With Jack Campbell sent to the minors and Calvin Pickard called up, the expectation is that there are more moves to come in the Edmonton Oilers crease, one way or another. The Oilers players themselves were unified in saying the right things in the wake of the news, supporting Campbell, acknowledging the team’s part in the goalie’s struggles, and otherwise regaining composure with a positive and motivated outlook.
Still, with key insiders leaking that the Oilers front office is aggressively seeking change, in the form of an upgrade in talent, a decrease in cap commitments, or some mixture of both. Quite frankly it’s understandable that fans across Oil Country are dreaming up their ideal trade scenarios to fix the team’s issues in net.
The players do have a point. Ideally, even if only to make his contract tradable in the future, the best case scenario is that resetting his game in the AHL can re-forge Campbell into a better goalie. While expecting a true number one netminder is out of the question, Campbell can be more effective than he has been with the Oilers over the past two seasons, though some would argue not by much.
While Stuart Skinner has earned some slack thanks to a meteoric rise up the depth charts in recent years, time will tell if his development has hit a speed bump or plateaued entirely. There is good news beyond this as well, with Olivier Rodrigue continuing a strong trajectory of his own in the AHL. With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in their primes, these promises of brighter futures do little for the pressure in the Oilers present.
Without further ado let’s take a look at some options that might be available to the Oilers. The potential trade targets are divided into cost tiers, as each situation is unique. Somewhere between team circumstances, current play, name brand value, and cap hits we will analyse each option. Though hardly exhaustive or based on inside information, we can try our best to discuss some relevant options.
Sell the farm
This is a small tier in volume, as there are very few, if any, truly elite goalies that are remotely on the market. These options would have a severe acquisition cost, and would be extremely aggressive, perhaps too much for such an inherently volatile position.
Juuse Saros might not be thought of as the league’s best goalie, but he is full value as a perennial top five league wide. Unlike most modern goalies he is not the tallest, compensating for his smaller stature with excellent skating and positioning skills. In this sense he is one of the more interesting goalies to watch on a game to game basis.
While based on talent alone it makes just as much sense to trade Saros as Ilya Sorokin, Igor Shesterkin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, or Connor Hellebuyck, the Nashville Predators do have an interesting successor rising through the ranks in Yaroslav Askarov. A highly touted prospect, Askarov is off to a sterling start to his AHL season. This alone offers a congruent argument for the team to sell high on Saros at some point.
That being said to do so now would be aggressive by the Predators, and not necessarily congruent to their recent dealings. While new GM Barry Trotz will certainly continue to mould the roster to his liking, the Preds do have a lot of value tied up in the here and now. The team has not shied away from signing useful veterans like Ryan O’Reilly to join a core with some older stars that includes Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg.
With Askarov developing well, taking steps to prove himself as a dominant AHL starter, there is little reason for the Predators to enact their succession plan just yet. Even if the Predators decide to sell at this season’s deadline, they have been a team angling towards retooling more than the scorched earth rebuild that would be signified by trading Saros.
For this reason the cost would have to be too good for the Predators to pass up. In other words, the Oilers would be paying top dollar, if not a bit more, to acquire Saros.
High level upgrades
While not necessarily in their peak, elite forms, goalies in this range represent a clear upgrade on the Oilers current situation. Each team has a slightly different set of circumstances surrounding their goalies, but might have reason to make a significant trade. While these options will be costly, it will be a far more common move than acquiring a truly elite goalie. Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be working out the salary in such moves, and to some extent is contingent on the Oilers moving off of Campbell’s contract. As far as assets that we should expect to be traded out, a first-round pick and a significant prospect are a given.
Despite a 2022–23 season that was just ok, Jacob Markstrom seems to be back in fine form. A workhorse, Markstrom would undoubtedly be the Oilers starter were he acquired. Markstrom’s deal is one year shorter than Campbell’s, aligning with Skinner’s current deal. The Calgary Flames have a number of veterans and pending UFAs, as well as a poor enough record that a more concerted rebuild effort might be embraced this season.
With Dustin Wolf on the horizon, the Flames might have their goalie of the future in tow. The decision to rebuild would not be made lightly, but stockpiling futures will be key to a quick turnaround for the franchise. Markstrom is far from the only piece the Flames have to work with, and the contracts and ages of Markstrom and Wolf might be mutually beneficial to both as a tandem.
While many goaltending experts have soured on John Gibson’s performances over the past few seasons, his age and pedigree suggest there might be hope that he has another quality chapter or two in his career. It was not too long ago that Gibson was considered one of the top young goalies in the sport, though years of toiling on poor Anaheim Ducks teams might have eroded his top form.
For their part, the Ducks seem to be turning out of a deep rebuild. A young team on the rise, the Ducks have seen a number of key prospects begin their transformations into key players, including goalie Lukas Dostal. Dostal has shone in Gibson’s recent injury absence, finally enough for the team to consider moving on from Gibson. While the NHL ascents of Askarov and Wolf are speculative, Dostal is in the league and performing quite well.
Gibson has been in trade rumours for years now. This has included strange conflicting reports, meaning that all parties involved do not see eye to eye, at least to some extent. Although the Ducks are into a new era with Pat Verbeek at GM, and the alleged unease between team and player might be quelled, Dostal’s emergence might have changed the equation for the Ducks.
Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin has employed one of the most aggressive salary cap strategies we have ever seen in the NHL with the twin buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on the books. Likewise, the Wild might have motivation to continue being aggressive in reshaping their roster. To start, Marc-Andre Fleury is already thought of by most as the backup to Filip Gustavsson.
A theme across this list, the Wild might be looking to move Fleury thanks to a highly touted prospect, Jesper Wallstedt. Wallstedt was selected after producing one of the most impressive performances ever by a goalie in their draft year, excelling as an SHL starter. Though he has yet to make the NHL, Wallstedt is performing well, moving up the ranks, currently an AHL starter.
Between the two Swedes, the Wild might be willing to pry with Fleury. Of course, through his no trade clause and his affable personality, Fleury being willing and eager for a trade to the Oilers would be a necessary component. While the Wild appear to be at least as secure a playoff bet as the Oilers, perhaps Fleury desires to be the unquestioned starter for a team. However, the longer the Oilers struggle, and the further they fall of a playoff points pace, the less likely this reality becomes.
Jeremy Swayman/Linus Ullmark
Reports of the Boston Bruins decline in the post Patrice Bergeron era seem to be completely unfounded. The Bruins look as strong as ever and are off to a great start. Both Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have performed very well behind a stout defensive team.
From a cap perspective both are quite affordable, though the acquisition cost would not be. Swayman is the younger of the two, and looks to be the long term answer for the Bruins. In the meantime, the team appears quite content to roll with what is one of the league’s best tandems.
Quite frankly, acquiring Swayman might be as expensive as it would be to trade for Saros, and it is incredibly unlikely the Bruins would be looking to part with his services. Either way, both goalies would have a much more strenuous workload behind the Oilers than they currently do behind the Bruins, and would likely look less effective.
Are they upgrades?
Our next tier is one of goalies who are most likely upgrades on both Campbell and Skinner, though perhaps this depends on one’s individual evaluations. Given that Campbell will still have to be involved in the deal the costs might still be high, it may not too far off of what a tier higher might cost.
At the same time their valuations will be harder to discern, and there is a chance that a lower acquisition cost is possible. Still, a high pick and a good prospect will form the incentive for these potential trades.
Semyon Varlamov has been the New York Islanders backup for a few seasons now. Playing behind a strong defensive team, Varlamov’s results have held up well against his tandem mate Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin is one of the world’s premier netminders, leaving little room for controversy, however well Varlamov performs. While his time as a starter was not smooth sailing, Varlamov has consistently shown the ability to play well since.
While the Islanders certainly can afford to move off of Varlamov, they clearly prioritize depth in net, meaning they might be content to continue to ride with Varlamov as an overqualified backup.
His acquisition might be precarious for the Oilers, as it is unlikely that they can replicate the suffocating defensive style that has allowed for Varlamov’s success with the Islanders. There is legitimate question that he would not be able to hold up under the added stresses of being a starter, or playing behind a team that is prone to, for now, breakdowns and lapses.
Jordan Binnington is a rare heel among goalies, and is on something of a burdensome contract of his own. After the shocking ascent that saw him win a Stanley Cup as the St. Louis Blues starter, Binnington has failed to reproduce such a quality and consistency of play. On the basis of personality and performance, and factoring in contracts, some might argue if Binnington would be an upgrade at all.
Nevertheless, Binnington’s past glory will give him staying power in the eyes of many. At this point, the Blues might be content to focus on that upside, rather than moving on from Binnington. The team sold off assets last season, leading to a significant influx of talent to their prospect pipeline but has shown signs of rebounding, and though young backup Joel Hofer has shown some signs of promise it is by no means a given that they will decide to move Binnington.
Elvis Merzlikins is probably a slight upgrade on Campbell, though he has split tandems duties so far in his career. The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a strange place, somewhere between rebuilding and retooling, and are difficult to anticipate in some ways. Behind Merzlikins is Daniil Tarasov, who might be the Jackets best bet as a goalie of the future. Perhaps the Jackets will decide to divest themselves from Merzlikins’ cap hit after investing a lot of cap dollars into their blueline this offseason.
The Montreal Canadiens have something of a three-headed monster in net, leaving Jake Allen as a potential option. Sam Montembeault appears to be backing up his strong performance of last season, while Camden Primeau has held up well in getting his first taste of NHL action.
Allen has not been a true starter in years, and might not be a clear cut upgrade on Campbell. Still, the advantage is that Allen’s contract expired at the end of this season.
Once a top prospect, Mackenzie Blackwood fell out of favour in New Jersey after losing a lot of time due to injuries. Now healthy, Blackwood seems to have regained some form, though this is difficult to discern thanks to his being on the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks young tandem of Blackwood and Kaapo Kahkonen have profiles that might suggest upside, and both currently have the opportunity to face a ton of shots and scoring chances.
The Sharks might be willing to see if either can flourish in these difficult conditions, as the team has not had a true elite goalie since the days of Evgeni Nabokov. As the Sharks are amidst a thorough scorched earth rebuild any player could be had for the right package of futures. In terms of cost and potential upside, Blackwood might be one of the more interesting possibilities here, though it would be a high risk manoeuvre.
Low cap hit swings
While goalies in this range will not be as established as Campbell, they do make considerably less money. Perhaps the lower cap cost will help the Oilers navigate the dealings, meaning that the assets that it would cost to acquire a higher profile goalie could be leveraged to acquire help elsewhere on the roster, making the position more tenable for whoever finds themselves in the Oilers net.
Still, given the shifting sands of the goalie market, the difference between the opinions of the teams involved and that of the public might be drastically different. While the Oilers might be able to acquire a young and talented goalie, the process requires correctly identifying a goalie of quality as well as that same goalie being undervalued by their current team. While we as fans might be able to satisfy one of these criteria, it is more than likely that such a goalie would be valued by their current team.
Karel Vejmelka/Connor Ingram
The Arizona Coyotes duo of Karel Vejmelka and Connor Ingram do not make much against the cap, and have upheld the tradition of unheralded goalies finding their game in the desert. One thing that might have changed from recent years is that the Coyotes seem to be a team on the rise, with a skilled young core coming together. For this reason it might be more unlikely that the Coyotes would be willing to depart from their current tandem than their reputations might suggest.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen/Eric Comrie
The Buffalo Sabres are expecting to make the playoffs this season, and boast an extremely exciting team of young talent. This reality is reflected in net, as the Sabres have two highly touted young goalies on the roster. Devon Levi is currently thought of as the true future of the Sabres crease, and is likely untouchable from the Sabres perspective, which might mean the team is willing to part with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
UPL is thought of quite highly, and might even be the Sabres best goalie at the moment, which does cast doubt on the team’s willingness to move him. At the same time, the Oilers might not be comfortable staking so much on such an unproven commodity, though the upside of such a deal is certainly something for fans to fantasise about. In the end, it might be Eric Comrie who ends up being traded. From an acquisition cost standpoint, Comrie would be the cheapest of the three.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings feature a lot of the hallmarks of teams on this list, including a number of goalies in the system, as well as a high level prospect in Sebastian Cossa in the AHL. Cossa does not seem to be forcing his way into the NHL this season, instead growing into a consistent starter in the AHL. This situation in net mirrors the rest of the Wings roster, where a wave of young, tall, talented prospects are being blocked, or insulated, by a volume of veterans.
The Wings have Ville Husso and James Reimer as their NHL tandem, but also have Alex Lyon in the AHL. While it might be a bit rich to say that Reimer or Lyon are an upgrade on Campbell, they do cost less against the cap. Clearly the “Yzerplan” is in the stage where the Wings GM is forcing his team’s youth to play their way onto the roster, meaning it would be fairly inconsistent for them to fast track Cossa by trading a goalie. What’s more, the Wings depth of futures and recently signed veterans mean they already have a crowded roster without huge holes in terms of depth.
Working the wire
The final option would be for the Oilers to target a goalie who has already been on waivers at some point this season. Each year, there are at least a few goalies that are waived who might be able to succeed in the NHL if given the chance, though clearly it would be a gamble to elect for such an option.
These three likely represent the best this tier has to offer. In fact, due to injuries all three have already seen some NHL action this season. Of course, none of them are thought of as true NHL starters, such is the name of the game in this exercise of bargain hunting.
Petersen is interesting because the Philadelphia Flyers might theoretically accept a one for one trade of Campbell for Petersen. Both franchises would love it if the change of scenery somehow rebuilt the goalies, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Jones has had some down years, but one might argue the Oilers might actually offer more support than Jones has been used to since being traded by the Los Angeles Kings.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire