The quickest way for Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland to improve the team is to improve goaltending. Mikko Koskinen was solid, posting a .917 save percentage, but Mike Smith struggled to an inconsistent .902 mark. In the Qualification Round, both goaltenders came up well short.
Holland has maintained that a tandem is the direction the club will go in again in 2020-21. Koskinen, who has two seasons left at $4,500,000 per year AND trade protection, is almost a lock to return. Smith, meanwhile, is a pending free agent.
If improvement is to be had in net, it will almost certainly have to be on Smith.
Anton Khudobin is currently stealing the spotlight for the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Prior to stepping up for the injured Ben Bishop, Khudobin was a strong tandem goalie who is well liked in the locker room.
He made, and still makes, a ton of sense for the role available in Edmonton.
Why Is He Out There?:
When both are healthy and right, Khudobin is clearly the second best goaltender on the Dallas Stars roster. That’s not a knock on him, either. Bishop, when healthy, is an elite goaltender at the NHL level. The Stars invested heavily in him to be that guy, and it’s hard to imagine they would deviate from the plan because of an injury-filled summer during a pandemic.
On top of that, Bishop has two years remaining on his contract with a cap hit $4,916,666. That contract also includes both a no-move clause and a modified no-trade clause.
With Bishop almost certainly returning, Khudobin would be relegated to a backup role. Over the course of his career, he’s been both comfortable and productive in that role. The only issue? The Stars have a young goalie pushing up.
Jake Oettinger was selected by the team 26th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The Stars top prospect posted a .917 save percentage in 38 games with the Texas Stars of the AHL this past season. He’s close to NHL employment.
Khudobin is proving his worth these playoffs, but may get forced out due to circumstances out of his control.
What Does He Do Well?:
Khudobin has settled in as an underrated but extremely effective tandem goalie at the NHL level. Khudobin has made at least 30 appearances in each of the last three seasons. He played 30 games this past season, going 16-8-4 with a career-high .930 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. Khudobin also turned in a quality start 73.1% of the time, way above the league average of 53%.
In 2018-19, Khudobin was nearly just as good for the Stars. He appeared in 41 games (37 starts) and went 16-17-5. Don’t let the record distract you, however. Khudobin posted a .923 save percentage, 2.56 GAA and turned in a quality start 62.2% of the time.
In 31 games in 2017-18 with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin posted a .913 save percentage in 31 appearances to go along with a 2.56 GAA.
Five-on-five, Khudobin has been outstanding since joining the Stars. He posted a .932 save percentage at even strength this past season, and turned in a .930 mark in 2018-19. In his final season with the Bruins (2017-18), Khudobin posted a .917 mark at even strength.
Khudobin isn’t a workhorse, he never has been. In each of the last three seasons, however, he’s produced outstanding numbers and managed 30-40 starts. He’s a very good 1B/backup goaltender, and has been for a few seasons now.
(All stats via hockey-reference)
Here is a look at Khudobin’s scouring report via The Sports Forecaster.
Has an abundance of puck-stopping ability. Is cool under pressure and plenty agile. Can put up great statistics at lower levels. Can be a sound No. 1 netminder in the NHL (in a pinch). Is wildly inconsistent, which hinders his National Hockey League value. Also lacks the ideal height for a goalkeeper at the highest level. Injuries have been a huge issue for him.
Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:
Khudobin’s role is pretty easy to identify. A team signing him should be expecting a solid 1B/backup goaltender who can play 30-40 games a season and give his team a chance to win almost every night he is out there. He’s a good goalie, but can’t handle the typical workload of a starter.
In Edmonton, Khudobin would be the 1B goalie with Koskinen, which is a perfect fit. Both goalies have proven they can handle ~40 starts a season. If Dave Tippett rolls with the same kind of rotation in 2020-21 as he did this past season, both goalies will be in a position to succeed.
What Will He Cost?:
Khudobin signed a two-year free agent contract with the Stars on July 1st, 2018. The deal carries an AAV of $2,500,000 and does not have any trade protection.
Khudobin likely wasn’t going to get much of a raise until his performance this summer. With Bishop on the shelf, Khudobin has gone 9-6-0 with a .912 save percentage in 16 games during the postseason. Teams always pay, right or wrong, for a good playoff run. Khudobin is making more money for himself each and every night.
At 34, it’s hard to see Khudobin getting more than two years on the open market. Let’s call that the term. In terms of dollars? Could Khudobin earn a raise? What about $3,000,000 per? That seems to be in line with his production and expected role.
If Holland is going to employ a tandem in net next season (he will) then there is no reason to overlook Khudobin. A veteran who leaves an impact on every room he is a part of, Khudobin has a recent history of strong performances and outstanding numbers at five-on-five.
He might be a little pricier than Holland wants, but it’s hard to argue there is a better tandem option on the open market this fall. The Oilers will hardly be alone in their pursuit of Khudobin, but if he does in fact hit the market they should be making the call.
This is the kind of goalie that makes a lot of sense to partner up with Koskinen.