Mike Smith’s future with the Edmonton Oilers comes down to a matter of adjustment

Mike Smith has been one of the most talked about players in Oil Country since the Edmonton Oilers were knocked out of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs last week, losing the Western Conference Finals 4-0 against the Colorado Avalanche. The veteran goaltender was generally erratic in the playoffs, from high by knocking out the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the first round, to low by allowing five goals on 16 shots in the final 20:48 of the third round period and overtime in the Oilers’ Game 4 loss to Colorado that ended their season.

As the Oilers enjoyed their longest playoff streak of the Connor McDavid era, Edmonton’s abrupt demise at the hands of the Avalanche only made it clearer that a consistent top-tier goaltender is necessary for them to take the next step of playing for the Stanley Cup.

Look beyond Smith’s numbers

Whether it’s his age (40, the NHL’s second-oldest goaltender in 2021-22), how often he’s been absent (48 games missed due to injury – two more than he has actually played — in the past two regular seasons), or his propensity for sudden meltdowns (in Edmonton’s five playoff games against Calgary, he allowed two goals in 36 seconds or less on three occasions, and in the four-game series against Colorado, he allowed two goals in 1:49 or less four times), Smith’s worrying numbers were talked about, written about and tweeted to nausea.

Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

To be fair, for every stat that suggests Smith doesn’t even belong in the NHL, there’s one that says he should be nominated for the Vezina Trophy (his April record of 9-0-0 with a incredible 1.56 goals-against-average and .951 save percentage, for example). So, let’s take Smith’s numbers out of the conversation and instead focus on his approach and style, and how said traits mesh with McDavid’s Oilers.

Since Edmonton’s elimination, this has been raised on TSN 1260 radio by two of the most authoritative voices on the subject: Ryan Rishaug, who, as a reporter from TSN’s Edmonton bureau, covers the Oilers as closely than anyone in the media, and Joaquin Gage, a former NHL goaltender who can speak from the perspective of having played Smith’s position at the highest level. Their analysis provided real food for thought:

Smith’s poor positional play hurts Oilers

“There are some parts of his game that I don’t think are right for the Edmonton Oilers (depending on) the way they defend,” Gage said on the June 10 edition of the Jason Gregor show. . “Sitting in his net and sometimes being too active, which makes things a little more difficult than they really are. I have a problem with a lot of goals he allows, (like) big blunders with puck handling.

“I just watch a lot of different situational plays, where if you look at the two goaltenders (Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy) who are playing in the (Eastern Conference final between the New York Rangers and the Lightning of Tampa Bay), you look at their positioning and even when they don’t see the puck, they seem to be getting to the best spot they can to stop the puck,” Gage continued.

Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“I was hoping Mike Smith would incorporate some of that into his game because sometimes he gets to the point of deflection or battles across the screen instead of falling back into the net. I just think he might have some numbers even better with positional play.

Smith is the wrong fit for the Oilers

“Mike Smith has done a good job in the playoffs this year, but the Oilers need a stable, reliable, and calming starting guard,” Rishaug said on the June 7 edition of The Jason Gregor Show.

“He was really fantastic, and then it was lousy, and there’s a risk-reward in Mike Smith’s game that I don’t think fits that group. It’s not what they needed in the playoffs. They needed a goalie that was going to be steady in there and make all kinds of saves and not get in his own way and not get in anybody’s way and just do his job and be rock sloid and give this group the backbone it needed.

“Mike Smith was everywhere,” Rishaug continued. “At times it was brilliant and overall it was really good, but there were mistakes at key times that other keepers don’t necessarily make that type of mistake… I’m not saying that “He’s still not a valuable keeper, I just don’t think that at this age and in this style, he’s the right person for this group.

Related: Oilers’ Top 3 Goalie Trade Targets If They Can’t Upgrade In Free Agency

Smith has one year left on his contract, and there is speculation he could retire after nearly 700 games in 16 NHL seasons. If the 40-year-old decides to hang up the skates, that will make the Oilers’ decision for them. There aren’t many surefire goalies that will be available in free agency this summer, and there don’t seem to be any slam dunk options on the trade block either.

Smith can still be a next-level keeper in many ways. What he’s not is the right goaltender for an Oilers team aspiring to win the Stanley Cup in 2023.

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