A New Goaltending Paradigm

With Nikolai Khabibulin’s implosion early on last night, and the subsequent solid performance of Devan Dubnyk in relief, the question of how games should be distributed between the goaltenders rose to the top of my mind. Personally, I think there are significant reasons why Dubnyk should be getting more playing time.

First off, this is a rebuilding season. I’m confident the coaching staff is still trying to position their team to win every game, but the reality is that the Oilers aren’t going to be a playoff team and that they’re going to benefit more, long-term, from another high draft pick than from finishing 10th in the West. Given that Devan Dubnyk is the goaltender currently in the system with the best chance of contributing when the Oilers are competitive (Khabibulin’s old and injury-prone, Jeff Deslauriers’ development has flat-lined) it makes sense to prioritize his development – and that means giving him more than the occasional start.

Secondly, it’s probably in the best interests of Nikolai Khabibulin to sit a little more often than he has been. It’s been more than a decade since Khabibulin topped the 70 games played mark, and he hasn’t played in more than 60 games since the NHL lockout. His age and his injury history are well-documented, and I can’t help but think he’s more likely to be healthy if his workload is kept to a minimum – say 50 to 55 starts. Whether Khabibulin’s future is with the Oilers or elsewhere, his value is far higher if he can stay healthy.

Third, at this (relatively early juncture) Dubnyk’s earned a more extensive showing. It’s no secret that Khabibulin has struggled early on, with an 0.896 save percentage, but Dubnyk’s been solid in both his lone start against Columbus (39 saves on 41 shots) and in relief of Khabibulin (he stopped 31 of 34 shots last night). There’s no reason not to give him a few more games so the Oilers can see whether this is just a hot start or indicative of a goaltender ready for everyday duty.

I don’t think any of these statements are overly controversial, and I don’t see the upside in riding the veteran goaltender. This isn’t 2008-09, where Craig MacTavish rolled a hot Roloson out night after night down the stretch in the quest for a playoff spot; that made sense because winning was priority one and the backups didn’t inspire confidence. This season, the future is priority one, and both the organization and its goaltenders should be well-served by a more equitable division of playing time.

  • I’m a little surprised at how much anger this article has generated.

    I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say Khabibulin has struggled – I expect him to get better but he’s been part of the problem on the PK, not an innocent victim of the unit’s ineptitude (though the PK’s ineptitude hasn’t helped).

    Nor did I take a lot of time to bash Khabibulin here; I just noted that the split so far was 12/1 in the veteran’s favour, and Dubnyk should get more starts.

    A lot of people seem pretty sensitive to any perceived slight of “MVP”.

  • Horcsky

    Edit: @ J-will

    Agree with you on Struds for sure. We all like to make fun of him just clearing it off the glass every time he gets it in his own zone, but seriously, he did that almost every time the last couple games. Shouldn’t be as big of an issue with him at F. Now the question is, who’s a better fourth liner, JFJ or Strudwick?

    • The real question is – Who’s a better NHL’er, JFJ or Strudwick?

      As bad as we think Strudwick is (not as bad as we think if he’s used properly), JFJ makes him look like Lidstrom by comparison.

  • Ender

    Seems like this goaltending thread has turned into a debate about Andrew Cogliano so I’ll chime in with my two cents.

    I like Cogs. Picked him for my star last year and the year before. I like his speed, I like his work ethic. I thought he caught a lot of bad breaks in terms of how he was utilized. All of that said, this year is sink-or-swim for Andy. The time for excuses is up; if he has good NHL hockey in him, this is when he has to show it.

    You can no longer feel sorry for the guy. In the first place, the boy has now had 259 starts in the NHL. Do you have any idea how many minor-league players would literally volunteer to have essential body parts cut off if they could be guarenteed that kind of shot?

    In the second place, the next time you’re out and about, at work or in the mall, take a good look at the people around you. Try to guess how many of them are millionaires. A pretty small number, perhaps? Now go to the club where it’s all twenty-somethings and try to identify the ones who are millionaires at 23 like Andrew Cogliano. Once you’re finished doing that, then come back here and write about how Andrew Cogliano hasn’t been given a fair shake in life.

    • Ed Zackery!(exactly)

      The kid has wheels and i’ve hoped like hell that magic of the kid line we saw at the end of the 07/08 season would come back… but it hasn’t.

      All i’ve been trying to say is how long do you give guys a break based on their effort level before we start looking at the results to pass judgement on.

  • Man you all are tripping about Khabby! Hes the only reason we even have some wins! Your energy should be focused on our lame ass defensive corps! BRUTAL! And I do agree that a re-build shouldn’t mean flop down and give up! Your only going to teach the youth that its fine to lose. Losing atmosphere will always be there until we get a legitimate center and 3 new defencemen!!! I’m sure you all can figure out which 3. Katz if you read this which i’m sure you dont, GUT your management! Problems need to be solved from the Top down!

  • @ Ender you’re right. way off topic with cogs. my two cents on the goalie issue is there is no issue. the schedule has pretty much dictated the goalie rotation so far. plus, they probably wanted to see how his back would hold up with a little work. might explain why they kept JDD up for so long. just a thought

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I’ve got to agree with Willis on this, we should look at how we really hindered JDD’s career by not giving him ample playing time and then all of a sudden by throwing him into the fire. The Oilers should learn from their previous mistakes and give DD a chance to get some decent experience and a vote of confidence by letting him play a few games in a row. The only way this guys is going to learn and become a solid option is by giving him experience. We hear Renney say it all the time with Hall, Eberle and MPS, why not DD?