Ken Holland knew that he was taking an unknown risk when he signed Mike Smith, veteran goaltender to a $4.4M, two-year contract. “Obviously the question with Mike Smith is, he’s 39 years old.” the Edmonton Oilers general manager During a media availabilityIt was late in the offseason. “Can he do it again?”
Maybe Holland thought he was betting on Mike Smith, who exceeded expectations last season, going 21-6-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average (GAA) and .923 save percentage (SV%), and played well in the postseason, despite Edmonton’s hugely disappointing first-round sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets.
Holland was actually betting against Father Time. The guy who never loses. It appears that his perfect record has remained intact six months later.
Smith was again left out
Smith has been healthy for just six of Edmonton’s first 34 games in 2021-22 and is about to miss more action after it was revealed on Thursday (Jan. 13) that he has Tightly torn tendonIn his thumb. Dave Tippett is an Oilers coach, and he sounds far from confident. Smith will be there One to two weeks. Based on the goalie’s recent history, we’re setting the over/under at three weeks.
Thursday’s news came exactly one year to the day from the Oilers’ 2020-21 season opener, Jan. 13, 2021, against the Vancouver Canucks. Smith was a sign of what is to come in the 12 months ahead During warmups, sustained an injuryRogers Place that night. It was unknown what happened to Smith and how it occurred. SmiTh ended up on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) and didn’t return until Edmonton’s 14th game of the season, after missing nearly a quarter of last season’s 56-game schedule.
This season, Smith managed to stay healthy for close to a week before being hurt midway through Edmonton’s third game of the season, Oct. 19 against the Anaheim Ducks, and landing on injured reserve (IR). Smith was expected to be back in the second week, but his plans were thrown out of whack by Smith. suffered a “setback” during practice. He was then moved to LTIR on November 19.
Related Link: Oilers Can’t Rely On Smith Returning From Injury
If you had a nickel for every time Smith was described as being “day-to-day”, and a nickel for each instance he was said to be on the verge of returning, then you’d have enough money to cover Holland’s $4.4M gamble on Smith.
Smith was finally activated from LTIR on Christmas Eve and made his 10th consecutive start against the St. Louis Blues, Dec. 29. He lasted all of two games before sustaining an injury against the New Jersey Devils on New Year’s Eve and missed Edmonton’s next two contests before returning to play in the Oilers’ most recent game, a 4-2 loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 5. And now he’s hurt again.
12 Months of Trials, Tribulations and TroubleOilers
Since the beginning of last season, Smith has been sidelined for nearly half of Edmonton’s games, and one can’t help but think this is just the wear and tear of a 16-season NHL career catching up with a man who is only a couple of months from turning 40, on March 22.
In being opaque about Smith’s injuries, the Oilers have done nothing to dispel the notion that his body is breaking down. Granted, they did disclose the details about his thumb this week, but in the instances before that, Smith’s health was largely a guessing game played on talk radio and social media. The injury that Smith sustained at the start this season? “Lower-body”. Whatever the reason, he was knocked out for a A few more games were played after his return? “Undisclosed”.
Oilers are in dire straits
Oilers have fallen to a freefall. With a 2-9-2 record in 13 of their last 13 games, they are now in second place in the Pacific Division and not even in the playoffs if it started today.
During media availability Tuesday (Jan. 10), in which he discussed his team’s struggles, Holland pointed out that Edmonton’s plan for the season was to roll with the tandem of Smith and 33-year-old Mikko Koskinen splitting time between the pipes. Holland explained that Smith’s return to action would allow the Oilers to finally see their potential in front of Smith/Koskinen. This plan was rescheduled, but it has been canceled once again.
However, it might not matter. Holland’s belief that Smith and Koskinen could combine to provide consistent, high-caliber goaltending that elevates the Oilers to Stanley Cup contention, is somewhat dubious, to begin with.
Never mind that Koskinen has a proven track record of unreliable play and inconsistent performances (which has again been the case in 2021-22; Koskinen has made 19 starts this season and already has both a six-game win streak and six consecutive losses), Holland was ostensibly counting on Smith to start at least half – but probably several more – of Edmonton’s 82 games this season.
Only Ed Belfour and Martin Brodeur, Gary Cheevers (Dominik Hasek), Curtis Joseph, Roberto Luongo and Dwayne Roloson have played in more than 40 games during the expansion era. That’s eight goalies in nearly 55 years.
Oilers, Blessing in Disguise
There is no joy to be found in Smith’s inability to stay healthy; No one should want to see a player injured, and Smith’s dedication to the Oilers and commitment to extend his career as long as possible warrants admiration.
But Smith’s absence from the lineup is forcing the hand of Holland to make a move that the GM otherwise would not: recall Stuart Skinner from the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.
Skinner’s season debut was Nov. 9. He has been in 10 games and posted a 2.70 GAA (and.916SV%) which are significantly better than Smith (3.76,.898, in 6 games, or Koskinen (3.19, 9.00, in 20). The promising 23-year-old has demonstrably been Edmonton’s best goalie in 2021-22 and might provide Edmonton the best opportunity to turn things around, despite Holland’s notions to the contrary. Skinner is expected start against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, January 15.
Smith is trying to borrow some more time, however. And with his current contract, that’s not just a matter of the reason of this season, but 2022-23 too. Although the book may not have been closed, smart money is still on Father Time.
Brian is a broadcaster and sports writer based in Edmonton. His previous experience includes his work as a sports reporter at the Edmonton Sun where he covered 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season for the Edmonton Oil Kings.