Mikko Koskinen has won the starting job with the Edmonton Oilers, at least for now. Give the big Finn credit, he’s come to Edmonton and taken the job from veteran Cam Talbot before the calendar flipped to December. I’d have laughed at you had you told me this would be the case back on May 1st when the Koskinen news was announced by the club.
But here we are, with Koskinen taking his opportunity and running with it for the time being. It leaves Talbot, who had a sensational 2016-17 season and led the Oilers to the second round of the playoffs, as a backup goaltender with no contract beyond this season. It’s a tough spot for the goalie once thought to be the answer in Northern Alberta.
Does that mean Talbot’s time is up? Is Talbot simply playing out the stretch only to be traded prior to the deadline or walk for nothing as a free agent in July? It’s certainly possible, but it feels like people are far too receptive to chasing him out of town.
History Is Destined To Repeat Itself:
I take you back to the fall of 2015, Talbot’s first with the Oilers. After an okay start to the year, Talbot collapsed at the end of October and suffered through a putrid November. Anders Nilsson, acquired from the KHL, wrestled the starting job from Talbot and led Edmonton to a playoff spot in a weak Pacific Division by the middle of December.
This sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?
Talbot wouldn’t regain his swagger until December 14th in Boston, when he stopped 47 shots and led the Oilers to a 3-2 victory over the Bruins in Peter Chiarelli’s first game against his former team. From that point on, Talbot settled things down and emerged as the goalie Edmonton thought they were getting the previous June when trading for him.
Talbot carried that momentum through the end of the season, finishing 2015-16 with a .917 save percentage in 56 appearances. He carried that through a stellar 2016-17 (.919 save percentage, 42 wins) before falling off the cliff a season ago (.908). He has not recovered from last year and, as a result, has lost his job.
This isn’t an unfamiliar spot for Talbot, however. We touched on that 2015-16 roller coaster above and it is possible history is repeating itself once again. After his terrific start to the year, Nilsson fell off a cliff and was traded to St. Louis prior to the deadline. He’s bounced around the NHL since then, settling down as a solid backup option in Vancouver. He looked a lot like Koskinen does right now for the Oil.
There are no guarantees that this situation works out exactly like the one that unfolded three years ago. However, we should not take what has happened through 24 games and assume that it is the new normal. Assuming Koskinen is now the man would be foolish, as would counting Talbot out.
Why A Trade Makes Sense:
I’ve liked Koskinen’s game a lot more than I thought I would. He’s positionally sound in goal and the team is super confident in him. He’s giving this group a chance to win every night, and is not only making the saves he should but also stopping pucks he probably shouldn’t. Essentially, he’s giving you everything you need from a starter in this league.
I’m a firm believer in riding the hot hand, and I think Ken Hitchcock is going to do just that and give Koskinen the two huge divisional games coming up this week with the Kings and Golden Knights coming to town.
Even after a hot start, I’m not nearly sold on Koskinen being the answer for this club in goal. Let’s be honest, the sample size is far too small and we have no idea if what he is doing is sustainable. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m not ready to crown him 24 games into the season.
The biggest reason to make a Talbot trade? His contract situation. After posting a .908 save percentage a season ago, Talbot has mustered just a .889 mark in 15 appearances this season. He flat out has not been good this season and looks like he has lost all of his confidence.
I’m not sold on Koskinen being the answer, but I am sold on not being willing to give Talbot any kind of contract extension unless it was a serious discount and victory for the club. TSN’s Frank Seravalli touched on five goaltenders who could be on the move and named Talbot as one of them on Wednesday.
I don’t think the Oilers should just dump Talbot for a pick and anoint Koskinen the man moving forward. That would be basing things off of a very small sample size and would be oh so Oilers. That said, a case can be made for moving Talbot and allocating the dollars elsewhere, whether that is up front, on defense or in another potential starter.
Talbot simply has not earned a contract extension in Edmonton, and that is going to likely mean he gets dealt between now and the trade deadline. Is it the right move? As long as the Oilers are in the playoff race, which might not be much longer, I’d say it’s not the right call unless you are getting a piece that can help in return.