What’s going on with the Oilers’ goaltending situation?
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to another edition of McKenna and Quadrelli, a series in which veteran pro goaltender Mike McKenna and David Quadrelli diagnose and examine goaltending storylines around the hockey world.

In our first installment, we broke down Nashville Predators prospect Yaroslav Askarov’s game, and here, we talk about the Edmonton Oilers’ goaltending situation.

Quadrelli: OK, let’s start right off the hop here. Fans in Edmonton are hoping that Stuart Skinner can be a Jordan Binnington-type savior for them. Do you see any similarities or chances that actually happens?

McKenna: Sure, there’s a chance Skinner comes in and runs with it, but I don’t think it’s as likely as Binnington’s improbable run for a few reasons. First, Binnington spent five-and-a half-years grinding in the minors and had solid numbers in all of them. He was never below a .900 save percentage, and he had flashes of dominance. Yet for whatever reason, the Blues didn’t give him a chance.

Skinner didn’t really find success in the minor leagues until last season. I saw him play several games for the Bakersfield Condors, and he caught my eye. I saw potential. After a few middling seasons shuttling between the ECHL and AHL, it seemed like he’d finally hit his stride.

I haven’t seen the consistency — or swagger — out of Skinner in the same way Binnington showed early in his NHL career, but right now, I do think Skinner might be the best goalie in the Oilers’ system.

Quadrelli: What about his game catches your eye and is going to make Stuart Skinner a successful goalie? Is his game going to be complemented or hurt by the Oilers’ defense?

McKenna: I think Skinner has a really good command of the technical aspect of his game. He’s judicious with his depth and rarely strays outside the blue paint. That’s good. It means he’s usually square to the shooter. His post-integrations are well-oiled and effective. He mostly plays between the posts, which lets him use that big 6-foot-4 frame.

So that’s all good for when the Oilers are defending in their own zone. Skinner is a more aggressive than Mike Smith when it comes to depth, but that’s most goalies in the NHL. Skinner likes to have his toes around the top of the crease.

What I am concerned with is rush chances against. Skinner doesn’t play with much backward flow, and because of that, he can get flat-footed. That’s not ideal when facing an odd-man rush. He can be trusted if the puck carrier elects to shoot, but any lateral pass will be hard for Skinner to catch up to because he has little backward or diagonal momentum.

Quadrelli: Is this something in your experience and knowledge is relatively coachable and fixable? Or will this be a vice for him for a long time?

McKenna: It is teachable, but the goaltender – as well as his goaltending coach – has to believe in it. That’s what I can’t say for certain if Skinner would adapt to having more skating in his game. He’s an efficient skater but not a great one. Can he push his game further in that regard? I believe it would make him more dynamic.

I’m not advocating for Skinner to make drastic changes. Backwards flow doesn’t mean the same thing it did even 10 years ago, when goalies would roam several feet outside of the crease on rush chances. Backward flow by today’s standard really just means releasing the edges and slowly drifting backwards to accept the rush. I think it would help him.

Quadrelli: Interesting. Now, let’s talk about that goaltending situation as a whole. To me, the Oilers’ best chances at turning this around are if Mike Smith can somehow turn it around. That just seems like a tall ask of a 39-year-old goaltender. 

The most realistic option seems to be Skinner. How do you view the situation and their best chances of getting out of this?

McKenna: I agree, David. Although I do like Skinner and wish he’d get more of a chance. Mike Smith was incredible last season, and he’s updated his game in recent years. That’s admirable, especially for a goaltender as late in his career as Smith. But his health is a major concern. The 2021-22 season is halfway over, and he’s only played six games.

Adding fuel to the fire, Smith didn’t look like himself against St. Louis and New Jersey in late December. Some of it is probably just rust from the time off, but you have to wonder if he’s fighting through injury.

To me it all depends on Smith’s health and if he can get back to form. I like Skinner, but I’m not sure he’s ready for the moment. His NHL sample size is small, but he’s also been relatively consistent and stolen a few wins. Some of his best games have been when he faced a lot of shots. That’s encouraging.

Even though the season is less than halfway over, there isn’t much time to get this figured out. Smith needs to get going in the next two weeks, and the Oilers need to figure out the Koskinen situation immediately

Quadrelli: And what did you make of Dave Tippett and Mikko Koskinen’s comments?

McKenna: It’s pretty simple for me. The bridge between Tippett and Koskinen has been burned. Even if they talked it out, that resentment will linger. Koskinen knows his time is up in Edmonton. I took Tippett’s comments as a shot to Ken Holland, basically saying, “I can’t win with this guy.” Tippett also referred to Koskinen as “our goaltender” rather than his name. Again, bad messaging.

I like that Koskinen stood up for himself while taking ownership of his own play. He struggled against the Rangers, but he was also right when he said that the team hasn’t scored enough in front of him. Clearly he’d had enough of being the whipping boy on an underperforming team.

Quadrelli: What’s your take on what’s actually plaguing this team — is it actually just goaltending?

McKenna: It starts with goaltending, but Edmonton doesn’t have any depth up front right now. Turris and Ryan have been absent. They need another D. But I don’t think Edmonton works hard enough. Teams have figured out how to beat them. Take away middle ice. Tight gaps in the neutral zone. Stay out of the penalty box. If an opposing team can do those things, Edmonton struggles to gain points.

Quadrelli: So ultimately, if an Oilers fan asks you to help ease their mind, what are you telling them? Do you believe they can actually figure this out?

McKenna: Well I don’t like being a downer, but I don’t see a clear path right now. I hope that Smith gets healthy and regains form and hope that Skinner’s development has taken another step and he’s ready for the big time. Neither of which is exactly a sure bet. But I also don’t see anything on the trade horizon that’s doable for the Oilers. Sure, goalies are available, but teams all know Edmonton is desperate to find one and the price is probably through the roof right now. For a team up against the salary cap, that’s a tough spot to be in. Especially when this past offseason, everyone saw this exact problem coming.

This article first appeared on Daily Faceoff and was syndicated with permission.

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