With 23 spots on the roster, 32 players still in town and just two pre-season games left to play, the Edmonton Oilers have some tough decisions to make. Indications are, though, deciding who’ll be the back-up to Nikolai Khabibulin isn’t one of them.
The Oilers haven’t announced they’ve decided on Devan Dubnyk as the guy who’ll caddie for Khabibulin, but it doesn’t take a vast intellect to see it’ll unfold that way — even if GM Steve Tambellini won’t come out and say it and hinted Thursday on 630 CHED that the Oilers might start the season with three goaltenders.
Dubnyk, 24, is younger. As a first-round pick, 14th overall in 2004, he’s got more pedigree than Deslauriers. And, through two starts each this pre-season, he’s been as good, or better, than Deslauriers in limited work totalling just over 60 minutes.
With both of them having to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, I’d be floored if it’s Dubnyk and not Deslauriers who gets a ticket to Oklahoma City when coach Tom Renney thins his crease count to two stoppers.
I’m not sure Deslauriers or Dubnyk will be lost to waivers, and that’s a whole different argument and story, but it looks to me — have I ever been wrong? — like the right call on the pecking order in the goal crease is an obvious one, even if they aren’t saying so.
Dubnyk it is.
IT’S A BUSINESS
I think Deslauriers 26, has had to battle ridiculous odds because of how badly he was handled by the Oilers early in his career, notably when the team decided it didn’t need their own AHL affiliate.
That bad decision resulted in Deslauriers playing for five different teams in the minor leagues by the time he was 24, even though he never left the organization. Deslauriers either toiled for teams that had their own prospects to look at (Hamilton and Wilkes-Barre) or flat-out awful teams, like the outfit in Springfield.
Then, after just 10 appearances with the Oilers over in 2008-09, when he was stuck behind Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon, he got tossed in over his head last season when Khabibulin hurt his back.
Deslauriers wasn’t ready to play 48 games, and it showed in too many of them as he split duties with Dubnyk on the way to a 16-28-4 record with a 3.26 goals-against average and .901 saves percentage on a 30th-place team.
I think Deslauriers has had a raw deal here. I like his fight and compete level. I think he’s talented enough, even with his quirks in style, to be a goaltender in the NHL. To understate, I’ve been unequivocally on-the-record with that.
That said, raw deal or not, too bad. That’s the hockey business. It isn’t necessarily fair, but it matters not. Deslauriers might yet be an NHL goaltender, and I hope that happens because he’s a damn good kid who competes like hell, but it’s not in the cards with this organization.
BEST FOOT FORWARD
Deslauriers has been saying all the right things when it comes to his situation, like Wednesday before he went out and allowed two goals in half-a-game against the Phoenix Coyotes. "I have to bring that experience back this year and focus and be a better goalie," he said. "Every year is the same thing. You always have to play your best and focus on the new season.
"People like to talk about old stats and stuff like that, but what matters is right now. You have to focus on the present."
Deslauriers, of course, said much the same things last season, but he didn’t deliver. He had stretches of brilliance to be sure, but there were too many games when he played poorly.
The swings between his best and worst performances were huge. Too big, even on a bad team, to instil any confidence in those now making decisions — Renney, Tambellini. Then, there’s Dubnyk’s finish to last season. So, here we are, with Deslauriers behind the younger Dubnyk in the minds of the coach and GM, if not officially on the depth chart.
Add to that TV commentator Darren Pang saying today in a radio interview he heard that Deslauriers was available last summer, and you get what we’ve got.
Dubnyk it is.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.