The Edmonton Oilers goaltending situation got a little more confused earlier today, when they brought NHL veteran Martin Gerber home after a one-year exile to the KHL. Gerber has signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $500,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL.
According to Nick Kypreos, who broke the signing, the Oilers have Gerber pegged as the #3/#4 goaltender in the system. Whether Gerber’s going to be given a chance to climb higher or lower than that is anyone’s guess, but based on his track record he has to be considered a comparable performer to younger goalies Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk.
The most likely situation is that Gerber begins the season in the AHL. Whether he has some company there in the form of Deslauriers or Dubnyk is going to be dependent on whether Nikolai Khabibulin ends up in prison to start the season and of course the vagaries of the NHL waiver wire.
At the AHL level, Gerber is a more than competent starter. He had an 0.914 SV% in the KHL last year and has consistently been an 0.900 SV% goaltender at the NHL level, and of course he was brilliant for Switzerland at last year’s World Championships. There is little doubt that he can step in and be a top-10 goaltender in the American League.
The question is whether he might be more than that or not. In a rebuilding year, the obvious answer is ‘no;’ after all, the Oilers have spent years developing Deslauriers and Dubnyk and presumably they see upside in those two that simply isn’t there with Gerber. However, in this case the obvious answer might not be the correct one.
If we assume that the Oilers want and need Khabibulin insurance, something that seems likely given not only his legal troubles but also his health and age, than Gerber fits the bill better than either youngster. He can play in the AHL and have success, and the Oilers can save some money if he gets stuck there – unlike Deslauriers and Dubnyk, both on one way deals. He can fill in at the NHL level and have success, and certainly ought to be able to post numbers as good (or better) than either of the young goaltenders did last year. At the same time, there isn’t much upside to Gerber, and it’s hard to see an NHL team wanting him badly enough to claim him on waivers and keep him as their NHL backup – whereas one. In short, it’s a role he fits better than the more expensive Jeff Deslauriers (and once again I’m forced to wonder why Deslauriers was qualified).
Of course, there’s always the off-chance that Gerber outplays both of the kids and has a significant NHL role next season. It’s not something I’d put money on, but he’s taken less money to get another crack at the NHL so he’s clearly motivated, and his track record certainly suggests he’s capable of high-end performances from time to time.
Regardless of what happens, this was a fantastic signing by Steve Tambellini.
I’d also recommend David Staples’ excellent article on the move.
UPDATE: OLCZYK COMMENTS
Via Tyler Dellow, I see that Oilers assistant general manager Rick Olczyk has talked to the Sun‘s Rob Tychowski about the Gerber signing. The whole article is worth a read, as Olczyk goes into the Khabibulin situation and repeatedly affirms both his personal belief and the belief of the Oilers’ organization that Khabibulin will be the team’s starting goaltender next year, and denies rumours that the team might look to cut him if he misses training camp. In any case, Olczyk praised Gerber and stressed that the signing had nothing to do with Khabibulin:
“It had nothing at all to do with that,” Olczyk said of Khabibulin’s impending trial on extreme DUI charges in Scottsdale. “He had a tremendous year in the KHL and we needed to fill a void. We felt it was the right move and the right player at this particular point in time. It has nothing at all, and I’d like to stress that, it has nothing to do with Khabby.”