The Edmonton Oilers received bad news at the start of their main training camp. Oilers general manager Ken Holland announced that goaltender Alex Stalock is unlikely to play this season as he continues to get evaluated for a possible heart condition he developed after contracting COVID-19. This may not seem like big news to a lot of hockey fans—that a goalie ranked third on the Oilers’ depth chart may be out for the season—but it throws a real curve in Holland’s plan for his goaltenders for the 2021-22 NHL season. Based on information available in the offseason, it seemed like Stalock had a legitimate chance to compete for the backup position.
The Oilers didn’t make major changes to their goaltending over the summer. Holland chose to re-sign veteran Mike Smith to a two-year contract, and stick with Mikko Koskinen for the final year of his contract. Stalock was the wild card in the Oilers’ plans for this season. He played well for the Minnesota Wild before the pandemic and started all four of the Wild’s games against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs qualifying round. From all accounts, he appeared ready to compete. The news of him being unable to participate in camp has changed the conversation for the Oilers in a challenging way.
Edmonton Oilers’ Goaltending Situation in 2021-22
With Stalock out for the foreseeable future, Stuart Skinner moves up the depth chart. Whether he’s ready to beat out Koskinen for the No. 2 role remains to be seen. That leaves the Oilers looking like they will start the season with the combination of Smith and Koskinen. Both have appeared to be in great shape coming into camp and are ready for the upcoming season. Smith will be the number one goalie going forward and Koskinen is looking for a rebound year after a challenging 2020-21 season.
Last season, they combined for the seventh-best team save percentage in the NHL. However, questions remain. Can Smith stay healthy and repeat his performance of last season? Will Koskinen restore his confidence and that of some of the fan base with a bounce-back season? According to Rob Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun, Koskinen worked on the technical and mental aspects of his game in the offseason, and this season, he will have his family join him in Edmonton. That could be a big boost for him. (From “Tychkowski: ‘Edmonton Oilers season riding on shoulders of Smith and Koskinen’, Edmonton Sun, 9/24/21)
The Oilers Need a Backup Plan if Their Goaltending Falters
Placing your hopes on a 39-year-old starter and a backup who struggled last season makes for restless nights for Oilers brass and the fan base. If injuries or bad luck hit the Oilers goaltenders early on this season, Holland will have to react quickly. The organization seems to be in the “win-now” mindset, especially with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl entering the prime years of their careers.
The Oilers may have to look at trading assets and shuffling cap space in order to land a solid goalie not only for this season but for the future. A keeper like John Gibson from the Anaheim Ducks might be a pipe dream. He would be a goaltender some fans would love to see in Edmonton. But, what is realistic? What if you could make a deal for Carter Hart or former Edmonton Oil King standout Tristan Jarry?
Skinner could be the answer the Oilers have been looking for. He fits under the salary cap, but he might need one more season down on the farm with the Oilers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Bakersfield. However, it may not be a good idea to rule him out. After watching Sherwood Park’s own Chuba Hubbard take over for the injured Christian McCaffrey in the third game of the Carolina Panthers’ NFL season, similarities between him and Skinner might be there. The Fox announcers were dismissing Hubbard and lamenting the loss of McCaffrey, but if you’ve followed the career of Hubbard, you know this might be his big break, and 2021-22 might provide Skinner with a similar break too.
Based on past history of Oilers goaltenders, including Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog, Bill Ranford and Dwayne Roloson, fans are ready for the next great goalie in Oil Country to take the team far in the playoffs. If Smith, Koskinen or Skinner can’t do the job this season, Holland—a former pro goalie himself—needs to look under every rock and at every angle to find the right goaltender. If you were the general manager of the Oilers, what would you do if goaltending becomes an issue this season?
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.