Standing tall in Oilers' crease, Koskinen dispels stigma of being a bad contract

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss the play of Mikko Koskinen and how Kyle Turris has reinvented himself.

EDMONTON — It’s been described as general manager Peter Chiarelli’s fluff in the elevator, the three-year, $13.5 million deal he signed goaltender Mikko Koskinen to that was announced literally a day before he was sent out the door in Edmonton.

Hey — we’ve seen a lot of bad contracts, and plenty of bad GMs in our day. But the mix here was so acute, the timing so ridiculous, you had to wonder how something so inane could be allowed to take place?

Chiarelli was convinced there were other GMs lining up to sign the big Finn with the leaky glove hand, and there likely were — for about a third of the money that Koskinen secured from ol’ Sneaky Pete.

Alas, that pay check has forever set the focus on the lens through which the hockey world views Koskinen. His performance, his value, his glove hand… Everything is coloured by the fact his salary places him among the Top 20 wage earners playing goal in the NHL today, yet he isn’t even considered to be a No. 1 in a 32-team league.

“Four-point-five million?!?” they ask.

He makes more than Carter Hart? Than Ilya Sorokin? Than Cam Talbot, Jake Allen, or both Maple Leafs tendies?!?

Heck, Koskinen makes more than two times the salary of the guy he backs up, Mike Smith, whose cap hit is $2.2 million.

But wait a second…

What if Koskinen started playing like a $4.5 million goalie? What if, tasked with finishing a game in which a shaky Smith was removed halfway through and then asked to start the next five games, Koskinen posted the second-best save percentage (.933) in the second-most minutes played by an NHL goalie over that span?

What if, when the No. 1 goalie went down in just the third game of the season, Koskinen rode in and backstopped the team to a 7-1 start, playing like (gulp) a guy who might command a $4 million-plus salary?

“Mental toughness,” began his head coach Dave Tippett. “Last year he was very open about his challenges, without his family, not playing as well as he’d like. He came back with a real purpose, a veteran guy who understands his role on our team. He came back with a chip on his shoulder — he wanted to show people he was still a good player. He’s doing that right now.”

There are, I have found over the years, two prevalent Finnish personalities: Effervescent types like Teemu Selanne, Janne Niinimaa or Ville Nieminen, with sharp senses of humour and a Nordic joie de vivre — elämisen iloa — that made them some of the great personalities in the game.

Then there are the quiet Finns, like Mikka Kiprusoff, Jere Lehtinen or Koskinen. Soft spoken, with a wry and not overused sense of humour. Short answers, long pauses. As little self-promotion as possible.

Koskinen has overcome the stigma of being a “bad contract” that GM Ken Holland simply has not been able to move. He has persevered through the knowledge that almost every shooter in the NHL would go glove side, given the time to have a preference, and he’s walked into the Edmonton Oilers nets this fall and absolutely carried the load.

You’ve got to love a story like this, where a man they once called “The Three Metres of Koskinen” gets up off the mat to stand tall again, at his full, six-foot-seven height.

“Like I said before the season started, I just want to have fun no matter what happens,” the 33-year-old said. “I want it to be fun on the ice, that is my mindset that I have. I am going to try to keep doing that.”

He won’t make the same money in his next contract, and chances are — with Smith on Year 1 of a two-year deal — it probably won’t be here in Edmonton. But if Koskinen’s play continues at this level he’ll end up in an NHL market where the yoke of a big contract will be gone from his shoulders.

The big money? It’s great, we’re sure.

But you’d better stay off of social media, or the sports channels on Canadian TV.

“It’s something I can’t think about,” he said right before the season. “I am here to prove (to) myself, that I can do this. I know that I can do this — that’s all that matters. I can’t control what’s going on outside of me. That’s how life usually goes. You just control and do your best.

“Of course I wasn’t happy the way I played last year, that’s the No. 1 thing,” he added. “But overall, we’re a team. And we couldn’t go as far as we (wanted) to, so that’s the biggest (thing). But I didn’t play well myself, either.”

That’s changing. So, perhaps, are our perceptions of The Three Metres of Koskinen.

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.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.