Goaltending tandem for the playoffs

Who backs up 'Stache man for the playoffs?
Vegas Golden Knights v Edmonton Oilers
Vegas Golden Knights v Edmonton Oilers / Leila Devlin/GettyImages
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There's no question that Stuart Skinner will be the man in goal for the Oilers for the lions share of the five games left in the regular season, but who backs him up and goes in if he falters or gets injured?

Let's talk about some options here. Many of you fans will say "Calvin Pickard, duh, why would you change that? He's playing well right now, why switch it up?"

Yes, Pickard may be playing well right now, and that's great, but here's the thing - the second the regular season is over the playoffs start - and that's a whole other season and a whole different animal. The game is different in the playoffs vs. the regular season, any NHL player who's played in them can tell you that.

So what do we do here? We've essentially got three options.

Calvin Pickard - the regular season incumbent

There's no question Pickard came up after Jack Campbell went down and provided the Oilers with some much-needed relief for Stuart Skinner between the pipes, and he's done well in limited time, rejuvenating a career that essentially was on life support prior to this season. Drafted in the second round in 2010 by the Colorado Avalanche, Pickard looked like their goalie of the future, especially after he played 20 games for the Avs in the 2015-16 season, putting up an elite SV% of .922 and a solid 2.56 GAA. The next season he was given more games by the Avs, who put him in 50 games for them, however, he essentially fell off the map, his SV% nosediving to .904 and his GAA going up to 2.98. Predictably the Avs didn't offer him another contract, and he spent the next nine seasons bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL, with a COVID stint in the Austrian pro leagues. During this time he bounced around between Toronto, Philly, Arizona, and Detroit, playing for the AHL teams of all four organizations as well, all the while putting up mediocre stats in the NHL and no better than average in the AHL, even spending an entire season in Bakersfield in 2022-23.

It wasn't until Jack Campbell started the season struggling - more than any other Oiler, I'd argue - that Pickard was called upon to answer the bell again, with probably the best skaters in front of him he's had since his days playing for the Avs. Pickard has really answered the bell for the Oilers, playing in 20 games which includes 18 starts, and putting up the best numbers his career has seen since that fateful 2015-16 season for Colorado.

So why not keep playing him? One simple reason we should move Pickard down to the taxi squad for the playoffs - he doesn't have a single NHL playoff game on his resume. Not one. He's played in five AHL playoff games, three with the Toronto Marlies in 2017-18, then two more with the Condors last season. In a season where the Oilers are in win-now mode, it simply doesn't make sense to back up Skinner with a guy who hasn't played a single NHL playoff game that would be an X factor if we can't play Skinner. This scenario has, in fact, played itself before for the Oilers.

Remember the 2006 playoffs? The Oilers slayed 3 formidable dragons in Detroit (the President's Trophy winners from 2005-06), San Jose (who would go on to become legendary playoff chokers until they dropped off the map and were forced to start a rebuild albeit saddled with some bad contracts), and Anaheim (we played against Corey Perry, FYI) before two improbable opponents in Carolina and Edmonton faced off against each other in the Stanley Cup finals. The Oilers were fortunate enough to be riding the hottest goalie in the NHL at that point, Dwayne Roloson, all the way to the top. Unfortunately, Roloson got injured in game one of the Cup finals, and to back him up the Oilers were riding a two-headed goaltending monster with Ty Conklin and Jussi Markanen, and between the two of them had but a single playoff game of experience combined - courtesy of Markannen who had made but a single appearance in the playoffs in 2002-03 for the Oilers.

The Oilers went with Conklin for game two, but after the Oilers got slaughtered by Carolina 5-0, Conklin rode the bench and never started another playoff game for the Oilers again (he would go on to play only one more NHL playoff game in his career, for Detroit). So Markannen it was for the rest of the series while Conklin rode the pine. Markannen was better than Conklin, but not nearly as good as Rolson and the Oilers went on to lose the series in seven games.

If we go with Pickard as the backup, as well as he's playing in the regular season, there's no guarantee that performance rolls over to the playoffs, and if we dig in our heels and keep the current tandem, there's a good chance we'll be in trouble if Skinner falters or gets injured. If Dwayne Roloson had been healthy in the Cup finals in 2006, there's no doubt in my mind the Oilers would've won instead of Carolina - that's the power of a hot goaltender - but even if you speculate on this alternate history, if the Oilers had actually had a guy with playoff experience backing up Roloson they also might've won that year. With Pickard backing up Skinner in the playoffs, there's every chance history will repeat itself and the Oilers will lose in the Cup finals - or earlier - if Pickard backs up Skinner. Unlike in 2006, we do actually have another option that in my opinion is a better option than Pickard.....