After the Edmonton Oilers were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Western Conference Final, it was clear that the franchise needed more stability in between the pipes. So the team went out and signed veteran goaltender Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million contract last summer.
Yet one year later, the song remains the same.
The Oilers were let down by the goaltending position throughout the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which.
Let's start by briefly going back one year. During the 2022 postseason, veteran goalie Mike Smith had his fair share struggles:
- He posted just an 8-6-0 record to go along with a 3.37 goals-against-average
- That included allowing a mind-boggling 19 goals in four games against the Avalanche in the Western Conference Final.
- Smith completely came unglued as the Oilers blew a 3-1 third period lead in Game 4 and lost the contest, 6-5, in overtime.
As injuries were signaling the end of Smith's career, the team chose to address the goaltending position in the form of Campbell. He signed a fairly substantial contract, but, at least in the first year, did not live up to it in the regular season.
The veteran netminder tallied a 21-9-4 record, a 3.41 goals-against-average and a .888 save percentage in 36 games.
As a result of those shortcomings, Campbell was overtaken by Stuart Skinner, 24, who didn't have a ton of experience entering this year. Skinner had a 29-14-5 record to go along with a 2.75 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage in 50 games (48 starts).
While Skinner did produce a very strong regular season manning the Oilers crease, his performance during the Stanley Cup Playoffs was one to forget.
- Skinner had a 5-6-0 record with a 3.68 GAA and a .883 save percentage in 12 games.
- Over the course of the Oilers' series against the Golden Knights, Skinner produced a 3.17 goals-against-average and surrendered at least four goals in four of the six games.
- When Edmonton needed a stellar performance to keep their playoff hopes alive, Skinner again gave up four goals to the Golden Knights and was replaced by Campbell after two periods.
Campbell actually played well when he replaced Skinner in three of the games in the series. He yielded just one goal in Game 3 and didn't give up anything else. Over the course of the postseason, Campbell went 1-0-0 with a 1.02 GAA and .961 save percentage in four games.
Considering how well Campbell played when he did see time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it may have benefitted the Oilers to go back to him as the full-time starter after Skinner surrendered 10 goals over the first three games. Yes, Skinner did give up just one goal in Game 2, but he let in four and five goals respectively in Games 1 and 3. During the postseason in his career, he owns a 2.45 career goals-against-average despite giving up 21 total goals in the Toronto Maple Leafs' seven-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2021-22.
Obviously, Campbell didn't exactly perform the way the Oilers envisioned when they signed him to a five-year deal in the 2022 offseason. Skinner is signed through the 2025-26 season and is certainly too young for the Oilers to give up on despite his postseason struggles. Meanwhile, Campbell also probably isn't going anywhere considering that he's got four more years on his contract.
It'll be interesting to see how the Oilers handle the goaltending position when the 2023-24 season begins. Both have had their fair share of bright spots. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them work in tandem throughout the regular season until one proves that he deserves to be the full-time starter.
They are not in an entirely different position entering this offseason as they were exactly a year ago. One thing is for sure though: this is a team that is way too talented else where -- hello, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl -- to bow out in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the same reason year in and year out.