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Did the Oilers Pick the Right Priority in NHL Free Agency?

The Edmonton Oilers wound up having to choose defense and forward depth over goaltending. Was it the right choice?

Relative to the money the Edmonton Oilers had available heading into free agency, most would concede the Oilers did pretty well. Spending less than $10 million, they added five key pieces to their lineup and plugged a number of holes where the team had pretty obvious issues. But, there’s that little matter of the fifth piece — the goaltender.

Related: Should the Oilers Plan to Protect Oscar Klefbom in NHL Expansion Draft?

TSN’s hockey writer Frank Seravalli noted when talking about how much the Oilers improved in the offseason, “The number that stood out to me was the .869 save percentage that those goaltenders, Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, had in that short playoff run. That’s unacceptable.” He added, “That’s the reason why they lost to the Blackhawks and nothing else.”

That’s probably not entirely accurate considering the Oilers came up in short in a number of areas during this year’s play-in round. But, for the sake or argument, let’s concede that Seravalli is onto something. Let’s say that the goaltending was the main reason Edmonton didn’t advance. If that’s true, it’s probably not good the Oilers are coming back to the 2021-22 season with Koskinen and Smith as their one-two punch.

The Oilers Traded Better Goaltending For Other Areas

Essentially, because the Oilers had limited funds, they traded a vast improvement in net for depth at forward and plugging a potentially huge hole on the blue line.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers

Tyson Barrie will come in and run the power play in the absence of Oscar Klefbom. It has been widely viewed as an astute signing and a bargain deal. Beyond that, some will argue he’s as close to a replacement for Matt Benning as he is Klefbom so time will tell how huge of a difference he makes.

Jesse Puljujarvi will be brought in under the hopes he can produce in the top six. The pressure won’t be there to do so at first, but if he can make the jump, it solves a lot of the Oilers top-end winger depth problems. Again, the Oilers didn’t add a sure-fire top-six winger. Most of those guys are holding out for more money.

Tyler Ennis is a good, inexpensive re-signing for a player, that if healthy, will play up and down the lineup and fill in serving multiple roles.

Kyle Turris has the potential to be the steal of the free agency period for Edmonton. If he finds his groove for the Oilers and moves up in the event of an injury, he’s got the pedigree to be a 50-point player, maybe 60 with the top of linemates Edmonton can offer.

Was It a Good Trade?

The flat salary cap has created a situation where many GMs have had to sacrifice one area for another. The Oilers may not believe they’ve got a terrible tandem in net, but it was clear Ken Holland was looking to upgrade and wasn’t able to. In the end, he went back to what he knew, relying on the fact their regular season numbers were more indicative of what’s to come than the brief playoff showing both had.

The question will be two-fold. First, can the pairing of Smith and Koskinen give the Oilers the goaltending they need? Second, if they don’t, was it a better move to grab the other pieces the Oilers did? After all, if Holland had landed on Jacob Markstrom, Barrie and potentially some of the other additions don’t happen.

Next: Could Mike Hoffman Find a Crafty Way to Land With a Cup Contender?

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