Could Edmonton Oilers get even older (but better) in goal?

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Could the Edmonton Oilers get even older — but better — in goal? Could they bring in 35 year-old Anton Khudobin from the Dallas Stars, for example?

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Dallas needs to move out a goalie.

Edmonton needs one.

Little wonder then that the Khudobin-to-Edmonton rumour mill is heating up, as Bruce McCurdy and I discussed on our Friday podcast.

Khudobin, 35, has two years left on a deal that pays him. $3.3 million per year.

In the last two season, for NHL goalies who have played more than 2000 minutes, Khudobin has the 12th best save percentage, .918. That’s ahead of Mike Smith, .912 for a 23rd overall ranking, and Alex Stalock and Mikko Koskinen,  at.910 tied for 29st overall.

Dallas has a logjam in net. It also has Ben Bishop, 34, with two year left at $4.9 million, but Bishop’s status in in doubt for the coming season, as he’s dealing with a serious knee injury. Dallas also has Jake Oettinger, 22, on the final year of his Entry Level Contract. In 29 games for the Stars last year, Oettinger had a solid .911 save percentage.

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One might think with Oettinger and Khudobin in net the Stars were covered in net for this coming year, no matter what happens with Bishop’s health. But on July 28, Dallas signed free agent goalie Braden Holtby to a one-year, $2 million per deal.

What was up with that? Close observers of the Stars have been asking themselves this ever since.

To get a better sense of what’s up in Dallas, I dug into what Dallas and NHL insiders have been saying about the Dallas goalie situation since the shock Holtby signing.

Here’s a timeline:

July 28: The Athletic’s Dallas beat writer Saad Yousuf on news Holtby had signed with the Stars: “ok wait what… Even if Ben Bishop’s career is over, which would not even be a mild surprise, you have Jake Oettinger and Anton Khudobin AND pressing need at forward. This doesn’t make a lot (aka ANY) sense at all…Now, IF Braden Holtby is signing on a cheap deal and IF Bishop is done and IF Khudobin gets traded, that’s $7.5 million of cap space created with a Oettinger-Holtby. But let’s see what happens… Nill said getting Holtby on a one-year deal was good risk-reward. In the end, the former Vezina Trophy winner could become the team’s top netminder next season.”

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July 28, Mike Heika, NHL.com and Dallas Stars website: “At the very least, the addition of Holtby, who helped the Washington Capitals win the Cup in 2018, gives the Stars options. If Bishop comes to training camp in September and can’t play, Dallas can rely on a combination of Holtby and Anton Khudobin. If Bishop is ready, the Stars could possibly trade either Holtby or Khudobin. If they do that and a goalie is hurt, they still have Jake Oettinger, who can play in the minors next season with Texas of the American Hockey League. That’s a lot of insurance, but it also is an important position.”

July 28: Matthew DeFranks, Dallas News sportswriter: “If you are wondering who the Stars’ starting goaltender will be next season, the organization is wondering the same thing. … Who is going to be the No. 1 goaltender? … Bishop’s status is the biggest unknown surrounding the goaltending position, as he is now nine months removed from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Neither Bishop nor the team knows about his availability for the upcoming season… Nill also defended Khudobin, who had a .905 save percentage as the team’s starter last year. ‘It’s amazing how, all of a sudden, there’s questions on Anton Khudobin,’ Nill said. “He takes us to the Stanley Cup Finals and, all of a sudden, there seems to be question marks on him. I’m very confident in Anton Khudobin’s capabilities.’”

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Jul 28: Yousuf:  “Asked Braden Holtby what Dallas sold him on in their pitch: ‘To push and be a big part of a winning team… Both sides see there’s an opportunity to pitch in to create a winning team.’”

July 28: Yousuf in the Athletic: “I’ve covered the Stars for long enough to know that ruling out chaos is a naïve move, which is why when I was writing the free agency preview, I distinctly remember changing something such as, ‘There’s no way they sign a goaltender’ to ‘Any outside name involved in the team’s plans would be a significant surprise.’ … As things stand today, none of the three Stars goaltenders who were on the NHL payroll as of yesterday are guaranteed to be on the Stars’ NHL roster. Bishop may be on LTIR, Oettinger may be in the AHL and Khudobin may get traded. The only goaltender who seems to have an inside track at the crease in Dallas is Braden Holtby. That was unfathomable as recently as Tuesday.”

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July 30: Michael Amato, writer/editor at The Goalie Post for Dobber Hockey: “My best guess would be they put Bishop on LTIR and try to trade Khudobin. Then Oettinger and Holtby split the starts and see who claims the job. Trading Khudobin may be tough, though. Thinking more about the future. Khudobin is 35 and coming off a down year. Not sure I need that contract if I’m Buffalo. But I do think Dallas will try and trade Khudobin.”

July 30: Bruce LeVine, Dallas Stars Radio Analyst at NHL.com. “Holtby is the signing that blindsided most observers. With Khudobin and Oettinger ready for camp, adding a fourth man in the pipes seemed unnecessary. But, if Holtby returns to Stanley Cup form, it’s a steal.”

July 30: Heika: “Adding Holtby gives the team options in net, and while some of those options are shaky to say the least, they are options. Ben Bishop’s wonky knee is a true mystery, and the team needs to see how it reacts in training camp. Even if Bishop looks good, the Stars will likely want him to start slow, and that means that Holtby and Anton Khudobin could battle to see who’s better. Holtby is coming off two horrible years, so there is some mystery in how he will respond, as well. If the team has to go with Khudobin and Holtby and put Jake Oettinger in the minors, they can do that. If they think there is hope that Bishop could play at some point, they can try to trade Khudobin or Holtby to clear some cap space. Again, they want the bases covered.”

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Jul 31: Saad Yousuf “With the Stars signing Kiviranta, they’re mostly ‘done’ (a few other RFAs left to sign but that’ll get done and none sure-fire NHLers this season). But they’re also far from done because they have four goaltenders on the NHL payroll. So in summary: Done but not done.”

Aug. 1: Saad Yousuf in The Athletic: “The Stars are not done with roster construction. Having four goaltenders on the NHL payroll is screaming proof of that. They did a good job of not sitting back when it came to the goaltending and blue line. Both situations are better, if not at least more secure, than they were a week ago. But the forwards group didn’t see an upgrade, leaving the feeling that the Stars’ free-agency aggression left some meat on the bone.

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Aug. 1, Sportnet’s Jeff Marek on the 31 Thoughts podcast, talking about the Edmonton Oilers goalie situation: “As of right now, they are going back with Koskinen and Smith.”

Responded Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet: “I gotta think that’s gonna change.”

Marek said he would not be surprised at all if the Oilers starting goalie on opening night is Anton Khudobin.

Friedman: “I think that’s a fair one to guess. I agree with you. I think Dallas is going to move a goalie.”

My take

1. Dallas won’t be taking on Mikko Koskinen in any Khubodin trade. Edmonton would have to find a landing spot for the final year of the Koskinen contract at $4.5 million. Obviously Edmonton will have to add a sweetener to any team looking to take on that contract. Options for Koskinen might well include Buffalo, Ottawa and Arizona. If Edmonton could take Khubodin’s contract off of Dallas’ hands, how much would Edmonton be willing to give as a sweetener to move out Koskinen? And is Edmonton on Khubodin’s four-team no-trade list?

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2. Would Dallas be willing to move out Khubodin on a contract dump? Nill stood by Khubodin in his comments after the Holtby signing, but actions speak louder than words. If Dallas were completely happy with Khubodin, why sign Holtby?  Maybe the general plan is to have Oettinger in the AHL for another year, Bishop on LTIR, and Khubodin and Holtby in the NHL, which would mitigate any need to force a Khubodin trade. But Oettinger had a solid rookie season in the NHL and if Khubodin is moved, Dallas would have some money to sign another forward.

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