Is Potential Mike Smith Retirement a Good Thing for the Oilers?

Mike Smith
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Mike Smith has been the “1A” goaltender in a 1A-1B tandem with Mikko Koskinen for the Edmonton Oilers over the past three years, helping them reach the playoffs in each of those three seasons. After the Oilers were eliminated via a sweep in the Western Conference Finals at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, the offseason speculation quickly began just days later about whether or not the 40-year-old would return for his 17th NHL season.

Smith’s numbers have been pretty solid overall as a member of the Oilers, but he has played far from consistent hockey. He developed a reputation as one of the streakiest goaltenders in the NHL since coming to Edmonton, with 2021-22 being perhaps the most extreme example.

He got off to a disastrous start to the season, dealing with nagging lower-body injuries and a broken thumb over the course of the year and riding a Sv% between .890 and .900 for most of that stretch. After making more consistent starts and getting healthy in the home stretch, Smith found his game and eventually caught fire, posting a 9-0-0 record in the month of April with a staggering .951 Sv%.

The postseason was a big test for Smith, who had a playoff record of 0-5 with the Oilers coming into 2022, and it turned out to be more of the same rollercoaster ride that we have come to expect from him. In Game 1 against the Kings, Smith made a colossal blunder when he threw a dangerous pass right up the middle of the ice leading to the game-winning goal for Los Angeles late in the third period.

He bounced back in a big way over the next six games, but after a mostly excellent first-round series, Smith only managed an .890 Sv% the rest of the way, and his GSAx took a massive nosedive. This stretch included a shutout, two games where he was pulled after getting lit up, some huge saves that kept them in games, and a back-breaking squeaker in game 3 against the Avalanche that contributed to a 3-0 series deficit.

Mike Smith’s play was “up and down like a toilet seat,” as GM Ken Holland would put it. The Oilers have shown that they can play good team defense when they need to, and they tightened things up since the hiring of head coach Jay Woodcroft, but the playoffs were a firewagon full of goals, lead changes, and wild momentum swings. Mike Smith was not the main reason the Oilers were eliminated, but it became clear this spring that his style of play does not fit this team in big games. Is Smith capable of playing well in the big moments? Sometimes, but he is so unpredictable both in his puck handling and his general ability to make saves that when the team just needs a calming presence between the pipes, you can never really be sure that he will be able to provide that.

With all of the injuries that Smith has dealt with over the course of the last year, it is a legitimate question whether or not he will want to go through another 82+ game grind, knowing that there is no guarantee he is even capable anymore at his age of helping lead this group to a Stanley Cup.

From an Oilers perspective, they would have a tough goaltending situation going into next season with a young Stuart Skinner that may not be ready and a Mike Smith that may be past his best before date. They don’t have a goaltender that they can be confident will play 45-50 games. Smith hasn’t played more than 39 games in a single regular season since he was a member of the Calgary Flames back in 2019, and Skinner has less than 20 NHL starts under his belt.

With the team in a cap crunch, it would be best for the organization that Mike Smith retires and opens up some space for them to make a move for another goalie. Guys like Darcy Kuemper and Ville Husso have been connected to the Oilers over the past year, and a Smith retirement could help them make a move to upgrade the position.

If this is the end of Mike Smith’s career, he will be remembered as one of the more polarizing Oilers goaltenders in recent memory. On some nights, he was absolutely brilliant, and on others, he made you pull your hair out every time he left the net to play the puck, but one thing is for sure, he was always entertaining.

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Lane Golden

Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Lane is a passionate sports fan who uses an analytical lens to break down and discuss what is going on in the hockey world.

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