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. 

    • JorgeR


      As Wayne suggested yesterday, do you think a Souray – Gigeure trade is a good one? Perhaps another goalie is out there for us to snag with Souray going the other way?

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      You read the sunday sun and then the sunday journal and you get the exact same kind of inside info? Yet the main players like Mckenzie and Dreger will flat out deny the rumors the next day.

      I just wish Matheson would mention that it's his open, not that he hears from his sources that this is happening.

  • JW – Good article. While I often defend Tambellini, the situation in net is an area that struck me as highly risky. Khabibulin was a strange choice when the team had an uncertain backup situation. Also, the 4 year deal does not seem to fit any reasonable plan for the team. I could see a signing for 1-2 years with the notion that the team was not looking to 'win now' but just wanted some moderate success while getting the roster fixed up. However, Roli would have been a better choice for that.

    Maybe Khabibulin/Biron would have been an ok choice, but Khabibulin/AHLunderstudy was a very risky (and now very costly) choice.

    If it was Tambellini's decision, you are correct that he should be held accountable.

    Given the timing of the signing, I wonder if it was tied to the Heatly chase. I wonder if Tambellini was for or against that decision and if Lowe/Katz were driving it. My hope is that Tambellini was the victom of the 'group management' approach and that now that he is in charge (if he really is) that the team will get better under a focused single vision.

    I am not saying that there is a lot of evidence for that, but am hoping that it is the case. I am pretty sure that Tambellini is here for at least 1.5 more years, so it would be best if he turned out to be a genius that has been held back by group management.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I'd like to add that matheson is starting to become a Bruce Garrioch of the Edmonton papers. He throws out a lot of non-sense.

  • Bucknuck

    Good article. There are many variables and you did your best to mitigate that to try and give a good comparison and a thought provoking line of thinking.

    Basically, goaltending hasn't helped this team. It isn't the only problem, but 10 points in 50 games is a big impact.

    Since that is the ONLY thing (besides giving away Brodziak) that Tambellini did to change the on ice product this off season I think it is a pretty damning point of view.

    Jim Matheson, who is pretty connected, mentioned in an article that "Tambellini is not going anywhere" so I would think we are stuck with him for better or (more likely) worse. I don't have a link to the article, but it was in the last three days and is on the Journal website.

  • I would much rather be a BAD team than the status quo of the past few years of a team that just misses the play-offs. Mind you with 48 points we would still be in last place, but I think with 48 points MGMT would still think they were in the hunt for the last play-off spot.

    I disagree with you on the new arena thing though. An article written by Staples this morning stated that Northlands was examining the possiblity of getting rid of the race track & building a new complex there. Northlands would be getting the money mostly from the government. Edmonton will have a new arena, it's just a case of who the government wants to give the money to. A billionaire or a non profit organization.

  • @ CurtisS:

    Also, with regard to the difference in defence, you do have a point but not an entirely accurate one.

    Over the Oilers first 21 games, the team saw 37 games played by replacement defencemen (Strudwick, Peckham, Chorney, Arsene) while over their last 30 they've seen 25 games played by that set of four.

    Here are the games missed:

    Khabibulin Oilers: Souray (16), Staios (12), Grebeshkov (2), Smid (2), Visnovsky (2)

    Post-Khabibulin Oilers: Grebeshkov (12), Staios (4), Visnovsky (3), Smid (2)

    Souray's the big difference here (since Grebeshkov > Staios) but that difference is mitigated somewhat by the fact that he really hasn't been at 100% since coming back either. not that it's an even comparison, but it's closer than you're arguing it is.

  • JonW


    I would take issue with your opinion on Dubnyk. He was the stud goaltender in the ECHL with Stockton. Their best player by far in 2007. In 2008 and 2009 he was the best player on Springfield during two really bad years.

    I think that the aimless wandering of JDD ruined chances to correct his goaltending tendancies (going down early et al.) I think Dubnyk is much better prospect as you said.

    However, goaltenders are not easily understood beasts. they can be incredibly slow in developing. Few have been able to parlay a rookie year into straight success (Dryden, Brodeur and Roy being a very small sample).

    Meanwhile guys like Craig Anderson takes eight years to develop and Roloson to 10 before he was a playoff wonder and steady starter.

    So maybe it is a LITTLE early to judge Dubnyk's worth (or even JDD for that matter).

  • @ Shaun Doe:

    That's a fair point. Where I think these numbers matter is in evaluating the performance of Steve Tambellini; i.e. even had he constructed a playoff contender he would have shot himself in the foot with his goaltending choices.

    • Shaun Doe

      Yes that is true. The writing was somewhat on the wall. I guess he saw a big splash signing after letting his MVP walk in free agency and was locked in. Like I said, these numbers will probably make more of an impact next season if the situation remains the same in net. It will be interesting to see if they do when applied to a team that is (hopefully) better construced from the crease out.

  • Jmask5

    Teams play better when they have trust in their goaltending and the Oilers don't have any trust in their goaltending. This is especially apparent on the PK when they seem scared to make a move and when they do they are over aggressive and go out of position.

    Another thing is that needs to be considered is that not all shots are equal. The Islanders may give up more grade A chances than the Oilers. Scoring chances per game is also important.

  • Shaun Doe

    Well the one thing I would have to say about this data and results is, "So what?" and that is honestly not meant to be rude. The way I see it is even if we went out and picked up Biron and kept Roli at a reduced price, we would still be outside the playoff picture looking in. There is still hockey to be played and, yeah I guess there could be a streak comming in this hypothetical situation but that seems highly unlikely. So it seems to me that our situation, while worse in the standings, is ultimately better for the future of the team being that we get a better draft pick rather than picking late with no date to the post season again. Now, next year these numbers might haunt me more…

  • @ CurtisS:

    As for "cherry picking," do you even know what the phrase means? As I understand it, that refers to selecting only the best from a group or other range of choices; I included the entire season here.

    I.e. What are you talking about?

  • CurtisS

    Cherry picking stats again. Gotta love it JW.

    What you forget to mention is Habby played stretches without:

    JDD and DD have had a healthy defence core the whole time.

    Oh course that doesnt count to any of your conversation.

    • I'm really not at all sure what you're getting at here; I think I made the incredible drop-off between Deslauriers, Dubnyk and everybody else crystal clear.

      Did you seriously read this article (which mentions "AHL goaltending" in the title) as a defence of those two?

  • JorgeR

    I completely agree with the last sentence. The Oilers won't be competitive for a few years and Katz needs public support to get funding for the new complex.

    Public money for a sports complex? Heh, not when health care and other things are so screwed up.

  • JW, can save percentage numbers be skewed slightly by the defensive play of the skaters in front of the goalie?

    IE: D-men that limit quality scoring chances and shots on goal? vs. The Edmonton Oilers defense.

    Just wonderin'…

    • They can, of course. Minnesota's proven that. This was one of the reasons I selected the Islanders, because their team is almost as prone to bad defence as the Oilers. Roli's numbers have dipped since last season in Edmonton, and Biron's have dipped since leaving Philadelphia; this is probably the fairest comparable out there.

  • JorgeR

    "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."

    From bad goaltending choice to this? I'm not sure how you got to this conclusion.

    Big stretch.

    • Great article Jonathon!

      I don,t feel its a real stretch…its much easier to promote and sell tickets to a winning team and have interested investors for a new arena when the product is good. Continue to have a poor product such as the oilers this year, and don,t even worry about the new arena ..just hope you can sell enough season tickets next year at rexall…and keep a "smuck ' like me interested enough to want to buy some!!