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.