The Edmonton Oilers have a goalie problem.
Stuart Skinner, who saved the season a year ago with 50 strong games in net, has once again emerged as the team’s starter. Things aren’t going as well this season as they did one year ago for the homegrown stopper.
All numbers below are five-on-five unless noted.
Through his first 12 games one year ago, Skinner delivered a .933 save percentage, a 2.25 goals-against average and, according to Natural Stat Trick, 7.12 goals saved above average.
Through his first 12 games this season, Skinner owns a .904 save percentage, a 2.44 goals-against average and 1.97 goals saved above average, via NST.
His numbers are good not great, the goals-against average experiencing a slight uptick and the save percentage a concern.
The weak special teams work by the entire team has Skinner’s record at a regrettable 4-6-1. Again, not a disaster, but he needs to be better.
Plus he needs some help.
Jack Campbell’s Oilers career has not gone well. This season is worse than last year.
In his first five games of 2022-23, he earned a .915 save percentage, a 2.71 goals-against average and -.9 goals saved above average.
In the first five games of 2023-24, he has an .879 save percentage, a 4.26 goals-against average and is -1.97 goals saved above average.
He is now in the minors, playing for the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL.
The way is clear for Oilers management. Cap restraints suggest the team must move the Campbell contract and acquire a more capable partner for Skinner.
That’s when the heartaches begin. Is it the best way, or is there another option?
The cost of cap dollars
Campbell is in Year 2 of a five-year deal that pays him $5 million a season. The cost, per season, of a $5 million cap hit being taken off the books is heavy.
The Los Angeles Kings were able to move two seasons of Cal Petersen’s contract last summer ($5 million AAV) in exchange for a highly productive right-handed defenceman (Sean Walker), a well-regarded defensive prospect (Helge Grans) and a second-round selection. It was a three-way trade with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It’s difficult to match so many pieces, but the high value of Walker and Grans, plus the second-round pick, suggests that the equivalency for a $5 million contract dump is a high pick or player/prospect of equivalent quality.
So the asset cost of simply moving Campbell starts at three good prospects/picks. If the Oilers can find a team that will accept the 2024 first-round selection, top forward prospect Xavier Bourgault and a more established asset (say Philip Broberg or the currently injured Dylan Holloway), that might be the preferred route for management.
Elliotte Friedman mentioned the Oilers’ interest in all three Montreal Canadiens goaltenders during a segment of “Hockey Night in Canada” on Saturday night.
“The Oilers do continue to look at the goaltender market. A number of teams who were in Montreal said that Edmonton was there looking at all three of Montreal’s goaltenders. I don’t believe there’s anything imminent there, I just think it’s the Oilers continuing to do their due diligence,” Friedman reported.
That creates an interesting set of trade options for the Oilers.
Many Canadiens fans are looking at the Oilers prospect pool and targeting Bourgault or prospect forward Raphael Lavoie, who recently made his NHL debut with Edmonton.
That’s an interesting discussion point, but Montreal management will seek the best deal available and that starts with the 2024 first-round selection.
A quick gathering of the top possible (healthy) trade prospects nets the 2024 and 2025 first-round picks, the 2024 second-round selection, Broberg, Bourgault, Lavoie, Matvey Petrov, Max Wanner and two KHL players (Maxim Berezkin and Nikita Yevseyev) as top options. Goalie Olivier Rodrigue may also have appeal based on his strong showing last year and early this season.
Montreal has three goalies worth considering and enough room to take on a significant cap hit. Here are the goalies in question with each man’s five-on-five numbers this season.
|Player||Cap Hit||Expiry||Save Pct|
Jake Allen is a veteran whose cap hit isn’t far from Campbell’s, so the ask to take on one year of cap might just be one first-round selection (or one of the prospects). Edmonton would have to add to the deal in order to make it level, but from an assets out point of view, it makes sense for both teams.
The question surrounds Allen’s ability as a goalie and his age.
In his last three seasons, Allen’s five-on-five save percentage (.910) is just ahead of Campbell’s (.907) over the same time period.
Is Allen a significant upgrade? Would he arrive in Edmonton and struggle in front of the chaos that is the Oilers’ defence?
Assuming Allen is a reasonable option, and could be had for an acceptable price, can Edmonton management aim higher and find a match?
The ideal solution for the Oilers involves an inexpensive and proven option acquired at a low asset cost.
That’s unlikely. Other NHL teams know the level of desperation in Edmonton and a premium must be paid.
Still, a good goalie, having a solid year, with a reasonable cap hit should come for less than someone like Allen.
James Reimer is a strong option, despite his age (35) and that he won just 12 of 41 decisions one year ago with the San Jose Sharks. His five-on-five save percentage this season (.926) is the best among the three goalies who have played for the Detroit Red Wings. His cap hit ($1.5 million) means the Oilers could acquire him without having to include Campbell (and the assets required to make that happen) in a potential deal. Reimer is unrestricted and might cost just a (high) draft pick.
The Oilers would have to pay a premium to acquire him so early, as Detroit is in the thick of the playoff race and looks stronger this season. It might take a piece from the current roster to get it done. If that piece is a left-handed defenceman or a winger, the Oilers should consider it.
Dan Vladar of the Calgary Flames is struggling at five-on-five this season (just .869 save percentage) but it’s a small sample and Vladar’s overall record is strong. The Flames have three NHL goalies and a deal could be done without adding the Campbell confusion to a deal. Vladar’s cap hit ($2.2 million) would require some adjustment but could be accomplished without a major upheaval.
Jordan Binnington is mentioned as an option by many, but his $6 million AAV contract, which expires in 2027 summer, further compromises the cap. His five-on-five save percentage this season (.934) is splendid.
The best option?
Five-on-five save percentage is the purest measure of a goaltender’s ability to stop pucks. A three-year sample irons out hot and cold streaks and often gives us the best possible view of a specific player. Among the group listed, is there are clear best bet?
Both Montreal goalies are solid options, but the price for Samuel Montembeault would involve a big asset cost and the Canadiens may want to sign him long term. Allen is enjoying a strong season, but his three-year totals are not as strong.
Binnington will cost the moon in cap and assets out.
The best option, based on how things look right now, may well be Vladar in Calgary. He is signed for this season and next, the $2.2 million will fit in with Skinner’s cap ($2.6 million) and allow the Oilers to run the goalie tandem under $5 million annually.
As for Campbell, buying him out next summer is the play here. The Oilers can’t afford to spend more assets to send away management’s mistakes.
It has reached situational critical in that area.
The right choice is Vladar. Brad Holland and the pro scouts may feel differently, but the pull of having the position solved for the next two seasons may be enough to convince upper management.
(Photo of Jack Campbell: David Becker / NHLI via Getty Images)