EDMONTON – Evander Kane, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyson Barrie, Mike Smith…
If you’re still not sure what the Edmonton Oilers’ top priority is this summer, then you are either: A, not paying close enough attention; or B, didn’t hear Ken Holland’s year-end press conference on Wednesday.
“Do you have a No. 1 goalkeeper for next season?” Holland was asked directly.
It was perhaps the shortest answer he gave all day:
“No, I don’t think we have a number one goalkeeper. I do not know.”
Holland narrowed that thought further, but after the first two sentences, the rest is respectfully just word salad.
With a collective Final Four appearance, Holland’s team is officially in the window where – with the right adjustments and a little luck – they can be considered legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup.
But can that be said about a team that doesn’t have a qualified, recognized #1 goaltender? We’re not sure you can.
This is how Holland’s summer goes. After unsuccessfully chasing Jacob Markstrom and Darcy Kuemper for the past few summers, it’s not as if he hasn’t been looking for a No. 1 since the day he walked in the door here in Edmonton.
But they don’t pay him $5 million a season for making an effort. Just like we said about his players, it’s time for results.
This is an absolutely critical issue at a critical time here in Edmonton. Mikko Koskinen’s outrageous contract is finally up, young Stuart Skinner is poised to be an NHL backup and Smith has a year left with $2.2 million but could be an LTIR candidate.
Today Holland has two backups under contract but no No.1.
That needs to change.
“For me, a number one goalkeeper can play 55 to 60 games. How many are in the league? Ten or twelve of them?” asked Holland. “I don’t know if any of them are available – I haven’t worked on the phone. I haven’t met Smitty yet, I’m not sure what he thinks…”
The media caught up with Smith on Tuesday, and we asked him if he can still be the No. 1 goaltender in the National Hockey League at the age of 40. He thought about it for a moment.
“I don’t know,” was his reply.
Our answer: He can’t.
We’ve seen a few 40-year-old backups in our time, but never a real starter. Smith has been injured for most of the season, an aspect of his age, and picked up another injury in the playoffs, Holland said.
Smith grew tired as the playoffs progressed, and a team that needs to figure out how to achieve their goals going forward simply needs better goalkeeping to be a part of that journey — period.
This team won’t win without a #1 goaltender. We all know that, including Holland.
Where this goalkeeper comes from, however, is the great unknown.
“Do I want a #1 keeper, a stallion? Yes. I think 32 teams want that,” Holland began. “It’s like NFL quarterbacks — there aren’t 30 (legitimate starters). It’s a unique position, so there’s only a small amount of it. And many of them are homemade. They’ve moved in. They are evolved.”
Igor Shesterkin. Andrei Vasilyevsky. Jake Oettinger. Juuse Saros. Tristan Jarry. Carter Hart. Carey Prize. Thatcher Demko. Connor Hellebuyck. Elvis Merzlikins. Ilya Sorokin. John Gibson.
Everyone still plays for the team that drafted them.
Then there are the upcoming UFAs: Marc-Andre Fleury, Kuemper, Jack Campbell, Jake Oettinger. What about Ville Husso, a UFA in St. Louis? Maybe.
But that was it for free agent goalies, who we consider legitimate No. 1s or close to it. The rest of the outstanding free agents are goalies who used to be No. 1s but aren’t anymore, or guys who never were.
You would have to trade Leon Draisaitl to get Oettinger from Dallas. Does not happen.
Fleury didn’t want to come to Edmonton at the close. Who knows if he would change his mind?
Kümper? Perhaps, although his injury history doesn’t inspire confidence.
campell? At the age of 30, Campbell has only surpassed 25 starts once in his career. That doesn’t define a legitimate #1 in almost anyone’s books.
“I have to go through a process and figure out what to do, where we’re going,” Holland said. “To think we’re going to end up with a number one who can play 60 games and he’s a legitimate number one? He’s 27, 28 years old? The chances of that happening are pretty slim.
“But I didn’t work the phones. I don’t know what other managers think about who is available and who isn’t. Is one available at a massive price? You won’t give these guys away. They will demand a tremendous price.”
Semyon Varlamov on Long Island or Gibson in Anaheim? Both have long no-trade lists.
That then makes all the question marks and unfortunately for Holland he is flush with those.
With more questions than answers in his fold, Holland makes the big bucks.
He needs a goalkeeper. Not now, but now.