On a day where the Oilers placed the guy who they traded for the guy who they traded Jordan Eberle for on waivers (Ryan Spooner), along with the guy that they thought was good because he went hot for three weeks on Connor McDavid’s wing (Ty Rattie), you would think that the above line would be the biggest head-scratcher to come out of Edmonton. Anything more in the same day would be absurd, even for them.
Hearing EDM re-signing Koskinen to a three-year deal at $4.5M AAV
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 21, 2019
For those of you who aren’t super familiar with Mikko Koskinen, let’s catch you up: he’s the starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers these days. Originally drafted by the New York Islanders in 2009, Koskinen found himself back in the North American spotlight after an incredible year with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, where he posted a 22-4-1 record and 0.937 save percentage.
It’s worth keeping in mind that SKA are basically the KHL’s Golden State Warriors (if the Warriors were funded under the table by the government), and that this year was a big anomaly for him. But, all the same, Koskinen has found success in Europe over the years, succeeding in Liiga and the KHL from his early days as a 20-year-old pro rookie, to the six years he spent in Russia playing for SKA and Sibir.
Yes, six years. Koskinen is 30 years old and will turn 31 before he plays a game on this deal. This alone should be a cause for alarm; age curves are real, and while they’re a bit slower on goalies and he has fewer games on his body, it’s not likely that a 31-year-old will start trending upward into a heavy-workload starter.
So far this season, Koskinen has played in 27 of Edmonton’s 49 games, putting up a 14-10-1 record and a 0.911 save percentage. In most years, that would be below the NHL’s league average. Right now, it’s slightly higher – and definitely better that Cam Talbot, who started his career slow, bloomed late, was acquired by Edmonton, looked like their answer in goal, signed a three-year deal midway through his first full season worth about $4.1 million a year, looked worthwhile for a bit, and then fell off a cliff over the past two years.
…Look, I know what you’re thinking. That sounds exactly like this contract, right down to the aura of unproven ability as a starter prior to the acquisition. At least in Talbot’s case, though, you had 28 games of being a 0.916 NHL starter, 57 games of very good NHL backup goaltending to look at, and about 110 in the AHL, the back 90 or so of which were also very good. As many have proven, this often isn’t enough to know if a goalie is ready for prime-time, but it’s still a bigger body of work in North America than Koskinen’s 27 games of less-impactful performance this year, and 50 North American games of bad NHL and AHL play prior to his initial return to Europe.
Understandably, Edmonton is looking for some long-term stability in goal, which is why they went for the guy who gave them this run of starts:
However, we can’t even sit and laugh at Edmonton for throwing all their eggs into a guy in the midst of a huge hot streak. That streak ended over a month ago. Since then, they’ve gotten something that looks more like this:
In other words, this is the exact time where they should be the ones who have the leverage, not him. Yet, here we are, talking about a 30-year-old signing a substantial contract with a team that is already hanging to the salary cap ceiling for dear life despite a depleted roster, to give an idea of how abnormal a commitment like this is, here’s a look at every 30+ year old goalie who has signed for at least three years in this decade, and how they’ve done since:
To review: Koskinen has the smallest NHL body of work of this group. He has the smallest short-term body of work, and he has the worst save percentage. And he’s still more expensive than a few names on this list! Obviously, cap inflation matters a bit there, but so does the fact that these are brand names!
Not to mention, look at how these deals have treated these players. Craig Anderson seems to be the exception to the rule, and Ben Bishop is surviving right now in Year 2 of 6, but for the most part, these players end up worse than their previous three years more often than they do better.
While Edmonton may have felt a need to lock up a goaltender now, Koskinen would likely need a stupendous rest of the season – borderline Vezina Trophy quality – to get an offer with a cap hit as high as $4.5 million for that many years on the open market. A return to the KHL is possible, but even SKA would likely balk at that cost (especially since they’re getting 0.940 goaltending out of a duo that includes Rangers washout Magnus Hellberg).
If Koskinen were to stay at about the same 0.911 save percentage through to the end of the year, he would more than likely join the musical chairs group of slightly-above-replacement level goaltenders willing to sign cheap one or two-year deals. There has never been more abundance of average goaltending in the marketplace – almost every non-star is being suckered into a low-cost RFA deal or a short-term UFA one – and yet the Oilers are here, making big multi-year offers to a guy with a dozen good NHL games under his belt at 30 years old.
I get that the team has no netminders at any level signed for next year, and that some might be worried about going into the summer with nothing and making a desperate decision. But the solution to that isn’t to make a desperate decision in January; riding out the year to see what Koskinen is made of was very unlikely to move his cap hit up much further, though it comes with a high chance of getting him or someone with similar results for much less.
In a way, it’s a microcosm of these past few years for the Oilers. This is another leap of faith to assure the crowd that this management group has an answer for a roster hole, rather than a patient attempt to find the best solution. It’s a case of the team bidding against themselves when no one else was going to fight them on this battle. It’s a lack of understanding of the ebbs and flows, in hoping that his best run will be his usual.
Really, it’s baffling even for a team who we expect less than nothing out of. The only reasonable explanation is that Peter Chiarelli and the rest of management hope that Koskinen goes on another streak momentarily, making the idea look good and buying them just enough time to scramble something else out of their tenure before the plug gets pulled. Whether or not that will work depends on his performance, and how willing the city is to keep pressing as the losses keep piling on.---
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