EDMONTON — The beauty about being the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers is that you have so much free help.
Ken Holland is never alone when it comes to making decisions. He has half a million voices in his ear, sports radio jocks, analytics gurus, eye test folks...
And then there are us hockey writers, a group still waiting to make our mistake. (Sarcasm alert)
What a bonus it must be for Holland!
So, without further adieu, let’s GM the Oilers through their current goaltending crisis, shall we? After a day spent on the phone Thursday, speaking with people from different corners of the business, here is what Holland would be thinking about as he comes to the realization that his team simply can not go any further without a change in net.
What about simply bringing up Stuart Skinner?
For now? Sure.
As the ultimate solution? Forget it.
Taking a prospect and pinning your team’s playoff hopes on him is bad business.
Sure, Skinner can be part of any solution. He’s a nice young goalie. But the Oilers have nurtured this player along too well to throw him to the wolves now. What happens to his confidence if he lays an egg down the stretch, or in the playoffs, and another Oilers' failure sits at his feet? You just don’t take that chance with a prospect who has 14 NHL games played.
Now, if Smith isn’t considerably better in his next start, it’s his last one for a while. I’m farming him out and calling up Skinner. Smith’s game is still in November while the rest of the league is finding a March groove. When Smith is right he’s still my best goalie. But I’m not wasting anymore points on catching his game up to speed.
OK, who then?
Well, the word on the proverbial street is that Edmonton is not Marc-Andre Fleury’s first choice as a trade destination. Ever hear that before, Oilers fan?
The offshoot of that is, Edmonton will have to wait until much closer to the March 21 trade deadline, hoping that the Washingtons, Torontos, and any other preferable market that might lose a goalie to injury, drop off. Then Holland would have to pray that Fleury chooses his club at the wire. The good news is, by then the acquisition price will have fallen.
The only other significant upgrade we can identify is New York Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, who has one more year at $5 million. The Isles are toast this season and Ilya Sorokin has claimed the No. 1 job there. There is a deal to be made that could easily include Mikko Koskinen’s $4.5 million cap hit, though with Isles GM Lou Lamoriello is under no pressure to trade, the price at the NHL Trade Deadline will be higher than it would be at the June Draft.
But I can’t wait until then…
James Reimer? Great guy, awesome backup, but has Reimer ever been a goalie worth giving up a first-round pick for? A legit ‘A’ goalie? Not for me.
Detroit’s Tomas Greiss? You could get him, but his numbers are no better than Koskinen’s.
Anaheim’s John Gibson? He has a 10-team no-trade list. Do you think the Oilers aren’t on there?
Rangers backup Alexander Georgiev? He has an .898 behind a good Rangers team.
What about Philadelphia? Would you trade Carter Hart, if you were the Flyers? Is Martin Jones a serious upgrade for Edmonton?
What about Columbus? The goalie I want, Elvis Merzlikins, isn’t available. The guy who is — Joonas Korpisalo — has an .877 this season, and a career saves percentage of .903.
How about Braden Holtby from Dallas? In the past four years, Holtby has a .905 saves percentage, and the Stars are battling Edmonton in the wild-card race. But, he’s a pending UFA. If Dallas falls off I would consider.
Is this like 2006, when the Oilers gave up a first-round pick for Dwayne Roloson?
I’m not much for those comparisons, but this is pretty close.
Edmonton’s defensive game isn’t Stanley Cup worthy, but with 30 games to play, they are starting to look like a team that could win low-scoring playoff games in May — if they get saves.
For me, an acquisition is really about beating Vegas and Calgary, both of whom have vastly better goaltending than Edmonton. If Edmonton’s defensive structure continues to mature, and they had a goalie who could at least resemble the level that Jacob Markstrom or Robin Lehner brings every night, are the Oilers skaters able to knock those teams off in a playoff series?
I won’t predict that they will quite yet. But with a goalie behind them, I won’t say they can not win the Pacific.
So, what am I giving up?
For Fleury or Varlamov, it’s my 2022 first-round pick and a prospect.
That’s why I bend towards Varlamov, because at least he has a year left on his deal. Fleury has the Stanley Cup pedigree, but even with him in goal do the Oilers win a Cup? Or do they go to a second or third round, and then he splits for warmer pastures after the season?
The first-round pick is non-negotiable. The prospect, however…
I’ll give up Dmitri Samorukov. I won’t give up Philip Broberg.
I’ll give up Ilya Konovalov or maybe even Rafael Lavoie. I won’t give up Dylan Holloway or Carter Savoie.