If you’ve watched the Edmonton Oilers goaltending situation the past several seasons with amusement while awaiting something approaching clarity, you might want to circle Jan. 16, give or take a day, on your calendar.
That, unless I misunderstood what was explained to us by coach Pat Quinn today, is when the Oilers will finally have a verdict on the severity and status of Nikolai Khabibulin’s back injury — the date marks the end of an eight-week window for assessing his cranky spine.
That’s when, if my suspicions and instincts are right, the Oilers will announce Khabibulin needs back surgery and that he’ll be done for the rest of the season. And that’s when, at long last, I’m hoping the Oilers actually take the opportunity to turn chickensh*it into chicken salad, instead of the other way around, when it comes to their goaltending.
On or about Jan. 16, I’d love to hear Quinn tell fans they’ll be getting a steady diet of Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk for the balance of the season. A 50-50 split right through to Game 82 to allow management to assess who’s who and what’s what in the crease.
Does that make too much sense, or none at all?
Getting it right
If the Oilers pull the pin on Khabibulin Jan. 16, the announcement will come with 35 games left in the season.
If and when that happens, it only makes sense to me that, beginning with a game against Colorado Jan. 18, Quinn begins a rotation that sees Dubnyk and Deslauriers split the workload evenly.
With both goaltenders stuck behind Khabibulin and his $3.75-million salary for the next three seasons, and with both needing waivers to be sent to the minors in 2010-11, what better time to sort things out and get a real feel for both of them?
Can Deslauriers, 25, prove conclusively he’s got the game to be an NHL starter? He hadn’t had that chance until this season. He certainly didn’t get it last season when he was stuck behind Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson and played in just 10 games.
This season, with Khabibulin on the shelf, it’s been the other extreme. His start against Phoenix at Rexall Place tonight will be his 21st in the last 22 games. I’m thinking that’s a bit much. How about a happy medium a split with Dubnyk could provide?
Likewise, I want to see Dubnyk, who has been shuttled between Edmonton and Springfield and left to rust on the bench since Khabibulin went down. He’s seen action in just two games with the Oilers this season, twice being shipped to the AHL to get games.
Dubnyk, 23, like Deslauriers, deserves the best chance to develop and to succeed, and in my books that means facing some rubber with regularity, not once a month or so between cheerleading gigs on the end of the bench.
What’s to lose?
Despite what president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe said on Oilers Lunch with Bob Stauffer Monday, I’m assuming management has given up on the fantasy of making the playoffs, even if they won’t say so.
Instead of riding Deslauriers ragged in some futile playoff push, send him out there every second game and simply say, "Just stop pucks. It’s your turn. Show us what you’ve got."
Let’s see what happens to Deslauriers confidence and his numbers, which stand at 9-12-2 with a 2.86 GAA and .906 saves-percentage through 23 appearances this season.
Same goes for Dubnyk, who was drafted 14th overall in 2004 (two years after Deslauriers). He’s damn sure better than the 0-1-0 record, 5.38 GAA and .800 saves-percentage he’s accumulated in two appearances here.
Dubnyk hasn’t had a chance to shine. If I’m Steve Tambellini, I want to see what he brings to the table knowing he’s going to get 17-18 starts against NHL shooters.
Maybe neither one is ready for a steady NHL workload behind Khabibulin next season. Maybe both of them are. One or the other? No matter how it shakes out, having more information on both of them can’t be a bad thing.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.