Is there a veteran NHL free agent the Oilers should pursue in net?

Jonathan Willis
June 03 2013 12:50PM

Aside from Devan Dubnyk, there is a lot of uncertainty at the goaltending position in Edmonton. With the number two and three slots in the organization both currently held by unrestricted free agents who aren’t expected to return, it’s no surprise general manager Craig MacTavish is saying things like “It’s an area of poor depth for our organization” and “We have to shore up our goaltending for sure.”

Is there a veteran NHL free agent who might fit the bill?

The Options

The chart above shows a selection of possibilities, as well as Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin for the sake of reference. The numbers here are each player’s even-strength save percentage over the last three seasons – the black line showing both the highest and lowest numbers over a full season, and the triangle indicating the average save percentage (the triangle doesn’t fall in the exact middle because in some seasons the goaltender faced more shots than others).

League-average even-strength save percentage over the last few years has been between 0.920 and 0.921, though with better goalies playing more games the median goaltender is going to be somewhere under the 0.920 mark.

Two players have posted better numbers than Devan Dubnyk: Mike Smith of Phoenix and Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota. Interestingly, both goaltenders have also had a worse season than Dubnyk, a player that has been remarkably consistent year over year (on this chart, only Evgeni Nabokov, who spent one of these seasons playing in Europe, has a tighter range of performance).

Mike Smith, suggested by some here as a significant upgrade over Dubnyk, likely would be better but is also going to cost more (if he even becomes available). It isn’t like he’s a perfect fit, either – his disastrous 2010-11 season seems to have been wiped from memory but it’s worth keeping in mind. So too is the fact that his even-strength save percentage this year was virtually identical to Dubnyk’s – the difference between them was the equivalent to Mike Smith making exactly one fewer save all season. I’m not a big believer in huge gaps in defensive strength from team to team but I have no trouble believing that the one-goal difference could have been a result of a tighter defensive system in Phoenix. Add in the fact that Smith is a better puckhandler as a pro and his age (four years older than Dubnyk) and concussion history as cons and I’m not convinced it’s worth the money to make the upgrade.

Niklas Backstrom is 35 and coming off a (by his standards) poor season. Again, given the dollar difference a signing probably doesn’t make sense.

Of the backup possibilities, Jose Theodore and Evgeni Nabokov are both plausible, but both are also in the tail ends of their respective careers (Theodore is 36, Nabokov 37). Ray Emery is a strong possibility who could challenge Dubnyk for the starting role if things broke right; the trouble is that he’s been plagued by ups and downs and has a lot of recent injury history. Dan Ellis seems likely to re-sign in Carolina and isn’t an ideal backup anyway.

Jason Labarbera is a player that probably doesn’t get the consideration he deserves because he’s been typecast as a backup goaltender; he is almost certainly a career 1B/2 type goaltender but he’s also been a solid NHL’er for years. If the team is looking for somebody reliable to play number two minutes and fill-in for injury, Labarbera is a good candidate; if they’re looking for a challenger for Dubnyk he’s probably the wrong guy to sign.

The trouble is, there isn’t really a player on this list that is the “right” guy to sign, which may mean going with somebody unproven.

Recently around the Nation Network

The Oilers were rumoured to have at least some interest in former Vancouver Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness, but if they did the opportunity has passed. From Rick Bowness to Join Lightning Staff as Associate Coach

Vancouver's blueline was criticized for weak defensive coverage this past season, and were deployed in an eyebrow raising way in the postseason. But to Bowness' credit, his blue-line personnel were always very good at involving themselves offensively during his time in Vancouver. With the likes of Carle, Hedman, Sustr and Salo to work with in Tampa, we can expect Bowness' blue-liners to be very productive next season.

Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#51 Spydyr
June 04 2013, 10:20AM
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nunyour wrote:

Couldn't agree more,but many fans here think Dubnyk is good enough.

Not this fan.Not the biggest problem but "FIX ALL THE PROBLEMS!!!"

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#52 2004Z06
June 04 2013, 11:49AM
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Mike Smith should be removed from your list JW. He is a starting goaltender and I doubt he would consider coming here to be a back up. All the rest you mentioned are legitimate back ups.

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#53 Cowbell_Feva
June 04 2013, 12:22PM
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I am still not convinced that Dubbie is a legit #1 in the NHL....too many back breaking softies that kill an already fragile team. I don't think the 1A 1B routine is the key to success in the playoffs either. Pittsburgh and Vancouver have kinda proved that.

I think Smith is an upgrade, but goaltending is only one of many holes on this organization. I hope MacT is able to make something happen on draft day, otherwise it will be another long winter in Etown....the UFA market doesn't make me feel pink and rosey.

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#54 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 04 2013, 02:14PM
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Goalies are a tricky business. Easy to pick the hot ones on teams that are playing well.

The reality is, that with a few odd exceptions, the quality of the goalie is as much a function of the team he plays on than his personal skill level.

Until the OIlers build a defense, including the maturing of their forwards defensively, they will not develope a Marty Broduer or a Henrick Lundquist.

Look at most of what we consider to be the good to great goalies and they play on defensive minded teams.

It takes a different breed of goalie to play on an offense first type of team. Not necessarily a goalie with the leagues best save percentage, but a guy like Grant Fuhr, who let in as many or more soft ones (can you say five hole) then Dubbie does, but makes the big saves at critical times,puts the soft goals out of his mind and counts on his team to score one more than the opposition.

All of which, by the way, is why a guy like Aantti Raannta picks Chicago over Oilers, Jets and Blue Jackets.....the guys no fool.

My point is, Oilers management, somewhat at the behest of its fan base, somewhat based on its history, and somewhat based on its draft position over the past several years, has chosen offense over defense, and in doing so has dramatically impacted our chances of ever having a Vezina candidate on our roster.

So what we really need to be looking for is a goalie or goalies that have the right stuff mentally as well as physically.....guys who are built to win games 5 to 4....or hopefully 8 or 9 to 4 like we used to.

For better or for worse......Thats just the way this teams been built......and it's not necessarily a bad thing....

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#55 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 04 2013, 02:40PM
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Not exactly confident with what I'm about to say here...but.....Goalies that offense first teams like the Oilers have had success with in the past were mostly unorthodox in their style, guys who flopped around a little but who never gave up on the puck....in the Oilers case....Ranford, Cujo, Moog, Roloson,.........

The guy whose out there that reminds me the most of that group is........Tim Thomas....

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#56 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 04 2013, 02:49PM
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And.no.......not just because. He's old and retired.....

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#57 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 04 2013, 02:53PM
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If we're going short term until we round out defensively, and we want someone short term to push Dubby........what about Mika Kipprusoft? the guy stoned us enough times......

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#58 TV6
June 05 2013, 12:22AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Pass on Pavelec. That's a boat anchor contract.

A younger & more mobile Tender who is HUGE, yet a few inches smaller than D.D. but plays twice as BIG as Devan does in the cage.

He's locked into a GREAT Cap Hit for the next 4yrs & is only getting better.

You can latch that anchor onto my ship anytime.

How a SPC that is only a few hundred K' over what D.D. makes is a boat anchor is beyond me..?

So what does that make D.D.'s current deal, & even worse off, his next deal look like while O.P. is still locked into his deal for the next 4yrs..?

OUCH ('o')

x6

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#59 Tikkanese
June 10 2013, 01:26PM
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Where's Khudobin or Greiss on this list? They are the most wanted backups on most lists I've seen so far.

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