How Much Has The Oilers AHL Goaltending Mattered?

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. 

  • @ Helmerfeld:

    I don't think there's a set time for evaluating G.M.'s; I think judgement should be passed based on process rather than results, and Tambellini's process has been disconcerting. For instance, even had Khabibulin remained healthy the signing would have been a mistake, based on injury history and market conditions.

    As for where the team was headed, basically every key performer was an injury risk at the start of the season, although nobody oculd have predicted the full-season absence of Hemsky. the penalty kill was miserable and never addressed, faceoffs were miserable and never addressed, and a grand total of three veteran forwards (Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner) had a proven track record handling tough opponents the last few years and could be relied upon to be healthy. The basic problem of this team for the last two seasons has been a lack of bonafide outscoring NHL players, and Tambellini did nothing to address that this summer.

    I have no doubt Tambellini expected this team to improve. However, I see that as a mark against him rather than one in his favour because he never addressed the problems.

    • Jonathan,

      Purely for curiousity of your opinion on what the direction should've been since Tambo came aboard, what do you think would've been the best course of action for him to take coming in? Should he have taken the stance on day one that this team needed to be stripped down to bare and rebuilt from the ground up? Possibly a longer-term rebuild plan from day 1 ala Dean Lombardi in L.A. (although there are many differences there)? In particular this summer, should he have ultimately committed to playing young prospects to gain them experience in preparation for a strong team within 1-3 years? In that sense, in your opinion, should he have gone with JDD and DD for the full season to gain them experience and evaluate?

      Reason I ask is that, if it was determined at both the start of this season and last season that the team just needed a fix rather than a completely rebuilt, that obviously would invoke different decisions in player personnel and would more justify Tambo's thought process in trying to bring in bring in strong pieces rather than get rid of pieces. In this case, maybe the transition of the team to bottom-feeders this season is forcing the change in philosophy that maybe wasn't deemed to be required before this season and last season, thus, justifying to some degree the direction he has taken. With this in mind, my opinion is that it's too early to fire him.
      Not saying he should be completely absolved of blame or responsibility.

      And who knows how many variables come into play (ie. direction from above to win now, etc). Thoughts?

  • @WIllis

    Last thing (I promise). If the west is 103-62-19 this season, then the East must be (on average) worst than the West. 103 wins to 81 wins. That gives a factor of 1.27. Multiplying the Wins and OTL columns by that would give the oilers 4 more wins and 1 more OTL.

    So isn't the difference (adjusting for conference) 1 point and not 10? And if that's the case, is either Roloson or Biron worth it?

  • @ Peter:

    Yeah, bringing a guy on board (let's say at 100K/yr, although that's probably high) to say 'don't sign Khabibulin because the market's flooded already' and 'by the way, Kevin, the cap's going up' would totally be a waste of money.

    Hell, at this point if the Oilers paid Dellow 4MM a year to get medical records on their signings it would be worth it because a) it doesn't count against the cap and b) it would hvae saved the Oilers the millions their blowing on Khabibulin.

    Totally a waste of money.

    As for not understanding the emotional side of the game, Peter, what side of the game would you say the current management understands?

    Would 'none' side be accurate? 😉

    Even you could run the Oilers into the ground ala Steve Tambellini last year. Any idiot could do it. You could write an MS-DOS program capable of doing it.

    But to each their own. How did you stand on Khabibulin, btw? With Tambellini?

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      "Even you could run the Oilers into the ground ala Steve Tambellini last year. Any idiot could do it. You could write an MS-DOS program capable of doing it."

      To be fair here, theirs a 30th place team every year. That doesn't mean some joe blow off the street would be a better GM then the guys that ran the ship to 30.

  • @ Ender:

    I'm fairly sure the WC/EC issue is a skater issue, not a goalie one, for the most part. The fact that Rolosn's dropped six save percentage points from last season renders your translation extremely improbable, IMO.

    • Roloson's also 40. And being "fairly sure" doesn't really mean a whole lot. I mean, saying it's a skater issue means that there's a qualcomp issue. Qualcomp means nothing with regard to goalies? It's only how much you score, not how much they score against you? I don't get where your "fairly sure" is coming from.

  • @ Helmerfied:

    Tambellini's summer involved dumping Brodziak, chasing Khabibulin, Heatley and Neil, and signing Mike Comrie. So that was obviously the quick fix route.

    I think the quick fix route would have been okay, had they done it properly: signed a cheap tandem, and moved some of the small kids for guys who can play at both ends of the rink.

    It's not the strategy I have issue with – that may have come from ownership – it's the way that strategy was executed.

  • Peter:

    I was actually too kind to you above.

    Yes hire someone who has zero experience because he supposedly wrote a few things about the Oilers…

    For starters, Tyler's a lawyer, which means he has more education than most of the guys brought on in the assistant to the GM role. Secondly "supposedly" wrote? Do you know what supposedly means?

    Here's four years or so worth of writing. Read it. Better yet, pass it on to Oilers management. Because it's a hell of al ot brighter than the strategy they've been running.

    You sit-at-home-bloggers drink your own bath water so much it is comical.

    I love the sit-at-home line. It's the same line Rob Tychowski used to deride a Jagr rumour – a rumour that was not only accurate, but one that he was cleanly beat on.

    The fact you think it is that easy to run a team just proves that you don't understand any emotional aspect of the game. Crunching numbers is one thing, but who said the Oilers didn't know where the cap was going??? Every team has bad contracts.

    Kevin Lowe said he didn't know the cap was going up, shortly after the Ryan Smyth trade.

    • Answering the point about zero experience with "Tyler's a lawyer" means what? There are a lot of educated people in a lot of different professions. Does it follow they should enter middle management with an NHL team without any experience?

      — There aren't any other people out there as educated as your friend Tyler who also happen to have at least some experience on the job? He's the guy? He's the best candidate?

      — Using a smart-assed jab by Rob Tychkowski isn't exactly fair. Rob gets beat by everybody and he'd rather write something sarcastic about something like Jagr than do the work to see if the rumour has legs.
      Likewise, using Staples as an example isn't fair ball either. He's a reporter by trade, not a pajama-wearer, and he's got Peter Adler, who used to be the Czech welcome wagon around here, whispering in his ear.

      Tyler Dellow, from website to NHL front office, eh? That's a big peck on cheek for a friend if ever there was one.

      • Don't forget that Tyler invented concepts like "Supply and Demand," "Financial Bubble and Crisis," and "Balanced Roster." I mean, these are super-complicated observations that it could only take a lawyer or someone with amazing foresight to come up with.

        I mean, when people getting paid millions of dollars don't act 100% along the lines of those things I try to figure out what their angle is, rather than assuming they don't understand Econ 101.

        But that's why I'll never be elevated to hypothetical assistant to the GM. I'd spend too much time looking at why things aren't the way they "should" be than just acting Rightly and steaming forwards.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Going off memory here, but I think Lowe said he didn't think the cap was going up that much… which I would bet would have been the same expectation of most GM's of the time.

  • Might not want to get too carried away — a new arena will be built, finally landing a player like Hall or Seguin helps that more in the long run than finishing 10th again this year (which is what having Roli + Hemsky would've netted the Oilers).

    Maybe Khabby is just gold for rebuilds, lol. In Chicago they locked up a ton of cap on him, he got hurt and then they tanked for Toews and Kane. Then once the team was looking OK again, he was able to help them out of the gutter.

    Lets face it … the Oilers were never going to willingly tank for a top 3 pick. Khabby (plus the Hemsky injury) basically has given them no choice.

    The goaltending issue is troublesome going forward, but at this point, it's probably going to net the Oilers a far better player in the draft than they could've gotten otherwise.

    Maybe some of that ineptitude is finally paying off.

    • Speaking of reaching — two examples in how many thousand hockey jobs over the last 20 years? In any case, your friend Tyler is not them.

      Again, I ask, is your friend Tyler the best candidate or is "I'd hire Tyler Dellow" an overstep that must have made even him shudder to read it?

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    Nope. If I was an owner, that's what I'd do. I'm not an owner, and I don't imagine he'll get an NHL job anytime soon (or that I'll own a team anytime soon, for that matter).

    Still, I wonder: what was your reaction when Minnesota hired the sports writer as their Hockey Ops guy?

    • I thought Snow can't be the least qualified person to have a hockey ops job because Doug MacLean drew an NHL salary for years.

      There's also a media guy here in town who is highly regarded enough by some people that he could make the jump to a hockey ops job in the next year or two.