No goalie in the NHL has played more games and more minutes over the past two seasons than Edmonton Oilers starter Cam Talbot. It has been a hellacious workload behind a suspect defense that has had to have worn him down during that stretch. Is that the only reason his production regressed significantly in 2017-18, a development that played a big role in the team’s disappointing season? Probably not the only reason, but it probably didn’t help him much, either.
Finding another goalie that could give Talbot an occasional break — and maybe even push him a little bit for playing time — was obviously a pretty big priority for the Oilers’ front office over the summer.
Their solution: Mikko Koskinen, a 30-year-old goalie with four games of NHL experience under his belt that has spent the past seven seasons playing overseas. When it comes to an NHL track record his resume is pretty much the definition of unproven.
Still, despite that lack of NHL experience (all of which came during the 2010-11 season) the Oilers not only liked his potential, but liked his potential so much that they felt he was worthy of a $2.5 million contract for this season in the hopes that he could help solidify the position behind Talbot.
So far in the preseason things have not gone well for Koskinen, entering the weekend with an .855 save percentage, allowing 10 goals on only 69 shots. They are only preseason numbers, of course, but it is still a concerning performance for a goalie that, again, has no NHL track record to speak of.
It also seems that his status on the team is set, especially after the news on Friday that Al Montoya — a veteran backup that does have an NHL track record, and at times a pretty solid one — was placed on waivers with the intention of sending him to the American Hockey League, leaving Koskinen as the backup behind Talbot.
It seems the biggest reason for that development is that along with a $2.5 million contract for the season Koskinen also has a no-movement clause in his contract that no one really knew about until Friday, when it was confirmed by general manager Peter Chiarelli to TSN’s Jason Gregor. That means the only way he gets sent down to the minors is if he agrees to it.
That seems … surprising.
Chiarelli also told Gregor (read more of his comments over at the Edmonton Journal) that he does not foresee it being a problem if it is determined that Koskinen does need to be sent to the AHL, but the fact he could still say “no” is a very real possibility.
It is obviously only a short-term contract for a backup goalie, and if he flops this season the Oilers shrug their shoulders, move on, and find themselves in the same position next summer (when both goalies will be eligible for unrestricted free agency). But it is still remarkable that the Oilers felt the need to give a goalie that has not played in North America in seven years (and the NHL in eight years) that level of guarantee.
Maybe that is the only way the Oilers get him to agree to sign with them? He had other suitors both in the NHL and in Europe. But if that is the case do you really have a reason to believe in him that much that you have to go to that dollar amount and all but guarantee him spot on the roster?
This is also a smaller symptom to a larger problem with the Oilers and their current roster.
If it does not work out it might only turn out to be a little mistake. But little mistakes can add up into big mistakes if you keep making a bunch of little mistakes over and over again. And the Oilers keep making these little mistakes (with too many big mistakes thrown in, too). An extra million or two for Kris Russell here. A guaranteed $2.5 million for Mikko Koskinen there. An extra million and a couple of extra years for Milan Lucic over there. Suddenly you are running out of salary cap space and low-balling your restricted free agents in contract talks and unable to build a contender around the best player in the world. It is tough.
Koskinen could make all of this meaningless if he ends up playing well, but it is still a surprising amount of faith to put in a goalie that is, for all intents and purposes, a total mystery.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.