not necessarily the position itself, but the total unpredictability of it.
It’s the only position in the sport in which you can fairly expect player performance to swing wildly from superstar to liability to average in no particular order in part because the margins between the three are so small.
And yet, it’s by far the most important single factor that can influence a team’s success. Elite goaltending can power a mediocre team to the playoffs, while bad goaltending can plunge a contender into oblivion.
This brings us to the Edmonton Oilers, who only yesterday fired head coach Dave Tippett for results driven in large part by, well, goaltending.
This is hardly anything new for the Oilers. Since Connor McDavid joined the team, they've repeatedly decided that they solved their goaltending problems for good just to see their plans unravel before their eyes.
Cam Talbot, acquired in the 2015 offseason, looked like a franchise netminder in 2016-17 but was just okay in 2017-18 and awful in 2018-19. Mikko Koskinen seemed like a capable enough 1B option until former Edmonton general manager Peter Chiarelli decided to make an investment more fitting of a strong everyday starter. Mike Smith was borderline Vézina-worthy last season before predictably turning back into, well, Mike Smith this year.
While goaltending has been a clear problem for the Oilers since the beginning of the 2017-18 season (allowing over 53 goals above expected in 332 games), the crisis has spiralled out of control in recent weeks. Since the turn of the new year, the Oilers have posted a team save percentage of 88.2, allowing over nine goals above expected in just 12 games.
This was a predictable issue. The Oilers had the potential for a transformative offseason in 2021, blessed with piles of cap space in a flat cap environment where quality players were frequently changing hands. Following a disappointing first-round loss to the Jets, and with Smith turning 39, it was evident to most people that part of that change needed to come in goal. But it didn’t. Oilers general manager Ken Holland doubled down on his tandem, literally: He extended Smith for two years. While players like Alex Nedeljkovic, Frederik Andersen, Darcy Kuemper, Petr Mrázek, and Antti Raanta were available, the Oilers stayed out of the mix. Now they find themselves forced to re-enter the market at an extremely inopportune time.
There are some... options on the market. Not great ones, but we're going to go through them nonetheless, work out the pros and cons, and try to get a sense of what -- if anything -- the Oilers can do to stop the bleeding and start competing.
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