EDMONTON — “Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s the proper time to evaluate our goalies.”
Ken Hitchcock was referring to his team’s defensive zone coverage, which has not been strong of late. “There have been a lot of times when we’ve made big errors, and the big errors have come back to haunt us,” he added.
But the fact that, less than 24 hours prior, his general manager had committed three years and $13.5 million to goalie Mikko Koskinen stands at odds with Hitchcock’s point.
General manager Peter Chiarelli is, clearly, quite confident in evaluating his netminders at this stage, and he has chosen Koskinen over Cam Talbot. The latter chose not to speak with the media on Tuesday, and is undoubtedly on the trading block.
The former wasn’t talking either, but we stand at your service in filling in the gaps.
As is so often the case when Chiarelli hits the send button on a missive headed for the NHL’s Central Registry, a myriad of questions ensue. We’ll try to sort a few of them out here:
• Why now? And why so much?
With two pending UFA goalies heading into this season, it was always going to be an audition between Talbot and Koskinen as to who gets re-signed, and who moves on. Koskinen has proven better than expected this season, with a 2.78 goals-against average and a .911 saves percentage, while Talbot (3.27 and .894) has endured his second average-to-subpar season.
By the numbers, it’s an easy decision.
But the answer to why a contract with a $4.5 million AAV that is a million higher than market value gets signed this early? Sorry, it’s too much too soon for a goalie with 31 NHL games on his resume this decade.
We don’t mind the three-year term or the goalie. But as is almost always the case, Chiarelli has panicked and paid too richly. The saving grace is that the Oilers have every chance of spending less on their goalies next season than this, assuming they don’t spend more than about $2 million on Koskinen’s backup.
But why, with the GM’s spending record, would anyone think that’s a possibility?
• Why not wait and find a goalie this summer?
Go to CapFriendly.com, and look at the pending UFA goalies. It is a very thin crop, that implies UFAs will all be overpaid. Waiting on the UFA market was simply not an option.
Could Chiarelli have let both Talbot and Koskinen walk, and then trade for a goalie? He could have, but what if you can’t find the right guy and Koskinen, like almost every goalie who leaves Edmonton, goes somewhere else and plays great?
Personally, we wouldn’t take that risk. We’d have hung on to Koskinen, but would have grinded harder on the contract number.
• Is Hitchcock right? Is this a bad time to evaluate goalies?
We’ve got news for you: The past 20 years has been a bad time to evaluate goalies here in Edmonton. Devan Dubnyk and Laurent Brossoit are examples of netminders who look a lot better behind teams with stronger rosters that play proper defensive hockey.
Take Talbot, for instance. He was fabulous here two seasons ago, but his game has eroded for two consecutive seasons.
Experts say that a goalie can only overcome his environment for a finite period of time. It looks very much like Talbot overcame in 2016-17, but for the past two seasons, a shoddy and unpredictable defensive zone environment has run him into sub-.900 save percentage territory.
Will that now happen to Koskinen? Unless this GM — or the next one — finds a way to improve the roster, we will guarantee you that the Koskinen signing will look bad two years from now.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here. I like the team,” Koskinen said Tuesday. “I think there is huge potential here. I want to win, that’s the biggest part of why I want to stay here and I truly believe this team and this organization, we can prove many guys wrong and we can show each other that we have what it takes.”
What we’re finding here in Edmonton is it’s not the goalie as much as the players in front of him.
Just like it’s not the coach, but the players in front of him.
Fix that issue, and everyone will look better.