Oilers' issues extend far beyond goaltending

·4 min read

We are closing in on three years since Peter Chiarelli was let go by the Edmonton Oilers. Since that time, Ken Holland has had the full complement of offseasons to work on salvaging the many mistakes made by his predecessor.

And yet, the chaos Chiarelli created is still damaging the team that still can't uncover the winning formula despite having two of the best players on the planet.

The Edmonton Oilers leave the ice following a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Edmonton Oilers leave the ice following a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For his part, head coach Dave Tippett reached his breaking point following Monday's 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers — Edmonton's 10th consecutive failure to secure two points throughout a month-long stretch of futility broken up only by a pandemic-extended holiday break.

Afterwards, Tippett coldly called out drowning netminder Mikko Koskinen — or the last of many Chiarelli misfires — saying his performance "wasn't very good" in the loss and being sure to assign attribution to the "brutal" error that cost the Oilers the first goal.

"What are you going to do?" Tippett asked rhetorically after the defeat, which saw the Oilers tumble down to the second wild-card position after starting the season with nine wins from their first 10 games. "Call it what it is. We’re playing well, and it’s a brutal mistake."

While unfortunate in a vacuum, Tippett's rarely-expressed heat-of-the-moment criticism seems to reflect Koskinen's complete body of work more than a single blunder. What really struck a nerve was the early-game giveaway that led to the 23rd instance in 33 games in which the Oilers have allowed the first goal. But immediate context aside, it was just another blemish for the league's second-worst netminder, statistically, among those who have appeared in 20 games this season. 

No doubt Koskinen — and the goaltending issue at large — is, and has been, a massive issue for the Oilers, and one that was, in part, inherited.

But to use Chiarelli as a shield to deflect bullets is no longer a viable option for this organization. While he brought him here and signed the extension, Holland and the other members of the Oilers management team have kept Koskinen, while more importantly only managing to provide the thinnest layer of base protection in the form of the oft-injured, and aged, Mike Smith.

In the time since Chiarelli's last salvo, or the three-year, $13.5 million contract awarded to Koskinen days before his dismissal, there's been feverish movement in the NHL's goaltending market.

In the last two offseasons alone (or separate instances when it was abundantly clear that Koskinen wasn't the answer for the Oilers), more than 20 netminders with starting ability or starting experience have exchanged hands, be it through trade or free agency. Several teams have completely re-made their goaltending depth charts over that time period, while others have been able to add and improve on acquisitions from one summer to the next. 

Last season alone, Darcy Kuemper, Marc-Andre Fleury and Alex Nedeljkovic moved from one starting role to another via trade. 

Edmonton chose to wait at the foot of the goaltending carousel while it spun.

It's believed the Oilers were deeply involved in negotiations with the top free-agent netminder in each of the last two summers, only to come up short. Instead of contracts with either Jacob Markstrom or Philipp Grubauer, the extent of Edmonton's offseason efforts to solidify the most important position on the ice has been successive agreements with Smith, who turns 40 in Mach and has been limited to five games this season after a series of injuries. 

It should be noted that this problem has existed in a time where several teams have willingly taken on poor contracts and under-performing assets to feed their rebuilds.

For these reasons, Koskinen is a Chiarelli product, but no longer a Chiarelli issue.

Edmonton has tried, and failed, to settle the position with a one-note strategy with Holland at the helm. Its failure to land even a measure of replacement-level talent, or to display means beyond looking to throw the most money at the most desirable option on the open market, is a damning indictment of the team's current management team, and more specifically the job Holland has done.

And while all the attention is on the goalie at the moment, the lack of imagination, or creativity, or polish, or suave, touches all corners of the roster and extends to the coaching staff. 

The truth is there is no shortage of issues with the Oilers. And there will come a time when the finger will be pointed beyond Koskinen. 

So what happens then?

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