Connor McDavid and his Edmonton Oilers are off to a nightmare start in 2023-24. After coming within two wins of beating the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in the second round last postseason, the expectations coming into the year were sky high for a team boasting the sport's two best players.
But expectations and reality are very different things. Now 20 games into the season, Edmonton is somehow 7-12-1, and second last place in the Pacific Division. The beginning of the year started with an 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, and things haven't gotten much better since.
Goaltending continues to plague Oilers
It's obvious that the main problem here is goaltending. Jack Campbell, who is extremely well-liked and respected off the ice, just can't seem to find his game on it. The 31-year-old was sent down to the American Hockey League's Bakersfield Condors on Nov. 7 after imploding again at the NHL level, and proceeded to get shelled in his first start. Although he's starting to settle down in the minors, it's unlikely he'll get another shot in the big leagues year. That is seriously concerning, especially as he's making $3.85 million against the cap for the next three seasons.
Stuart Skinner, who was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie in 2022-23, has been better — but not much. Edmonton expected him to be the goalie that brings the franchise to a Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2006, but the 25-year-old is going through a sophomore slump. Everyone in the organization is feeling it, and although the last few weeks have been more positive, something needs to change.
“The Oilers haven’t been able to buy a save this season,” wrote Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli last week. “Edmonton’s goaltending is on a historically bad pace. They rank 32nd with an .867 save percentage. For perspective, the Seattle Kraken were sunk by saves in 2021-22 with the worst goaltending in the salary cap era – in fact, the worst goaltending performance over a full season in 30 years – and Seattle finished that season with an .880 save percentage.”
One change was already made in Alberta, with Jay Woodcroft being the first coach fired in 2023-24. He was let go just 13 games into the season, and has been replaced by former assistant coach Kris Knoblauch in his debut as a bench boss. That change looks to be paying dividends, but if the Oilers hope to make a run and improbably get back to the playoffs, they almost certainly need to trade for a goalie. And Detroit Red Wings netminder James Reimer could be the perfect fit.
James Reimer could provide stability, veteran presence in Edmonton
There are a plethora of goaltenders who could potentially help the Oilers turn things around. The Montreal Canadiens boast three NHL-ready tendies in Jake Allen, Samuel Montembault and Cayden Primeau, and Edmonton's front office recently took in a game at the Bell Centre. Arizona Coyotes goalie Karel Vejmelka could also be an option, especially as it looks like Connor Ingram has won the net with his excellent play in the desert. And MacKenzie Blackwood would probably love to get out of San Jose; he's been impressing between the pipes for an awful Sharks team, and is fresh off a 33-save, 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals on Monday night.
Honestly, the Oilers could make something work for any of the above goalies and it could end up being an upgrade over Skinner. But James Reimer just seems like the right piece for the 2023-24 Oilers. One of the main reasons for that is the excellent play of Alex Lyon, who was instrumental in helping the Florida Panthers get into the playoffs last year, and has been lights out lately for the Red Wings. With Ville Husso also on the roster, it would make sense for one of those three goalies to get moved.
And Reimer could be the perfect solution. He's inexpensive, making just $1.5 million until he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. His career numbers have been good; the veteran has been over a .900 save percentage in each of his 14 seasons except one — and that was with a terrible Sharks team last year. Reimer's career save percentage is .911 over 482 games, and he's 44th in save percentage among the 108 goalies that have played at least 100 games since 2010, per Seravalli.
James Reimer to the Oilers makes sense. He has been a calming force for Detroit this year, and could do the same for a team that needs to settle down defensively. Edmonton has won two straight games in convincing fashion, and they could be starting to come around. Adding Reimer to the equation could be the piece needed to make this talented team competitive again.