What We Can Expect from Koskinen This Season?
Looking at Mikko Koskinen's past to see why he's primed to bounce back
It’s no secret that Mikko Koskinen struggled last season. After starting the season opener as the team’s number 1, the Finn’s stock fell to the point where there was a large group of fans and Oilers media calling for Alex Stalock to take over backup duties behind Mike Smith. Prior to Stalock’s myocarditis diagnosis, there was even a push to buy out Koskinen to run Smith-Stalock-Skinner.
Despite reportedly shopping the final year of Koskinen’s contract in an effort to free up cap space, Ken Holland ended up deciding to bring back the same tandem, signing Smith to an extension prior to free agency. Holland has been repeatedly quoted that he’s comfortable with the tandem. This piece will dive into the reasons why Holland should be comfortable bringing by Koskinen.
Koskinen was signed during the 2018 offseason to a 1-year deal for 2.5M. The initial plan was for Koskinen to complement Cam Talbot in a 1B role, providing some much-needed relief for the Oilers’ workhorse of the time. However, due to the combination of an unsustainable start share necessitated by a lack of quality options, injuries, and two young twins, Talbot’s game faltered.
This season contained two distinct parts for Koskinen: before and after the Talbot for Stolarz trade.
Talbot started the first 8 games of the season, with Koskinen making his first start in a 5-3 win in Nashville on October 27th. As the season wore on, Koskinen started to get a higher percentage of starts, eventually appearing in 33 games to Talbot’s 31 before the trade with the Flyers. During this span of 122 days (3.7 days per appearance), Koskinen had a 905 SV%, -0.27 dFSv% and -3.28 GSax in 1778 minutes played, outperforming his partner.
In the 39 days of the season following the trade, Koskinen appeared in 23 of 24 games (1.7 days per appearance), posting a 903 SV%, -0.38 dFSV% and -3.51 GSAx in 1273 minutes. With the NHL season lasting longer than a KHL season and with Hitchcock playing Koskinen as a workhorse, Koskinen’s play started to regress as the season wore on.
The 2019 offseason was Ken Holland and Dave Tippett’s first with the Oilers. While they were stuck with the 3-year extension that Peter Chiarelli had given Koskinen during his last day on the job, the organization signed Mike Smith, Tippett’s long-term starter during his Arizona days, to be the other half of the tandem.
While this offseason activity was happening, Dustin Schwartz reportedly went to Finland to train Koskinen with a focus placed on cleaning up some movement, positional, and tracking issues. The three combined were the root cause of Koskinen’s glove side issues. Whatever work they did do ended up paying dividends.
It became obvious early that Mike Smith was going to be Dave Tippett’s guy. Despite struggles through the middle months of the season, Smith was repeatedly given opportunities to bounce back. Below are both Smith and Koskinen’s results for 2019-2020 season.
With the ability to have more rest, with 4.2 days per appearance for the season, Koskinen was able to excel. These numbers may even underrate Koskinen according to CSA Hockey, which is an advanced analytics firm that tracks pre-shot puck movement among other contextual data points to help quantify shot quality. This model is normally only available to NHL teams and select media members (stats used here via Kevin Woodley on Twitter) Per their metrics, Koskinen ranked 7th in the NHL with a 10.75 Goal Differential and 9th with a +1.07 SV% above expected.
Despite the success Koskinen had during the season, Tippett opted to start Smith in Game 1 of the play-in round in the bubble. By the public metrics, neither goalie was good but to my eye, Koskinen was able to play decent when accounting for the repeated tips and screens that Chicago was able to score on. However, the series-clinching goal was a backbreaker, with Koskinen getting beat short side from a relatively dead angle.
Ken Holland opted to bring back the same tandem for the 2020-2021 season after striking out on Markstrom, Crawford, and Greiss, among other options in free agency. The supposed plan was to run a relative split like the 19-20 Season. This got thrown out the window when Smith was injured prior to the season opener (that Koskinen was scheduled to start regardless). As a result, Koskinen started the first 10 games over 17 days (1.7 days per appearance) and 12/13 over 24 days (2 days per appearance) before Smith’s return. Koskinen struggled, posting an 889 SV%, -1.46 dSV%, and -7.38 GSAx. Having said that, no goalie in the entire league would be set up for success playing that many games over that time span with no trusted alternative.
Mike Smith came back, and after completely overhauling his game as outlined in one of my articles last year, played great, deservedly grabbing the starting role. While taking a backseat, Koskinen’s play was able to rebound. Koskinen posted a .916 SV%, 0.17 dSV% and 0.7 GSAx between Smith’s return and May 1st. In his last 4 starts of the season, Koskinen hit a slump, with an 849 SV%, -5.98 dSV% and a -7.12 GSAx. With his play heading into the playoffs, the big Finn was rightfully benched.
Koskinen talked about how the shorted season in the Canadian Division was a struggle personally, as he was not able to see his family for the entire season. While he is a pro athlete paid to do his job, NHL players are still people and this would not be a situation for success for anyone.
2021-2022 Season: What can we expect?
Koskinen’s time in Edmonton has shown that he can be a very good option in a tandem but when overplayed, his play starts to slip. Now that Koskinen has his family with him in Edmonton, he will be in a better personal situation to be set up for on-ice success. With the Oilers bringing back Smith and Koskinen for the third consecutive season with Tippett behind the bench, there will be some familiarity on the ice. As a result, I believe Koskinen will be set up to produce about league average results in a timeshare.
If Mike Smith can continue to perform the way he did last season with his rebuilt technical game, the Oilers will have two strong options in goal. Both goalies have shown previously that when overplayed, their game will start to deteriorate but with both healthy, and performing well in the preseason, there is no reason to overwork either guy. The goalies will be primed for success. For the sake of the Oilers, let’s hope Dave Tippett deploys them in a way that allows both goalies to be successful and help the team.
Unless mentioned, stats obtained via Evolving Hockey