Al Montoya

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Oilers putting a lot of faith in unproven backup goalie

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Under Pressure: Cam Talbot

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers. 

We here at PHT have had goalies in this spot more times than not so far this month.

It comes with the territory. It’s the most important position on the ice and responsible, ultimately, for how many pucks end up counting against a given team.

Talbot is coming off a season where he wasn’t himself. A .908 save percentage was the worst of his career. He went from stopping over 22 goals above average to a negative number and faced the fourth most shots against of any starter in the NHL. The game he played as he helped lead the Oilers to the brink of the Western Conference Final in 2017 simply wasn’t around this past season.

Talbot’s responsible for his own game, but he was let down by others around him. He faced four more shots per/60 last season than he did before. In fact, Talbot played nearly 450 minutes less last season but still saved just six fewer shots than he did in 2016-17. The Oilers, as has already been mentioned several times today, were an unmitigated disaster last year. Goaltending contributed to that, but Talbot wasn’t the sole reason for it. A better effort from those in front of him could go a long way to his rebound attempt.

Talbot faces the pressure this season of replicating what he did two years ago, because with the lack of moves the Oilers have made to get better this offseason, their season might just hinge on if he can put together another Vezina-caliber type campaign.

[Looking back at ’17-18 | Building off a breakthrough: Darnell Nurse | Three questions]

“I have a pretty good feeling,” Talbot said near the end of the season. “If you compare this season to my first four years, this is the outlier. It wasn’t just last year (that he was solid). I had three good years before that. I don’t see myself as two different goaltenders. I see myself as one guy.”

And those are just the on-ice pressures a goalie faces.

Talbot is entering a contract year and the biggest potential for him to earn big bucks next offseason will come down to his performance. Two out of three seasons with upper echelon numbers and the excuse that the Oilers were bad in his down year will go along way in negotiations, especially if he gets off to a good start.

Talbot’s save percentage never dipped below .917 before last season, so there’s every reason to think that was a just a blip on the radar and not the status quo moving forward.

A rebound season from Talbot should net him a nice salary increase from the near $4.2 million he’s making at the moment. That would present an interesting situation for the cap-strapped Oilers.

There’s not much fat getting trimmed off the cap next summer for the Oilers. Talbot, backup Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya (buried contract) and defenseman Kevin Gravel (making a paltry $700K) are the only UFAs slated for next summer on their current roster. The likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Ty Rattie and Jujhar Khaira are all set to become restricted free agents and will need a raise in some fashion.

The Oilers need Talbot to play very well, but it’s a double-edged sword.

Either way, Talbot faces several pressures this season, from both a team standpoint as well as a personal one. Talbot has proven he can play among the league’s elite in goal. Now he has to prove he can get back there.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Jeff Glass continues his remarkable story

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Players of the Night:

Jeff Glass, Chicago Blackhawks: Sure, his shutout bid was stopped by Patrik Laine in the third period, but he made a game-saving stop on Laine latter in the frame that help the Blackhawks to the win. Glass was on a different level on Friday. What a story he’s become.

Jay Beagle, Washington Capitals: Beagle scored with two seconds left in the third period to break a 3-3 tie and help the Caps to a last-second win.

Al Montoya, Edmonton Oilers: Alvaro stopped all 19 shots he faced after coming in to relieve Cam Talbot. The Oilers rallied in his presence, winning 4-2 after going down 2-0 in the first 3:17 of the g ame.

Highlights of the Night:

This is Jeff Glass doing what a lot of goalies can’t: stopping Patrik Laine’s one-timer.

Ovechkin reclaimed the league-lead in NHL goal scoring, from where he does it best:

Jordan Stall’s 200th NHL goal came on a beautiful set up:

Who needs/wants overtime? Jay Beagle doesn’t:

Factoids of the Night:

Some Beagle facts:

MISC:

Scores:

Canucks 5, Blue Jackets 2

Flames 4, Panthers 2

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 3

Blackhawks 2, Jets 1

Oilers 4, Coyotes 2

Charlie Lindgren’s play allowing Carey Price extra time to recover

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If the Montreal Canadiens were getting ready for a playoff game Tuesday night, then we would be seeing Carey Price back in goal.

But the combination of Price being the franchise goalie, the calendar saying it’s only Nov. 14 and the play of Charlie Lindgren has meant that the netminder will be able to take his time to recover from an injury suffered during warmups on Nov. 2. He’s missed the last five games, but the Habs won four of those five.

Price said on Tuesday that he’s taking a few days off during his recovery because he felt as if he wasn’t progressing like he should have been. He added that the original plan was for him to return Thursday, but now his timeframe for a return is up in the air. The lower-body injury, he stressed, is not related to the MCL sprain in his right knee that kept him out for most of the 2015-16 season.

“It’s been a little bit longer than expected. I kind of expected it to be in the two-week range,” Price said.

As added insurance, and with Al Montoya also injured, the Canadiens claimed Antti Niemi on waivers from the Florida Panthers.

Lindgren has helped the Canadiens win three of his four starts while posting a .974 even strength save percentage. It’s the reverse of two years ago when Montreal’s season went down with Price’s injury. The trio of Mike Condon, Dustin Tokarski and Ben Scrivens couldn’t right the ship. If the 23-year-old Minnesota native is the real deal, he’ll not only keep the team afloat, he’ll also provide head coach Claude Julien with some confidence in his backup allowing Price to get plenty of rest in the second half of the season.

“I just want to make sure that I’m 100 percent and do my job to the best of my ability when I come back,” Price said. “I’m just going to make sure that I take my time with it and it won’t be very long.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Grim times for Canadiens: Price struggles, surgery for Schlemko

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Forgive the Montreal Canadiens if they feel beleaguered heading into Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings (which is part of NBCSN’s doubleheader).

After another captivating-but-polarizing summer of changes thanks to GM Marc Bergevin, the spotlight shone a little brighter on the Habs to start. Such magnification made it tough to hide the blemishes of what’s now a 1-4-1 start, even if abysmal luck takes the ugliness to an unrealistic extreme.

If getting beaten down in the local papers and in conventional wisdom didn’t leave them staggering, the Habs are also closing off a back-to-back set after dropping a fifth game in a row via last night’s loss to San Jose.

The hits keep on coming, too, with news that an already-shaky defense corps will lack savvy free agent addition David Schlemko for an estimated three-to-four weeks following hand surgery.

You know things are dreary when one of the more positive bits revolves around starting Al Montoya instead of Carey Price.

It’s true, though, that Montoya’s the right choice here. Most obviously, Price played last night, and you don’t want to lean too hard on any goalie, even one who will begin to cost $10M per season in 2018-19.

Price check

Price’s struggles feel like a microcosm of what this team is going through, as a whole, right now.

In the short term, it’s difficult to imagine things remaining this abhorrent both for the star goalie and his struggling team.

Price’s save percentage stands at .885 so far this season; he’s never been below .905 for a campaign. A 3.56 GAA won’t persist for a netminder who’s never averaged anything above 2.83 (and that was almost a decade ago).

The Canadiens are still easily the worst team in the NHL in both shooting percentage and save percentage perspectives at even-strength. They’re doing so despite grading well by Natural Stat Trick’s various metrics, including getting a friendly percentage of high-danger scoring chances (their fellow dour would-be contenders, the Oilers, feel their pain).

So, a lot of those patterns will just sort of work themselves out naturally.

Still, there are some nagging concerns.

Price already turned 30, and his new, massive cap hit hasn’t even kicked in yet. While goalies have a decent track record of aging more gracefully than, say, snipers, Price’s history of knee issues provides some worry.

Even if he continues to be Carey Price in italics, there really isn’t a great comparable for his contract (Henrik Lundqvist‘s is the closest, according to Cap Friendly). Montreal could serve as a guinea pig for other NHL teams pondering building around an expensive goalie.

Growing pains or signs of a fall?

There are also unsettling questions about Bergevin’s vision, and the way Julien uses players.

Bergevin’s win-now mentality is the source of plenty of debate, but it’s objectively clear that many of his moves have made the Habs older. Shea Weber‘s considerably older than P.K. Subban, and even very young Jonathan Drouin is a grizzled veteran compared to Mikhail Sergachev.

Re-signing Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t ended that saga, and the Habs can’t just blame the media, either.

At the moment, Galchenyuk ranks ninth in even-strength ice time average among Canadiens forwards. He’s currently slated for fourth-line duty alongside Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky.

If the goal is to eventually trade him, this is a backwards way of doing so. If the goal is to “send him a message,” there seems to be a better time than when your team isn’t exactly setting nets on fire like “NBA Jam.”

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When you break things down issue by issue, it’s reasonable to expect better times. Still, it’s tough to shake the worrying signs overall, whether you’re just looking at 2017-18 or beyond.

Things could at least look a little sunnier if Montreal can dig deep and come out of this California trip with a win or two.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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