How Much Has The Oilers AHL Goaltending Mattered?

Jonathan Willis
January 28 2010 09:05AM

The Oilers goaltending has been a point of controversy since the summer. While the majority of the fans were supporters of the acquisition of Nikolai Khabibulin, a vocal minority spoke against the move, arguing that both his ability, health and age were all legitimate points for concern. Since Khabibulin’s injury, a pair of untested prospects in Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk have covered the goaltending. How many points has that trio cost the Oilers?

I’ve been wondering how to make the comparison, but I hit upon an idea I liked this morning. The New York Islanders signed two free agent goaltenders this summer, Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron, both goaltenders who were suggested as possible starters for the Oilers. The idea I had was in the form of a question: hypothetically, what if Steve Tambellini and Garth Snow had been reversed this summer, with the Oilers picking up two veterans and the Islanders snagging Khabibulin to cover for DiPietro?

Just for comparison’s sake, I stacked the game-by-game performances of Biron and Roloson up against the game-by-game performances of the Oilers trio. I multiplied the save percentages of the Islanders’ duo against the shots faced by the Oilers’ goalies, game-by-game (in other words, I didn’t just multiply Roloson’s .909 SV% against all his starts; if he had a 0.773 SV% night (and he did) or a 1.000 SV% night (he had that too) I multiplied it against the specific date. For games that now resulted in a tie, I did a 40/60 weighting between wins and overtime losses, to match the Oilers OT/SO record this season.

I had some very interesting results, which I'll break down here.

Oilers Actual Numbers

  • Overall: 16-29-6, 38 points
  • Pre-Khabibulin Injury: 8-10-3
  • Post-Khabibulin Injury: 8-19-3
  • Nikolai Khabibulin: 7-9-2, .909 SV%
  • Jeff Deslauriers: 9-15-3, .896 SV%
  • Devan Dubnyk: 0-5-1, .869 SV%

Simulated Numbers

  • Overall: 21-24-6, 48 points
  • Pre-Khabibulin Injury: 9-10-2
  • Post-Khabibulin Injury: 12-14-4
  • Dwayne Roloson: 14-17-3, .909 SV%
  • Martin Biron: 7-7-3, .900 SV%

Lots of interesting stuff there.

For starters, the notion that Nikolai Khabibulin was the team's MVP is hogwash; the team's record with him wasn't especially good and it turns out the team would have done better with the cheaper Biron/Roloson tandem, despite the fact that Deslauriers was spectacular in his first few starts.

Secondly, all those people who point to win/loss records as being terribly significant are simply deluding themselves.  A goaltender has very little impact on how many goals the team scores in front of him, and the way Martin Biron's record improves in this context shows that.  He's had the misfortune to start on nights the Islanders have been unable to score, and while I know there's a theory out there that it's a result of the team 'lacking enough confidence to play their game', I'll toss out a quote that fits: correlation does not equal causation.  Normally that term is bandied about by people who don't know what it means, but it fits here because anyone who has watched more than one NHL game knows that Martin Biron can't go out and score two goals to power the Islanders to victory.

Thirdly, as it happens we probably ought to be thankful that Steve Tambellini went with such a lousy goaltending plan.  I say that because even though his choices have cost the Oilers in the neighborhood of 10 points in the standings (i.e. 20% of the team's failings this season can be directly attributed to Steve Tambellini's goaltending choice), those 10 points aren't enough for the team to climb up to even 14th in the Conference; they'd still be three points back of Columbus.  Even with superior goaltending, this is a lottery team.

Fourthly, AHL results matter.  It would be nice if I could get a nickel's worth of backpay for every time someone reminded me the Oilers hadn't given Deslauriers a chance in the NHL yet, because I'd be at least a few dollars richer.  Jeff Deslauriers has been an average goaltender in the AHL, and while he'll probably still have an NHL career as a backup somewhere, his AHL results have been a very good predictor of his NHL results.  The Oilers have jumped through waiver-wire hoops for two years to see if the seven years of development they've sunk into this kid were a worthwhile investment, but they could have saved themselves some time by asking themselves how many goalies in the AHL were better than Deslauriers (Is the answer 10 or more?  Yes?  Move on).  Meanwhile, Dubnyk's two years younger and probably has a higher ceiling, but he's almost certianly never going to evolve into a franchise-calibre goalie.

That's what I see.  The most interesting points to me are a) simply how miserable Tambellini's goaltending plan was and b) even if his goaltending plan wasn't miserable, this team still wouldn't be near the playoffs.  The logical conclusion of those two points is that Steve Tambellini should be fired at the end of the season.  This was a collossal, predictable screwup that has cost the team not just a season, but has possibly cost Daryl Katz his new, publicly-funded arena and further eroded the credibility of the Oilers organization with fans and players across the league. 

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 Soundwave
January 28 2010, 07:26PM
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Might not want to get too carried away -- a new arena will be built, finally landing a player like Hall or Seguin helps that more in the long run than finishing 10th again this year (which is what having Roli + Hemsky would've netted the Oilers).

Maybe Khabby is just gold for rebuilds, lol. In Chicago they locked up a ton of cap on him, he got hurt and then they tanked for Toews and Kane. Then once the team was looking OK again, he was able to help them out of the gutter.

Lets face it ... the Oilers were never going to willingly tank for a top 3 pick. Khabby (plus the Hemsky injury) basically has given them no choice.

The goaltending issue is troublesome going forward, but at this point, it's probably going to net the Oilers a far better player in the draft than they could've gotten otherwise.

Maybe some of that ineptitude is finally paying off.

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#102 Ender
January 28 2010, 07:37PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Roloson's also 40. And being "fairly sure" doesn't really mean a whole lot. I mean, saying it's a skater issue means that there's a qualcomp issue. Qualcomp means nothing with regard to goalies? It's only how much you score, not how much they score against you? I don't get where your "fairly sure" is coming from.

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#103 Ender
January 28 2010, 07:59PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Answering the point about zero experience with "Tyler's a lawyer" means what? There are a lot of educated people in a lot of different professions. Does it follow they should enter middle management with an NHL team without any experience?

-- There aren't any other people out there as educated as your friend Tyler who also happen to have at least some experience on the job? He's the guy? He's the best candidate?

-- Using a smart-assed jab by Rob Tychkowski isn't exactly fair. Rob gets beat by everybody and he'd rather write something sarcastic about something like Jagr than do the work to see if the rumour has legs. Likewise, using Staples as an example isn't fair ball either. He's a reporter by trade, not a pajama-wearer, and he's got Peter Adler, who used to be the Czech welcome wagon around here, whispering in his ear.

Tyler Dellow, from website to NHL front office, eh? That's a big peck on cheek for a friend if ever there was one.

Don't forget that Tyler invented concepts like "Supply and Demand," "Financial Bubble and Crisis," and "Balanced Roster." I mean, these are super-complicated observations that it could only take a lawyer or someone with amazing foresight to come up with.

I mean, when people getting paid millions of dollars don't act 100% along the lines of those things I try to figure out what their angle is, rather than assuming they don't understand Econ 101.

But that's why I'll never be elevated to hypothetical assistant to the GM. I'd spend too much time looking at why things aren't the way they "should" be than just acting Rightly and steaming forwards.

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#104 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 28 2010, 08:45PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Peter:

Yeah, bringing a guy on board (let's say at 100K/yr, although that's probably high) to say 'don't sign Khabibulin because the market's flooded already' and 'by the way, Kevin, the cap's going up' would totally be a waste of money.

Hell, at this point if the Oilers paid Dellow 4MM a year to get medical records on their signings it would be worth it because a) it doesn't count against the cap and b) it would hvae saved the Oilers the millions their blowing on Khabibulin.

Totally a waste of money.

As for not understanding the emotional side of the game, Peter, what side of the game would you say the current management understands?

Would 'none' side be accurate? ;)

Even you could run the Oilers into the ground ala Steve Tambellini last year. Any idiot could do it. You could write an MS-DOS program capable of doing it.

But to each their own. How did you stand on Khabibulin, btw? With Tambellini?

"Even you could run the Oilers into the ground ala Steve Tambellini last year. Any idiot could do it. You could write an MS-DOS program capable of doing it."

To be fair here, theirs a 30th place team every year. That doesn't mean some joe blow off the street would be a better GM then the guys that ran the ship to 30.

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#105 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 28 2010, 08:48PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Peter:

I was actually too kind to you above.

Yes hire someone who has zero experience because he supposedly wrote a few things about the Oilers...

For starters, Tyler's a lawyer, which means he has more education than most of the guys brought on in the assistant to the GM role. Secondly "supposedly" wrote? Do you know what supposedly means?

Here's four years or so worth of writing. Read it. Better yet, pass it on to Oilers management. Because it's a hell of al ot brighter than the strategy they've been running.

You sit-at-home-bloggers drink your own bath water so much it is comical.

I love the sit-at-home line. It's the same line Rob Tychowski used to deride a Jagr rumour - a rumour that was not only accurate, but one that he was cleanly beat on.

The fact you think it is that easy to run a team just proves that you don't understand any emotional aspect of the game. Crunching numbers is one thing, but who said the Oilers didn't know where the cap was going??? Every team has bad contracts.

Kevin Lowe said he didn't know the cap was going up, shortly after the Ryan Smyth trade.

Going off memory here, but I think Lowe said he didn't think the cap was going up that much... which I would bet would have been the same expectation of most GM's of the time.

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#106 Robin Brownlee
January 28 2010, 09:04PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Going off memory here, but I think Lowe said he didn't think the cap was going up that much... which I would bet would have been the same expectation of most GM's of the time.

You've got it right. Big difference.

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#108 Robin Brownlee
January 28 2010, 10:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Speaking to the point of experience in NHL jobs, the names Jimmy Devellano and Chris Snow come to mind.

Speaking of reaching -- two examples in how many thousand hockey jobs over the last 20 years? In any case, your friend Tyler is not them.

Again, I ask, is your friend Tyler the best candidate or is "I'd hire Tyler Dellow" an overstep that must have made even him shudder to read it?

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#109 David S
January 28 2010, 11:11PM
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http://www.gifanatics.com/file /jpicsexIaDuvYsym3hmm.gif

(Don't worry. Its mom friendly.)

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#111 Robin Brownlee
January 29 2010, 12:17AM
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@Jonathan Willis

I thought Snow can't be the least qualified person to have a hockey ops job because Doug MacLean drew an NHL salary for years.

There's also a media guy here in town who is highly regarded enough by some people that he could make the jump to a hockey ops job in the next year or two.

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