Capable goaltending tandem a top priority for Oilers’ off-season

NHL insider Mark Spector joins the Jeff Blair Show to discuss what he thinks the criteria is for the Oilers in their GM search, and to suggest a few names that he thinks might be right for this high pressure position.

In an organization that’s in "recovery mode" on almost every front, the Edmonton Oilers head into the summer without a legitimate No. 1 goalie, and Mikko Koskinen about to begin his three-year, $13.5 million deal.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? Koskinen might not be as bad as he appeared, if he were to be in a situation where he was playing 60 per cent of the games, rather than the 92 per cent he played after Cam Talbot was traded last season, when Koskinen started 22 of the Oilers’ final 24 games.

Could Koskinen be a part of a viable tandem if he were given 45 starts? What if the Oilers shored up their blue-line somewhat? Would his numbers be better?

Well, we’re about to find out.

Full disclosure: Koskinen and Talbot split the starts evenly at 29 each before Talbot was dealt, with Koskinen posting a .905 save percentage and a 2.90 goals against average. After Talbot left, and Koskinen was asked to carry the ball, his numbers were .907 and 2.97.

Not much difference, if any, right?

So your name is (insert name of new GM here), and you know that any moves you make with this roster will be undermined if you come back with a tandem that posts an .896 save percentage (27th in the NHL), like Edmonton had last year.

But, as Brian Burke pointed out on "To The Point" Wednesday night, platooning is the new norm in the National Hockey League. Look at the Islanders, Stars, Hurricanes and Flames: On each of those teams, one goalie had between 40-45 starts, and the other was between 33-40.

The number of NHL teams who gave their No. 1 goalie 50 starts in a season has declined from 26 teams in 2017-18, to 22 a season ago, to 19 in 2018-19. Further, of the three Vezina finalists in 2018-19 — Robin Lehner, Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy — only the latter started more than 45 games this season.

Burke figures you don’t want to spend more than about 10 per cent of the expected $83 million salary cap in 2019-20 on the goaltending position. So for the sake of argument, after unwisely spending $4.5 million per season on Koskinen let’s say the new GM has about $3.8 million to spend on another goalie.

He can find plenty of goaltenders for far less than that, including, perhaps, one of the unrestricted free agents who are carrying Carolina through the postseason this spring. Both Petr Mrazek ($1.5 million this season) and backup Curtis McElhinney ($850,000) are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.

Carolina spent less than any other NHL team this season on payroll, so there may be a goalie there for Edmonton. Even doubling their current salaries wouldn’t surpass Burke’s 10 per cent mandate.

The league today is littered with goalies like Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, Darcy Kuemper, Philipp Grubauer, Semyon Varlamov, Antti Niemi, Chad Johnson

Some began as backups and grew into starters, while others have found a niche as a professional backup who is able to gain the trust of their teammates in back-to-back games, and can stand in for a week or two while the starter nurses an injury. There are young goalies like Eric Comrie in Winnipeg, who may be looking for a new address, and older ones like Varlamov who have had their jobs stolen and will take a pay cut in exchange for the ice time they need to re-stake their claim as a No. 1.

A year ago, as teams met the roster deadline at the end of training camp, the Toronto Maple Leafs waived both McElhinney and Calvin Pickard, losing both. Every year there is a decent backup available on waiver day, just waiting there for the GM who is bold enough to keep his powder dry until that late in the preseason.

The alternative? What’s going on with Jake Allen in St. Louis? He makes $4.35 million, and could present an opportunity to shed some salary in a trade.

If you think you can squeeze another 40 games out of UFA Brian Elliott he wouldn’t break the bank.

Pavel Francouz is a UFA coming out of the Avalanche system. He, like Koskinen, had fabulous KHL numbers, but in the AHL Francouz wasn’t any better than Koskinen was in Edmonton.

It’s an important position, but it’s not always an expensive position.

Choose wisely.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.