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%
- 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.