$4.5 million after 27 games: why the Mikko Koskinen signing looks desperate

No team has ever committed this much money to a goalie with this little NHL experience in the salary-cap era.
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Mikko Koskinen has a 4.06 goals-against average and .877 save percentage over his last 10 appearances. That stretch constitutes 37 percent of his Edmonton Oilers appearances.

He’ll now earn a $4.5-million AAV over the next three seasons as the Oilers’ presumed starting netminder.

So that 10-game sample looks a bit harsh, sure. Koskinen has done a respectable job overall for this franchise in 2018-19. He’s 14-10-1 with a .911 save percentage. He’s done a better job keeping the Oilers rollercoaster on the rickety track than Cam Talbot, a fellow 2019 UFA now as good as gone from Edmonton, whose SP sits at .894 across 27 appearances of his own this season.

Koskinen hasn’t been the reason Edmonton sits three points out of a Western Conference wildcard berth. But he hasn’t been the driving force behind much on the whole, good or bad. He’s been very much a league-average goaltender if you look at his 5-on-5, low-danger, medium-danger, high-danger and delta save percentages and his goals saved above average. He’s been…fine. But is fine really fine when the sample size is just 27 games – and 31 career NHL games at 30 years old?

Koskinen did enjoy tremendous success during his five-season tenure in the KHL. But when he’s this green as an NHLer, a 10-game slump carries a lot of weight. For all we know, that’s the real Koskinen. It’s just too early to tell, right?

Too early too judge, too early to evaluate and, UFA or not…way too early to sign Koskinen for three more seasons. The $4.5-million cap hit lines him up as the 17th-richest netminder in the NHL when his contract commences in 2019-20. Based on his season metrics so far, that might be an accurate spot to slot Koskinen. But the names making more than Koskinen are Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tuukka Rask, John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck, Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, Jonathan Quick, Martin Jones, Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne, Frederik Andersen, Ben Bishop and Craig Anderson. The Oilers committed this money to Koskinen after seeing 27 games of his work. Every other name on that highest-paid list has hundreds of games of NHL experience.

It’s hard to even think of a precedent for this type of commitment relative to such a small sample size for a goaltender. The Minnesota Wild extended Niklas Backstrom for two seasons at a $3.1-million AAV after a 41-game debut in 2006-07. The Anaheim Ducks put millions on the line for Jonas Hiller before he played an NHL game in 2007-08, but the money was primarily committed to performance bonuses. His cap hit was $850,000. Even when many prognosticators criticized the Carolina Hurricanes for signing the “unproven” Scott Darling to a four-year, $16-million contract in 2017, he had 75 regular season games plus five playoff appearances to his name as a Blackhawk, almost triple Koskinen’s experience with the Oilers to this point, plus Darling was 28 when he signed that deal. Matt Murray had 13 regular-season games under his belt when he signed a three-year extension with a $3.75-million AAV Oct. 20, 2016 – but also 21 playoff games, and, you know, a Stanley Cup. He was also 22 at the time. What about Andrew Hammond in 2015? His deal was for just 1.85 percent of the Ottawa Senators’ cap.

Perhaps the closest comparable would be when the Calgary Flames inked Karri Ramo in 2013 after he’d left the NHL for several seasons and excelled in the KHL. They only signed him for two years, however, at a $2.75-million AAV for 4.28 percent of the cap. Ramo had 48 previous games of NHL experience, too. If the cap reaches its projected $83 million for 2019-20, Koskinen’s deal will eat 5.42 percent of the Oilers’ cap space.

So, then, has anyone in NHL history committed this type of money to a netminder with as little NHL experience as Koskinen? It does not appear so, at least not in the salary-cap era, which is the data set I combed.

Maybe Koskinen was a lock to walk as a UFA if he didn’t have a new deal by the free-agent negotiating window this June. Maybe he would’ve demanded a trade if he didn’t have an extension by the Feb. 25 deadline. We can speculate all we want but, really, who cares? The 2019 UFA class includes Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Anders Nilsson and Robin Lehner at the moment. ‘Bob’ likely wouldn’t come to Edmonton, and it would be a shock if Lehner left the Islanders after his career revival, but the point is – it’s not like there’s nothing on the market. “There was no one else” isn’t a believable reason for a Jan. 21 Koskinen signing.

There’s thus little reason to justify GM Peter Chiarelli jumping the gun after 27 games of Koskinen. The move has an air of desperation to it. The Oilers are rudderless at the moment, with superstar captain Connor McDavid commanding that, “If you don’t believe in this group, and you’re in the locker room, then you need to leave.” Oilers ownership and CEO Bob Nicholson have given Peter Chiarelli votes of confidence in the past, even after the Milan Lucic contract and Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, but it feels like Chiarelli is almost out of runway. The newest vote of confidence from Nicholson, which came in a December interview with The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman, seemed conditional on a playoff berth. The Koskinen contract reeks of “I have to do something.”

Now, Oilers Nation can only hope the Koskinen’s quality of play improves – or at least stays at league-average level – as his sample size expands.

Salary info courtesy of capfriendly.com

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