EDMONTON — When Peter Chiarelli announced a one-year, US $2.5 million contract for a goalie named Mikko Koskinen, it sparked a convenient, two-step process for the legions of the Edmonton general manager’s critics.
One: Go directly to HockeyDB.com and answer the question, “Koskinen? Is that the guy who played for the Islanders, like, 10 years ago?”
Two: Jump right on Twitter and start ticking off the boxes of Chiarelli ineptitude:
• Overspending: Too much money for a backup goalie, by about 150 per cent.
• Talent evaluation: This was just another Taylor-Hall-for-Adam-Larsson, Ryan-Strome-for-Jordan-Eberle, “two high draft picks for Griffin Reinhart” caliber transaction.
• Lousy cap management — Well, then. Where are the wingers coming from now…?
Yep, what a stupid acquisition that Koskinen turned out to be.
Today, among NHL goalies who have played more than 800 minutes this season, Koskinen’s .929 saves percentage lies below only Jaroslav Halak and Pekka Rinne, who are tied at .930. As for goals against average, Koskinen’s 2.06 ranks second in that same group behind only Rinne (1.96).
He has started only 13 of Edmonton’s 30 games, but Ken Hitchcock has gone with Koskinen in seven of the 10 games he has been behind the Oiler bench. The big Finn has rewarded him with a 5-1-0-1 record.
Koskinen, 30, shut out Calgary 1-0 on Sunday night (his third goose egg of the season), and will get the start Tuesday night in Colorado. Hitchcock says he’ll then decide how he’ll split up a Thursday-Friday back to back between Koskinen and the supplanted Cam Talbot.
So, when we approached the loquacious Euro to talk about his success. I’ll tell you, we could barely shut the guy up.
“You have to be confident all the time. It doesn’t matter, one game,” said the six-foot-seven goaler. “I feel comfortable in the net, but I still believe I can do better.”
His three shutouts rank second in the league. He was quite ecstatic to talk about that as well.
“That’s three wins. Doesn’t matter, 6-5 or 5-0. A win is a win.”
After that extended oration, Koskinen blathered on about his prowess at the card table: “I’m not very good at the games. I lose all the time.”
Then, as our digital recorder maxed out, he moved the conversation to his future in the NHL, a league he spent four games in eight years ago, and now seems to have mastered:
“The only thing I worry about is what I do every day. You can’t look into the future. It’s not going to do any good for me to look at what it’s going to be at after three months.”
Ok, ok… Let someone else get a word in, will you?
We should say, that two-step process for evaluating the Koskinen signing wasn’t far off our own take on Chiarelli’s work. We’ll even admit to questioning a No Movement Clause in the deal. Because let’s face it: If the player didn’t work out in Edmonton, it is impossible to move a $2.5 million goalie who isn’t stopping pucks. So, what was the point?
In the end, we surmised this much, because despite making some mighty questionable trades, Chiarelli had to have a plan here: In Koskinen, he must see more than just a backup. With Talbot in a contract season, the GM must have landed a goalie who he thinks could be a No. 1.
Lo and behold, that’s exactly what Chiarelli has.
“You just want another team guy,” Talbot said when we asked him who the ideal partner would be. “A guy who is going to root for you as much as he wants to do well himself. We have that kind of chemistry now between Mikko and I. He’s up there with some of the best partners I’ve ever had.”
“We both want the net,” Talbot assures. “But internal competition makes both of us better.”
As for Hitchcock, he’ll let the cream rise to the top, but he’ll never make the mistake he made in Dallas. There, the old coach let Kari Lehtonen languish for too long, and when Ben Bishop got hurt Lehtonen wasn’t ready to step in. It cost the Stars a playoff berth.
Talbot will get his games, and he’s been excellent in his past two starts. But it’s not looking like Koskinen — known back home as the Three Metres of Koskinen due to his height — is about to relinquish the No. 1 job any time soon.
“He’s a tough guy. He’s pushing the goalie coach, he’s pushing me,” said Hitchcock. “He let’s go of the game right away and wants to know immediately the details of what he needs to do to get better. He’s a pro’s pro.”
Koskinen’s coach in St. Petersburg of the KHL was Hitchcock’s old defenceman in Dallas — Sergei Zubov.
“He’s a tough guy — way harder on himself than any of us are,” Hitchcock said of Koskinen. “That’s what Zoobie said: ‘You’re never going to have a problem preparation-wise or analyzing his performance. He’ll be way harder on himself than you can ever be.’”
As hard, you might say, as fans were on the GM who signed him.