Despite a poor stretch during the middle of the season in which it appeared the Edmonton Oilers might not even make the playoffs, the team turned it around and reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2006. Unfortunately, the Oilers lost in four straight to the Colorado Avalanche.
By the time Edmonton got to the Conference Final, many of its players, including Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, were dealing with debilitating injuries. Overall, it was a valiant effort for the Oilers and a step in the right direction, but the team is going to need a legit top-10 goaltender if it’s going to take the next step.
Look no further than the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has had the benefit of a deep roster but also Andrei Vasilevksiy, who is easily a top-three goaltender if not the best in the world. Colorado might be an exception, but Darcy Keumper is, at the very least, solid and consistent – something that Mike Smith is not.
Mike Smith Cost the Oilers in the Playoffs
Colorado swept the Oilers and, aside from Game 4, it wasn’t really close in any of the four games. So it’s hard to completely fault Smith, but the veteran goaltender certainly didn’t do the Oilers any favors or inspire confidence.
Smith made a series of gaffes trying to play the puck throughout the playoffs, the most critical of which was in Game 4 against Colorado when he coughed the puck up, ultimately leading to an Avalanche goal and come-from-behind victory. He also made a similar error in Game 4 against Calgary, but Edmonton was able to win that game.
Simply put, the Oilers did as well as they did in the playoffs in spite of Smith. There’s a real argument that they could have been in the Stanley Cup Finals right now if they had better goaltending.
Edmonton will have Smith, 40, under contract for one more season at a cap hit of $2.2 million. That’s a reasonable number for a goaltender of his caliber on an average team, but the Oilers need much better. Stuart Skinner is also under contract, but likely not ready to be an elite starter in the NHL; the 23-year-old played 13 games with the Oilers last season and recorded a 2.62 goals against average and .913 save percentage.
There’s not really a lot of options on the free-agent market either. Marc-Andre Fleury could be an intriguing option, but does he want to move again this off-season? And as good as he is, he’s also prone to making the same type of blunders as Smith.
Other free-agent options include Kuemper, Jaroslav Halak, Martin Jones, Jack Campbell, and Braden Holtby. Kuemper, Holtby, and Campbell could be solid options, but likely won’t help the team win a Stanley Cup.
Trade candidates include John Gibson, Carey Price, Semyon Varlamov, Alexander Georgiev, and Joonas Korpisalo. Gibson makes the most sense, even if his numbers weren’t all that great last season. The Oilers don’t have a ton of cap space, so would have to be creative in any deal they attempt.