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 Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 jeanshorts
June 03 2013, 12:54PM
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Any way you see the Bruins NOT re-signing Khudobin and the Oilers taking a shot at him?

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#3 Racki
June 03 2013, 01:13PM
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Antti Raanta!!!

*cries*

OK, well he was unproven in the NHL anyways.

I like the idea of Khudobin. I also like the idea of Theodore, to a lesser extent.

St. Louis may be more interested to move a goalie with Allen coming along nicely. So I'll also suggest Brian Elliott. His last 3 years averages (earliest to latest): 0.909, 0.945, 0.917. Jaro Halak would be my preference, but harder to come by. His ES SV%: 0.916, 0.945, 0.911.

I still have a tough time putting too much stock in the sv% stat, but there isn't anything better to really measure by I suppose.

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#4 Quicksilver ballet
June 03 2013, 01:19PM
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With the Hawks landing Raanta, make a push for Crawford and see where it goes. Could eventually turn into something if Antti comes as advertised. Perhaps he's the Hawks No. 1 goalie come Christmas. Get some dialogue going and show some interest for a possible future opportunity. Definitely a pass on Emery. At 2.6 on the finals bound Blackhawks, Crawford could be a starter here, bring him in and see if you can lock him uo before he becomes a UFA after next season.

One thing is certain though with MacTavish. He appears to want to push Dubnyk hard, or even out of the picture completely. Good thing he only has one yr left on his deal, so they can cut bait on him if needed. If Gillis would share some of the financial commitment to Luongo, he may be one of very few options. Edmonton is in need of a few bargains, not more soon to be overpaid free agents.

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#5 WhattaMike
June 03 2013, 01:20PM
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Hey JW, it is a quandry that the Oil are in with just the goaltenders alone.

My first three choices for the Oil to obtain one of is:

Khudobin, Bernier, or Mike Smith. See about Starkbaum for the Barons so he can get used to NA hockey and show the Oil what he has too.

About Olivier Roy with the Barons and in Stockton, ....JW....what do ya think of his progress this year?

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#6 JackBauer
June 03 2013, 01:23PM
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How about Ray Emery? With Raanta going to Chicago that pretty much leaves Emery out of the loop.

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#7 Walter Sobchak
June 03 2013, 01:28PM
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~ I think Garon, Thomas and Deslauriers would make perfect Oilers!~

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#8 WhattaMike
June 03 2013, 01:28PM
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I forgot to ask as well JW, what are the chances that the Oil make some deal with Columbus to get their 14th and 19th picks for the 7th somehow....

and would ya think the Oil pick Horvat or Lazar with the 14th if one of them are available?

With the 19th pick (if the Oil have this from the BJ) would ya think the Oil would now pick one of the three top goalie prospects...and which would they like best....Fucale, Comrie, Jarry or one of Juusi saros or Ebbe Sionas?

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#10 vetinari
June 03 2013, 01:30PM
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With Chicago, it's an easy sell -- "hey, do you happen to notice that we won a Cup only a few years back or that we finished at the top of the league this year and are taking a run at another Cup? Want to be part of that next year? Sign here please..."

It looks like MacT's wish list still includes two goalies (one NHL caliber and one likely bound for the AHL).

Any idea if the Kings are finally ready to shop Bernier this off-season? Ideally, I would think an RFA like him or someone like Khudobin would fit in good with the team. Or, would they wait to see if a big ticket player like Luongo or Bryzgalov shakes loose as part of a buyout?

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#13 Vaclav
June 03 2013, 01:35PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Yes, I think that's possible - in fact, I don't expect Boston to bring Khudobin back (I think they promote Niklas Svedberg).

I like Khudobin; my only problems are that he's unproven and I worry that with a little more exposure his size is going to be taken advantage of.

Every one of the top 8 regular season goaltenders in terms of save percentage are 6'2".

Apparently whomever the Oilers sign needs to be exactly 6'2". No more and no less.

*runs to find a list of UFA 6'2" goaltenders

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#14 Rocket
June 03 2013, 01:38PM
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vetinari wrote:

With Chicago, it's an easy sell -- "hey, do you happen to notice that we won a Cup only a few years back or that we finished at the top of the league this year and are taking a run at another Cup? Want to be part of that next year? Sign here please..."

It looks like MacT's wish list still includes two goalies (one NHL caliber and one likely bound for the AHL).

Any idea if the Kings are finally ready to shop Bernier this off-season? Ideally, I would think an RFA like him or someone like Khudobin would fit in good with the team. Or, would they wait to see if a big ticket player like Luongo or Bryzgalov shakes loose as part of a buyout?

Yeah Bernier is kind of a game changer in the goalie pool. If he is available, do teams go for him or Smith? The Oilers could use either to challenge for the starting position.

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#15 Quicksilver ballet
June 03 2013, 01:49PM
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Don't feel this is the yr to be blowing a second round selection on a kid who's 5 yrs or more away from being an NHL'er. Edmonton should continue selecting centers and D'men in this draft, in an effort to address two areas of weakness on this team.

There will always be these 25 yr old Raanta types available every spring. Oilers would probably be far better to bring a goalie of this age in, rather than wasting 5-7 yrs developing a soon to be career backup.

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#16 DonEnrico
June 03 2013, 02:01PM
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Joacim Eriksson in Skellefteå? He had a realt god session here in Sweden. Wouldn't he be someone to look into?

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#17 Racki
June 03 2013, 02:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think the Oilers pick a goalie with their second round selection, but I'm not sure it matters; whatever goalie they draft is probably five years away.

So Tristan Jarry, given our M.O. of wanting to keep our assets close by. :P

Stocking the shelves is never a bad idea, but we need more of pretty much everything.

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#18 Walter Sobchak
June 03 2013, 02:43PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Don't feel this is the yr to be blowing a second round selection on a kid who's 5 yrs or more away from being an NHL'er. Edmonton should continue selecting centers and D'men in this draft, in an effort to address two areas of weakness on this team.

There will always be these 25 yr old Raanta types available every spring. Oilers would probably be far better to bring a goalie of this age in, rather than wasting 5-7 yrs developing a soon to be career backup.

This ^ all day long.

A waste of a pick.

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#19 Velo
June 03 2013, 02:52PM
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If the right fit isn't available, would you look at signing Habby for one more year. He looked good when called upon, seems like a good teammate. He is obviously not part of the long term plans, but is one yr a bad idea?

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#20 WhattaMike
June 03 2013, 03:07PM
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@Veto

I would agree that Khabby would be cheap on a one yr but....ya gotta ask yourself... will he be healthy for 25 - 30 games? In those 25 - 30 games would he reasonably win, say, 15 to 20...ie...15W-9L -6OTL/SOL? Would he push Dubnyk to be even better? or would he ride out the one yr being satisfied his career is coming to retirement?

The Oil need two good to very good goalies for their system right now with one being a 1A with the Oil and the other being a top calbre callup from the Barons....Khabby does not fit here anymore IMO

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#21 Racki
June 03 2013, 03:10PM
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I think if the Oilers have to have Khabibulin as backup again next year, we can already consider ourselves out of the playoffs.

I like Khabi more than most do, and think he is pretty solid when healthy, but he just can't be relied on for enough games. The Oilers are going to have to find a way somehow, whether it's taking a shot at another Euro, begging someone like Tim Thomas.. hitting the UFA market... doing it by trade. The have to find a way.

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#22 mr common sense
June 03 2013, 03:12PM
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i totally disagree with the exclusion of Mike Smith as an option...he should be the #1 Option. he has playoff experience and albeit has played behind a Tippett-d-first system is a good positional goalie. he is a pure battler and should be pursued HARD.

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#25 nunyour
June 03 2013, 04:20PM
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You would think management might plan ahead a bit ,how do you not have a plan B or even a plan C in goal? What is wrong with their player development,if Danis not in their future plans ,why is he there? Why are Pitlik and Lander and many more not improving? There really isn't much other than the first overall picks,Ebbs,and J. Shultz.

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#26 madjam
June 03 2013, 04:28PM
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If it's just a backup then Khabby still good for another year . Pavelec is probably on the move from the Jets .

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#27 Quicksilver ballet
June 03 2013, 04:36PM
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@Jonathan Willis

That 40 yr old oft injured veteran of over 850 games still posted a better Sv% this past season. If Dubnyk's the answer, we're afraid of what the question here may be.

Little wonder MacTavish is scrambling for more options.

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#28 Quicksilver ballet
June 03 2013, 04:39PM
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@madjam

Has he asked to be moved?

Think he still has 4 yrs left @ 3.9 per. Rather have Pavelec than Dubey.

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#29 Rod from Viking
June 03 2013, 05:08PM
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nunyour wrote:

You would think management might plan ahead a bit ,how do you not have a plan B or even a plan C in goal? What is wrong with their player development,if Danis not in their future plans ,why is he there? Why are Pitlik and Lander and many more not improving? There really isn't much other than the first overall picks,Ebbs,and J. Shultz.

Pitlik and Lander are improving, Pitlik has been injured a lot the last couple of years and last I heard was healthy and playing with more of an edge.

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#30 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 03 2013, 05:19PM
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mr common sense wrote:

i totally disagree with the exclusion of Mike Smith as an option...he should be the #1 Option. he has playoff experience and albeit has played behind a Tippett-d-first system is a good positional goalie. he is a pure battler and should be pursued HARD.

He didnt battle very hard for the two years he spent in Tampa bay. And the oil are a lot closer defensively to tb than they are to pheonix.

Remember....Bryzgalov looked like an MVP when he was in Phoenix.

Dubby would likely be a tier 1 goalie playing for Phoenix/ / TIpprt.

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#31 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 03 2013, 05:29PM
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@mr common sense

Good article JW.

It would be interesting to add all previous Oilers goalies to the chart. I get a sense that even goalies we view as legends wouldn't rank all that high....Moog, Ranford, Fuhr, Cujo.

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#32 otter2233
June 03 2013, 05:49PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Hey Jonathan, would Thomas Greiss be a guy that the Oilers should take a look at for a backup? While he doesn't have spectacular numbers (.912 career save %, 2.52 GAA) he would come cheap, is young enough at 27 where there is still some possible upside and could add some depth in net.

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#34 Toro
June 03 2013, 06:03PM
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What about Ryan Miller isn't he a UFA this year not sure though but seems his time in Buffalo is over?

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#35 madjam
June 03 2013, 06:08PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Has he asked to be moved?

Think he still has 4 yrs left @ 3.9 per. Rather have Pavelec than Dubey.

I read somewhere (can't recall now ) that Winnipeg wanted to upgrade on Pavlec , no mention about Montoya . Interesting on Jets Nation site about Corey Pronmans top 100 draftees - uses stats to back it up .

Promon has Nurse rated at 11 and Polock at 12 . They draft NBR.13 . Pronmon prefers they draft Polock to play with Trouba , rather than a Coburn type like Nurse appears to be . I guess Nurse has similar stats and play to Coburn having 41 points this season , but only 10 last season . Polock he feels is more dynamic and better offensively so far with 45 points this season as well .

Polocks new rankings have MacKinnon and Drouin as top two , with Jones falling back to 3rd . Only other defenceman in top 10 is Ristolainen at 8 . Currently ranked at 6th and 7th is Lindholm and Monahan . Pronman pretty sharp .He has Lasar down to NBR.29 . Also Burmistrov wants out of Jets if anyone interested .

You should go to site and check it out

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#38 Manfly
June 03 2013, 08:27PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think the Oilers pick a goalie with their second round selection, but I'm not sure it matters; whatever goalie they draft is probably five years away.

as long as they take Michael McCarron first at #37, i'm OK with the Oilers taking Jarry or Comrie or Martin or whomever with their late second rounder.

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#39 madjam
June 03 2013, 09:49PM
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WHEN DO WE PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON ? Next year our division of 8 only has 4 that go onto playoffs . No other way to get into playoffs ! L.A., S.Jose and Vanc. are pretty much locks . That only leaves one more spot for our Oilers to fight over with Anaheim , Phoenix , Calgary and Colorado . We'll be playing about 38 games with those clubs . 5 with some and 6 with the others depending on draw . It reverses the next season . It'll be a tall order to make playoffs next season .

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#40 Quicksilver ballet
June 03 2013, 10:05PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

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

I was thinking the Oilers could have both, to push Dubey to be better. The Long Ranger and Tonto playing goal at the same time, no?

If their jerseys were sewn together and claim they're siamese twins? Together they should make for an awesome goaltender. I know there's no rules in the rulebook for Siamese twins yet. Probably still some grey area to be explored there. Could be a discrimination case in there somewhere if not permitted.

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#41 Spydyr
June 03 2013, 10:07PM
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Most of the good teams take one goalie in each draft.Most teams outside the playoffs for seven years don't.

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#42 horndog77
June 03 2013, 10:08PM
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What about Tim Thomas. I know he's got a screw loose, but the oilers have always had older goaltenders. I'm sure he could come cheap. He would be a perfect stop gap for two years

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#43 etownman
June 03 2013, 10:24PM
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Greiss......the right age.....the right competition for Dubnyk......the right man for the job! Needs an opportunity!

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#44 nuge2nail
June 04 2013, 12:07AM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

I live in Calgary and I Love The Oilers. I don't post as much because I was tired of hearing the same intelligent fans talk about the fact we need two big mobile puck moving dman and better goaltending.

I hope this is obvious. We need to turn a goaltending weakness into a strength.

For years I watched a mediocre below average flames Team compete for a playoff spot, why... Because Kipper provided exceptional goaltending - he kept them in almost every game. This is the type of goaltending we need.

Buy out Horcoff, and spend some of the money on Halak. Go after Hiller, hell trade for Luongo and make Gillis eat some of the salary and Send Horcoff the other way? You address leadership an create a worst case scenario by bringing in a proven number one and create an asset in Dubnyk to shore Up the Defense.

I am posting because I now have hope in management, I believe macT is a smart man, and he will bring in a top guy to create a top tandem in the NHL.

No longer will I have to hear from flames Fans- "you guys need a goalie" - thanks tips.

Question: Do the oilers have an additional 8 mil in cap space because of the way the new cba is written and how elc bonuses no longer count against cap?

I've read this a few different places, would love to get my head around the cap situation and what we can expect... We could get Vanek for our #7, but that's a comment for another blog...

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#45 nuge2nail
June 04 2013, 12:17AM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

I hope we keep the #7 pick and somehow get Monahan. Hence initializing the ripple Effect- Horcoff is bought out, money is spent on a quality goalie, monahan develops into a top two guy, and Gagner is traded for a young top 4 defenseman.

If the draft goes McKinnon, Jones, Drouin, Barkov, Nichuskin, Monahan - I seriously consider trading the pick for a Vanek type player(huge lw, 35 goal guy) or a Edler type Defenseman(young top 3). If one of those players slide- we hit the jackpot.

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#46 madjam
June 04 2013, 06:38AM
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I don't see a huge problem going forward with Dubbie . Another of his caliber around Khabby's price should suffice. Many are available and we shouldn't have to part with personnel we want to move forward with . Big names cause cost tolls to club , and could be monumental with no guarantee they will perform a well as they have in past with other clubs .

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#47 madjam
June 04 2013, 07:14AM
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nuge2nail wrote:

Oiler Domination To Follow

I hope we keep the #7 pick and somehow get Monahan. Hence initializing the ripple Effect- Horcoff is bought out, money is spent on a quality goalie, monahan develops into a top two guy, and Gagner is traded for a young top 4 defenseman.

If the draft goes McKinnon, Jones, Drouin, Barkov, Nichuskin, Monahan - I seriously consider trading the pick for a Vanek type player(huge lw, 35 goal guy) or a Edler type Defenseman(young top 3). If one of those players slide- we hit the jackpot.

Corey Pronman of Hockey Perspective projects Monohan as a defensive forward with only average speed . Ristolainen on the other hand has exceptional speed something the Oilers covet . Interestingly he has glowing praise for top six and Lindholm (6)-projecting them to be NHL Stars or better . Lindholm ,a speedster,is much like our other young stars - on the smallish side . Pronman claims there is a significant dropoff from top six .

To go to Pronmans top 100 dociles go to Jets Nation at top of page and go to last article where you can find a link to all 100 top prospects . Terrific in depth evaluations of all of them -full of content .

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#48 Manfly
June 04 2013, 07:23AM
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^and yet i was listening to the afternoon radio talk on the Oilers and they were talking to a media guy from Ottawa who sings the praises about Monahan and thinks the Oil should take this guy if he's still there at #7. who to believe?

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#49 nunyour
June 04 2013, 09:27AM
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Rod from Viking wrote:

Pitlik and Lander are improving, Pitlik has been injured a lot the last couple of years and last I heard was healthy and playing with more of an edge.

I hope they are,but they had to move Smyth to centre last season and then trade for Smithson,makes me wonder if they are improving.

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#50 nunyour
June 04 2013, 09:36AM
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nuge2nail wrote:

Oiler Domination To Follow

I live in Calgary and I Love The Oilers. I don't post as much because I was tired of hearing the same intelligent fans talk about the fact we need two big mobile puck moving dman and better goaltending.

I hope this is obvious. We need to turn a goaltending weakness into a strength.

For years I watched a mediocre below average flames Team compete for a playoff spot, why... Because Kipper provided exceptional goaltending - he kept them in almost every game. This is the type of goaltending we need.

Buy out Horcoff, and spend some of the money on Halak. Go after Hiller, hell trade for Luongo and make Gillis eat some of the salary and Send Horcoff the other way? You address leadership an create a worst case scenario by bringing in a proven number one and create an asset in Dubnyk to shore Up the Defense.

I am posting because I now have hope in management, I believe macT is a smart man, and he will bring in a top guy to create a top tandem in the NHL.

No longer will I have to hear from flames Fans- "you guys need a goalie" - thanks tips.

Question: Do the oilers have an additional 8 mil in cap space because of the way the new cba is written and how elc bonuses no longer count against cap?

I've read this a few different places, would love to get my head around the cap situation and what we can expect... We could get Vanek for our #7, but that's a comment for another blog...

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

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