Mike Smith returned to the Edmonton Oilers' net on Dec. 29 in a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. It was his first game since suffering an ankle injury on Oct. 19. Having their 39-year-old starter back between the pipes also raises questions about Mikko Koskinen's future as Smith's backup.
Earlier this week, Sportsnet's Mark Spector suggested the Oilers could ship out Koskinen by the March 21 trade deadline if Smith remains healthy and playing well. The 33-year-old Finn is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July. Cap Friendly shows him carrying a $4.5-millon salary-cap hit as well as a 15-team no-trade list.
The play of Stuart Skinner could also be a factor. Called up in November, he sported a 4-5-0 record with a respectable 2.70 goals-against average and .916 save percentage as Koskinen's understudy. The 23-year-old is waiver exempt and was returned to their AHL affiliate but can be brought back as part of their taxi squad.
Spector believes moving Koskinen would free up the cap space Oilers general manager Ken Holland would need to make additions to his forward lines. His modified no-trade clause would be a sticking point but it wouldn't make him impossible to move. While consistency has been an issue during his tenure with the Oilers he could draw interest from playoff contenders seeking depth in goal.
Much depends on the aging, brittle Smith's health between now and the trade deadline. If he struggles or becomes sidelined again, Spector believes Holland will stick with Koskinen and Skinner for the remainder of the season. That would also put an end to speculation linking the Oilers to Chicago Blackhawks starter Marc-Andre Fleury.