Three Seasons Later

Jonathan Willis
April 05 2012 10:47AM

It has now been three seasons since the Edmonton Oilers were faced with a tough decision on their goaltending. Soon-to-be 40-year old Dwayne Roloson had been the team’s starting goalie since coming over in trade in 2005-06. With Roloson unwilling to sign a one-year deal and entering free agency, the Oilers had to find a solution between the pipes.

Fortunately for the team, this was a rare opportunity. Most clubs already had their starting goalie job locked down – Edmonton and Colorado were the only teams in clear need of a starter, while the N.Y. Islanders needed insurance for the oft-injured Rick DiPietro. A ton of competent goalies were about to hit the market, and all that seemed clear was that there was going to be a game of musical chairs and more than a few were going to be left without a seat. After recapping that situation, here is how Tyler Dellow assessed things:

One thing that the Oilers might consider is whether or not it makes sense to sign a pair of these guys, say Anderson and Roloson, and let them fight it out. Maybe you give Anderson an extra year so he’s got some incentive to come here. While there’s the Jeff Deslauriers problem, practically speaking, he may well be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season – if he doesn’t play at least 30 minutes in at least 20 games, he qualifies under the same rule that Curtis Glencross qualified under. With the Oilers most likely to be life or death to make the playoffs, it’s hard to see him playing very many games, particularly if Quinn agrees with MacTavish’s implicit assessment of JDD. It would seem to me to make a great deal of sense to explore whether the Oilers couldn’t get better by having a very good backup, whose identity will be sorted out once the two guys signed to compete for the starter’s job determine a champion.

It’s also interesting to go back and read the comments on that post. Derek Zona of Copper and Blue suggested an Anderson/Legace tandem would be a good route to go. I suggested Martin Biron plus any of Dwayne Roloson, Jason Labarbera or Manny Legace in a tandem scenario. Roloson/Anderson was also suggested as a possible solution.

David Staples’ comment might have been the most interesting. I’m going to quote it in its entirety:

This will be one of the first times we’ll get an idea about Tambellini’s negotiating. Will he give long-term deals to older players, as we saw now and then in Lowe era (Staios, Roloson, Moreau, Souray, Pisani)? Or will Tambo see the current goalie market as you see it, Tyler, (quite correctly, it seems to me) and bargain hard? Of all the Oilers unknowns and crucial issues, Tambo is at the top of my list. The man is a mystery.

We know what happened. The Oilers decided that Jeff Deslauriers was an asset worth protecting, and kept him around in the backup role. Nikolai Khabibulin was brought in on a four year deal with an average cap hit of $3.75 million per season.

The following chart shows the goalies who were available that summer, their records and save percentages over the last three seasons, and their total cap hit over that span:

Player GP W L OTL SV% $
Jason Labarbera 53 18 20 7 0.916 3.25
Craig Anderson 184 95 66 17 0.915 6.81
Scott Clemmensen 82 30 25 15 0.911 3.60
Martin Biron 66 29 25 6 0.905 3.15
Manny Legace 30 10 8 6 0.904 0.50
Dwayne Roloson 142 59 59 14 0.904 8.50
Nikolai Khabibulin 105 29 61 13 0.901 11.25

A few points worth noting:

  • With the exception of Labarbera, all of these goalies have spent significant time with terrible teams.
  • Dwayne Roloson fell off a cliff this year; over the first two seasons after the Oilers made their decision, he had a 0.910 SV%.
  • Money-wise, the guys who got backup jobs have all been dirt-cheap.  Labarbera, Clemmensen and Biron have all averaged between $1.0 - $1.2 million per season over the last three years.
  • The Oilers not only picked the worst of this group, but shelled out the most cash for the privelege of doing so.

No single decision has been more responsible for the last-place finishes the last two seasons, and the currently-projected 29th place finish this year, than the decision that summer to sign Nikolai Khabibulin.

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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 butter
April 05 2012, 10:51AM
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Yes yes yes yes yes

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#2 geoilersgist
April 05 2012, 10:52AM
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I pounded my fists in anger when they signed Khabby. But we wouldn't have Taylor or Nuge if it wouldn't have been

Edit:Fail

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#3 BaconWrapped
April 05 2012, 10:54AM
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Yeah, not sure why they decided not to give two years to Roloson. I cried a little (lots) that day...

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#4 Leopard
April 05 2012, 10:55AM
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Please correct me if I am wrong, but the Oilers did pursue Anderson and he turned them down, did he not?

I was strongly hoping we would get Anderson and didn't know how to react after we signed a different older goalie to such a long contract when we refused to sign Roloson to a multi-year because he was too old.

The JDD decision certainly worked out didn't it...

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#6 bdiddy18
April 05 2012, 11:04AM
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Not really the worst.

Because the defensive core has been neglected since then as well.

no major pickups and the Whitney trade was a loss

so it wouldn't have mattered who we signed from that collective group - they all would have had miserable seasons with the ahl talent playing D in front of them.

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#8 Omega
April 05 2012, 11:20AM
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Your forgetting that with out the Bulin wall we would not have had Hall or RNH and the 2nd overall pick this year

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#9 Bucknuck
April 05 2012, 11:26AM
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If they extend Tambellini I will not be very happy.

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#10 Gazmort
April 05 2012, 11:40AM
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JW, where do you source your data from? I'd be interested in breaking it down to a season-by-season, to see if there's underlying effects (similar to the "Roloson" effect this year).

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#11 VMR
April 05 2012, 11:47AM
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I agree that Staples comment was interesting and the results show to me that Tambellini was/is a yes man. He's either following along with Kevin's big plan or Kevin is still actively involved with the decision making process on this team. Either way I dont think getting rid of Tambo solves any of the problems, it just makes way for a new yes man probably Bucky if he's not head coach next season. :)

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#13 IHeartHemsky
April 05 2012, 12:10PM
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Looking back is fun, especially the mess some of the signing have been but without this mess, no Hall, no Nuge and no 2012 pick.

So if they FINALLY learn from their mistakes, then it was worth it.

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#14 Scottie
April 05 2012, 12:22PM
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"No single decision has been more responsible for the last-place finishes the last two seasons, and the currently-projected 29th place finish this year, than the decision that summer to sign Nikolai Khabibulin."

And it is for this reason, along with a host of others, that I don't think that Tambellini deserves a contract extension.

However he probably will, because that's just what losing organizations do. The idea of sunk cost does not even come across their minds.

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#15 bazmagoo
April 05 2012, 12:52PM
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Well Kevin Lowe got promoted after the Horcoff deal, so maybe Tambellini is due a step up in the organization?

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#16 rindog
April 05 2012, 01:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I've never seen a public report that suggested that.

I seem to recall something about Tambellini wanting Anderson, but getting pressure from Katz to sign Khabibulan???

Was it on Oil Change?

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#17 Beavis
April 05 2012, 01:17PM
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That chart is like a slap in the face, followed by an ice cold bucket of water dumped on your head, followed by a punch to the gut. Can someone just email it to Katz with the subject being "Re: That Tambellini Extension"?

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#18 vetinari
April 05 2012, 02:20PM
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I had such mixed feelings when they signed Khabibulin- he had a cup on his resume but I thought that four years was completely insane at $3.75M/per.

I think that in this off-season, they either have to find a way to move Khabibulin's salary (maybe package him up with some spare parts for a utility defenceman) or else accept that he counts against the cap, demote him and look for a veteran backup in the $800K to $1.25M range on a one year deal.

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#19 Braden28
April 05 2012, 02:55PM
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@Beavis

Perfectly said.

I remember the Oilers not wanting to sign Roli because of his age, and in the same sentence, signing a contract with a goalie that will be 40 when it is over. This might be ANOTHER spot where the pro scouts, need to take some blame too.

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#20 R.E.
April 05 2012, 02:56PM
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Bravo. Excellent piece. Mr. Katz should see this.

Given Khabi's and Sutton's contract, I don't think Tambellini has any grasp on market value.

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#21 Clay
April 05 2012, 03:16PM
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I'm willing to forgive Mr. Tambellini for the Khabby signing, if he can figure a way to pry Schneider out of Vancouver.

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#22 Dan the Man
April 05 2012, 03:32PM
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When the Oilers signed Khabibulin they thought they could be contenders, they were wrong....really, really wrong but it forced them to tear it all down and go through a rebuild.

Had they signed someone like Anderson they could very well be like the Flames are now....holding on to veterans thinking that they could sneak into the playoffs and then who knows what could happen?

I would so much rather be the Oilers than the Flames right now.

Khabibulin's signing was obviously a poor decision by management but in the end it was probably the best thing for the organization even it was just dumb luck.

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#23 nathan
April 05 2012, 04:12PM
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Even if Khabibulin had worked out Tambi identified himself right there as approaching risk in odd ways.

Roloson in good shape for 2 years? The 2nd year is far more dangerous than the 1st. So the risk is pretty much on Roloson's last year at 41. Roloson's current year would not have even been on that contract.

Khabibulin coming off of back problems for 4 year. The risk starts at age 37 and then explodes over 38-40 year old Khabibulin.

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#24 Lexi
April 05 2012, 04:30PM
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R.E. wrote:

Bravo. Excellent piece. Mr. Katz should see this.

Given Khabi's and Sutton's contract, I don't think Tambellini has any grasp on market value.

This is the stuff that drives me crazy about Katz, in that we have no clue how he is evaluating this team. I'm assuming he owns the team either because he wants to be a winner and would hold all senior management accountable for that, or he wants to make as much money as possible which in this market would still be way more profitable as a playoff team, where a few million extra smartly spent on management can come back five fold with playoff dates and extra merchandise sales. (I mean the Oilers are not the license to print money even when they fail the way the Maple Leafs are). I'm assuming he is not owning the team just so he can "jock sniff" his 80s hero Lowe, but I'm not 100% certain that's not the case.

All I know something needs to change in management or coaching this off-season and I guess we have to blindly hope that the right evaluations are being made. I hope the retaining or letting go decisions are made by the end of April so they are ready to hire replacements as soon as the right people are available (like Tippett) and so they can properly prep for the draft and free agency. I'll say one thing for this organization, they sure seem to do a good job keeping their plans secret. I think I've seen some bloggers compare Lowe to either Bush or Putin (or both)in that he might not be competent but he sure doesn't allow any leaks.

I truly pray that Katz makes sure that we have management that properly understands the CBA and Cap Management as my biggest fear is someone like Calgary pulling a Vanek offer on one of the big three and either stealing him or screwing up the Oil's cap so bad that they will be like Tampa Bay post lockout with 3 stars and a bunch of bums.

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#25 Sliderule
April 05 2012, 04:49PM
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If the comment that Katz wanted Habi is true you wonder how hands on Katz is. I always thought having his kid in the room while they were deciding Taylor or Tyler was beyond strange.

Maybe he is just like a lot of us deciding who to draft or sign as free agents only he can in reality.

Scary isn't it!,

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#26 knight
April 05 2012, 07:43PM
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Great signing, lets give management an extension!!!!

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#27 FastOil
April 05 2012, 09:27PM
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For a while poor decision making could have been taken as a cover for finding "elite talent", the type that "wasn't available" to the Edmonton Oilers, the team playing in the worst single place in the history of the universe.

Let bygones be bygones. The clock is now ticking. A nice start might be a healthy dose of professionalism. Why not? Give it a try.

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#28 pelhem grenville
April 06 2012, 07:31AM
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Clay wrote:

I'm willing to forgive Mr. Tambellini for the Khabby signing, if he can figure a way to pry Schneider out of Vancouver.

...our Gm couldn't figure his way out of a paper bag ... sadly as well the wet coasters ain't gonna be lettin' their Luongo savior go away ...for a long time i wanted this kid to be OURS next year but i can't see it happening ... i'm finally convinced the Canucks don't want anything to do with us til MacT is the head coach there...maybe after they place second again for the second time in two years...there's always hope isn't there ?

Bunz may be our next backup after our [new] GM buries our goalie in OKC for his swan song...

gawd forbid...our GM gets extended and he WILL continue to be the noisey or quiet mess trying to get out of the paper bag over in the corner all next year...then we're really screwed

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#29 dawgbone
April 06 2012, 11:07AM
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bazmagoo wrote:

Well Kevin Lowe got promoted after the Horcoff deal, so maybe Tambellini is due a step up in the organization?

The difference of course is when you overpay a player, you can generally hide him somewhere in your lineup to extract at least some value from his deal.

When you give it to a goaltender and he's literally out there losing games for your team, it's very difficult to get value out of that. You can hide him by only playing him against weak teams, but if he's still losing those games then you are gaining nothing.

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#30 OilerLand
April 06 2012, 02:49PM
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I'm not a stats guy but damn, the Oilers need to hire you "Moneyball" style.

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#31 Simon says
April 07 2012, 10:48AM
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Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I still wouldn't have signed Roloson. I also would be more interested in seeing the stats of those goalies over the previous 3 seasons.

Not one of those goalies has the resume that Khabibulin has. Was it clear that he was in decline in his skills? Yes of course anyone could see that. But was the purpose of signing him to take us to the promised land or to be a transition goalie? Not one of you prognosticators foresaw the Oilers injurie troubles. Tings happen for a reason and while hindsight says it was a bad signing. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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