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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#1 JeffG
January 28 2010, 09:12AM
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"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."

From bad goaltending choice to this? I'm not sure how you got to this conclusion.

Big stretch.

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#3 The Towel Boy
January 28 2010, 09:14AM
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JW, can save percentage numbers be skewed slightly by the defensive play of the skaters in front of the goalie?

IE: D-men that limit quality scoring chances and shots on goal? vs. The Edmonton Oilers defense.

Just wonderin'...

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#4 -30-
January 28 2010, 09:15AM
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I completely agree with the last sentence. The Oilers won't be competitive for a few years and Katz needs public support to get funding for the new complex.

Public money for a sports complex? Heh, not when health care and other things are so screwed up.

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#5 JeffG
January 28 2010, 09:20AM
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@-30-

Start of next year there will be hope and wonder again.

all sins will be forgiven.

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#8 The Towel Boy
January 28 2010, 09:23AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

They can, of course. Minnesota's proven that. This was one of the reasons I selected the Islanders, because their team is almost as prone to bad defence as the Oilers. Roli's numbers have dipped since last season in Edmonton, and Biron's have dipped since leaving Philadelphia; this is probably the fairest comparable out there.

But we have Strudwick!1!!!!

Oh, right then yes. The Islanders and the Oilers draw adequate defensive comparisons for this exercise.

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#9 JeffG
January 28 2010, 09:30AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ JeffG:

Only if Tambellini, Lowe and Prendergast are all dismissed from their current positions.

Or two of those three and Lowe gets demoted to Senior Vice President, Remembering the Eighties.

Wanna bet?

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#11 The Real Scuba Steve
January 28 2010, 09:32AM
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It just shows how every aspect of the Oilers, except for the coaching staff is in a need of a serious overhaul.

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#12 I'm a Scientist!
January 28 2010, 09:34AM
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JW You are a Scientist!

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#14 Milli
January 28 2010, 09:42AM
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ah, 6-2-1, I remember the glory day!!!!

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#15 CurtisS
January 28 2010, 09:44AM
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Cherry picking stats again. Gotta love it JW.

What you forget to mention is Habby played stretches without: Souray Staios Grebs Lubo

JDD and DD have had a healthy defence core the whole time.

Oh course that doesnt count to any of your conversation.

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#17 Matt Henderson
January 28 2010, 09:52AM
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Some people's children...

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#19 Darwic
January 28 2010, 09:56AM
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JeffG wrote:

"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."

From bad goaltending choice to this? I'm not sure how you got to this conclusion.

Big stretch.

Great article Jonathon!

I don,t feel its a real stretch...its much easier to promote and sell tickets to a winning team and have interested investors for a new arena when the product is good. Continue to have a poor product such as the oilers this year, and don,t even worry about the new arena ..just hope you can sell enough season tickets next year at rexall...and keep a "smuck ' like me interested enough to want to buy some!!

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#20 Shaun Doe
January 28 2010, 09:57AM
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Well the one thing I would have to say about this data and results is, "So what?" and that is honestly not meant to be rude. The way I see it is even if we went out and picked up Biron and kept Roli at a reduced price, we would still be outside the playoff picture looking in. There is still hockey to be played and, yeah I guess there could be a streak comming in this hypothetical situation but that seems highly unlikely. So it seems to me that our situation, while worse in the standings, is ultimately better for the future of the team being that we get a better draft pick rather than picking late with no date to the post season again. Now, next year these numbers might haunt me more...

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#21 Jmask5
January 28 2010, 10:01AM
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Teams play better when they have trust in their goaltending and the Oilers don't have any trust in their goaltending. This is especially apparent on the PK when they seem scared to make a move and when they do they are over aggressive and go out of position.

Another thing is that needs to be considered is that not all shots are equal. The Islanders may give up more grade A chances than the Oilers. Scoring chances per game is also important.

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#23 Shaun Doe
January 28 2010, 10:04AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Shaun Doe:

That's a fair point. Where I think these numbers matter is in evaluating the performance of Steve Tambellini; i.e. even had he constructed a playoff contender he would have shot himself in the foot with his goaltending choices.

Yes that is true. The writing was somewhat on the wall. I guess he saw a big splash signing after letting his MVP walk in free agency and was locked in. Like I said, these numbers will probably make more of an impact next season if the situation remains the same in net. It will be interesting to see if they do when applied to a team that is (hopefully) better construced from the crease out.

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#24 JonW
January 28 2010, 10:04AM
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Jonathan,

I would take issue with your opinion on Dubnyk. He was the stud goaltender in the ECHL with Stockton. Their best player by far in 2007. In 2008 and 2009 he was the best player on Springfield during two really bad years.

I think that the aimless wandering of JDD ruined chances to correct his goaltending tendancies (going down early et al.) I think Dubnyk is much better prospect as you said.

However, goaltenders are not easily understood beasts. they can be incredibly slow in developing. Few have been able to parlay a rookie year into straight success (Dryden, Brodeur and Roy being a very small sample).

Meanwhile guys like Craig Anderson takes eight years to develop and Roloson to 10 before he was a playoff wonder and steady starter.

So maybe it is a LITTLE early to judge Dubnyk's worth (or even JDD for that matter).

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#26 BUCK75
January 28 2010, 10:12AM
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I would much rather be a BAD team than the status quo of the past few years of a team that just misses the play-offs. Mind you with 48 points we would still be in last place, but I think with 48 points MGMT would still think they were in the hunt for the last play-off spot.

I disagree with you on the new arena thing though. An article written by Staples this morning stated that Northlands was examining the possiblity of getting rid of the race track & building a new complex there. Northlands would be getting the money mostly from the government. Edmonton will have a new arena, it's just a case of who the government wants to give the money to. A billionaire or a non profit organization.

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#27 Bucknuck
January 28 2010, 10:24AM
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Good article. There are many variables and you did your best to mitigate that to try and give a good comparison and a thought provoking line of thinking.

Basically, goaltending hasn't helped this team. It isn't the only problem, but 10 points in 50 games is a big impact.

Since that is the ONLY thing (besides giving away Brodziak) that Tambellini did to change the on ice product this off season I think it is a pretty damning point of view.

Jim Matheson, who is pretty connected, mentioned in an article that "Tambellini is not going anywhere" so I would think we are stuck with him for better or (more likely) worse. I don't have a link to the article, but it was in the last three days and is on the Journal website.

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#28 Matt Henderson
January 28 2010, 10:26AM
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@Bucknuck

"MacT is not going anywhere" was also said by a pretty connected guy.

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#29 Matt Henderson
January 28 2010, 10:27AM
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@Bucknuck

"MacT is not going anywhere" was also said by a pretty connected guy.

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#31 bookie
January 28 2010, 10:29AM
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JW - Good article. While I often defend Tambellini, the situation in net is an area that struck me as highly risky. Khabibulin was a strange choice when the team had an uncertain backup situation. Also, the 4 year deal does not seem to fit any reasonable plan for the team. I could see a signing for 1-2 years with the notion that the team was not looking to 'win now' but just wanted some moderate success while getting the roster fixed up. However, Roli would have been a better choice for that.

Maybe Khabibulin/Biron would have been an ok choice, but Khabibulin/AHLunderstudy was a very risky (and now very costly) choice.

If it was Tambellini's decision, you are correct that he should be held accountable.

Given the timing of the signing, I wonder if it was tied to the Heatly chase. I wonder if Tambellini was for or against that decision and if Lowe/Katz were driving it. My hope is that Tambellini was the victom of the 'group management' approach and that now that he is in charge (if he really is) that the team will get better under a focused single vision.

I am not saying that there is a lot of evidence for that, but am hoping that it is the case. I am pretty sure that Tambellini is here for at least 1.5 more years, so it would be best if he turned out to be a genius that has been held back by group management.

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#32 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 28 2010, 10:34AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Bucknuck:

I saw it. Still, Matheson's the same guy who said Brent Sutter wasn't going to be hired in Calgary and of course we all know about the famous Katz to Stauffer text message last season, so I'm remaining hopeful.

I'd like to add that matheson is starting to become a Bruce Garrioch of the Edmonton papers. He throws out a lot of non-sense.

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#34 LBH
January 28 2010, 10:41AM
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Khabi was a very poor signing

JDD & DD are not starters, maybe backups at the most, may as well keep Dubnyk as he seems to be a bit more solid in my opinion, plus he's 2 years younger.

Roy, well he may or may not pan out, chances are he won't

What to do? Well if we're dealing with Khabi for 3 more years, and one Jack Campbell being available as the top goalie in this years draft, who will need a few years or more to develop into an NHL calibre goalie, I suggest we try and get an additional 1st round pick and hope he's still available with that selection.

Thoughts?

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#35 Offthebandwagon
January 28 2010, 10:46AM
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Overall, I only possibly disagree with one aspect of this article: the conclusion that Tambellini should be fired at the end of this season. If he was given the job (by Katz, presumably) of overhauling the roster and rebuilding over a short term and finding success in a year or two, then fair enough, its a collosal failure. However, if his approach is to rebuild through the draft, identify which players are worth keeping and deal with inflated contracts, this is a three-four year process. He can't be judged fairly unless we know what his madate was and what he's been hired to do. His gravest error was promising massive changes to the roster (to add toughness) at the end of last season and then doing nothing. Obviously, he's made mistakes: chasing Heatley, not making some key signings to fill obvious holes, but what are the reasons behind it? Maybe what we are seeing is patience, which may not be a bad thing at this point.

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#36 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 28 2010, 10:46AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@OBJ:

I'm not sure that's fair to Matheson, although he does seem less in the know since the new ownership and the hiring of Tambellini.

You read the sunday sun and then the sunday journal and you get the exact same kind of inside info? Yet the main players like Mckenzie and Dreger will flat out deny the rumors the next day.

I just wish Matheson would mention that it's his open, not that he hears from his sources that this is happening.

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#37 Trenton L
January 28 2010, 10:50AM
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Great article!

Now do an analysis of what would have been if Tambellini had picked up a faceoff/pk centreman, and a shut-down defender instead of chasing Heatley.

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#38 JorgeR
January 28 2010, 10:54AM
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Really? The majority were happy with the Rehab signing? I would have said the opposite.

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#39 semi_moronic
January 28 2010, 10:54AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Jonathan,

As Wayne suggested yesterday, do you think a Souray - Gigeure trade is a good one? Perhaps another goalie is out there for us to snag with Souray going the other way?

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#40 Offthebandwagon
January 28 2010, 10:58AM
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Trenton L wrote:

Great article!

Now do an analysis of what would have been if Tambellini had picked up a faceoff/pk centreman, and a shut-down defender instead of chasing Heatley.

With this in mind, I have a question. What kind of roster space did he have to sign these type of players? This season, if he lets some of the rfas go, there should be some space, but last summer, talk was that we already had two too many players, and if there weren't three injuries to forwards by the end of October, then the Oilers would have had too many contracts. My question then, is how could he have dealt with the holes if no space or trades were available?

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#43 Poo Czar
January 28 2010, 11:03AM
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Growing up an Oiler fan I was always convinced that really good to great goaltending was somewhat of a hallmark of "Oilers hockey" and an essential foundation of a successful hockey club. Fuhr-Moog-Ranford-Cujo, hell I even bought in on Tommy Salo for a while. Actually looking at those names I'm seeing some seriously diminishing returns. Regardless.

The crease situation the team is in now is horrible. Always hated the Hobgoblin signing, as it makes no sense to have a decrepit old goalie on a young, supposedly up-and-coming roster. Even less so now on a toilet-rebuild team.

If Khabby is in fact done for his career, I hope like hell they get a young goalie with upside while goalie stock is at an all-time low. Price? Halak? Hell if I know, just someone who can grow with the proposed "team of the future".

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#45 JorgeR
January 28 2010, 11:04AM
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I was just saying last week that if we had kept Rolly instead of signing Khabibulin We'd probably have 10 more wins. Now you went all technical but I still think we'd have more wins then you suggest because of confidence, momentum. Remember how last year we though our defense was strong? How much stronger did they look in from of Roloson instead of JDD/DD?

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#46 Offthebandwagon
January 28 2010, 11:06AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

semi_moronic wrote:

As Wayne suggested yesterday, do you think a Souray - Gigeure trade is a good one? Perhaps another goalie is out there for us to snag with Souray going the other way?

I think it would be a bad move because it's basically a $6.0 million gamble that Giguere will be a great starter when the odds based on the last few years are probably 50/50 between 'great starter' and '.900 SV%'.

The other thing is that cap space is a limited resource right now, and the Oilers can address their goalie issues for lots less than $6.0 million - $1.5 to get a qualified veteran to tandem with Khabibulin should do the trick.

The Souray money would be better spent elsewhere. Pretty much the only Giguere trade I'd personally make would be Khabibulin + Moreau.

How about Souray + O'Sullivan for Giguere and a 1st or 2nd round draft pick? Free roster and cap space and pick up an extra pick for the rebuild.

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#47 JorgeR
January 28 2010, 11:08AM
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No no need for proof JW, I was just suprised was all. Didn't seem like a very logical move to me since you and many other writers spent atleast a few months telling us about the many affordable options out there.

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#48 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
January 28 2010, 11:10AM
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WE NEED A DRAFT UPDATE. NOW!

165. Team Discovery Channel 682 -55

171. Robin Brownlee 681 -56

339. RossCreek Renegades 660 -77

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#49 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 28 2010, 11:14AM
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"the notion that Nikolai Khabibulin was the team's MVP is hogwash"

Ha-ha, still bringing that up.

(not laughing at you by the way)

Just like wins aren't overly relavant when judging goaltending, the teams record when Bulin was playing isn't overly relavant to picking the teams MVP to that point.

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#50 Harlie
January 28 2010, 11:27AM
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so one article the other day defending Lowe and now an article pointing the finger at Tambellini. Forget the stats...you like one guy over the other. We're in last place. Our starter tender played well while he was here and the team has bailed on him and the other two AHL tender's at times through the season. I like stats but couldn't this have been summed up easier?

It is not Lowe's fault. Tambellini sucks. Khabibulin is old but played decent before he was hurt. Dubnyk and JD are seasoned AHLer's trying to learn the NHL game.

Doesn't that cover it?

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