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.

  • Oilers4ever

    Personally I wish they’d trade the ole Bulin wall… he’s too old in my mind.. not to say much seeing I’m his age too.. 🙂 But the point is if this team is on the 3 year plan, the Bulin wall won’t be part of that when the time is ripe to start winning and winning big. Trade him now to a team that is needing a goalie, let Dubynk play and bring up Gerber. DesLauriers et all can handle the rest of the tending in OKC… I do agree that Khabby has saved the Oil’s bacon a couple times this year.. who’s to say they win that second one in Chicago with Dubynk in net.. but the fact is because Khabby’s old.. he gets tired faster.. I think that was the case last night.. just poor positioning overall.. that’s my 2 cents worth anyways.

  • Soft Hands McSteeley – Team FIST:

    I mentioned the other day that Khabibulin’s save percentage on the PK was atrocious, so I’m not exactly hiding anything. His EV number, 0.934, is pretty good – provided he can sustain it. I suspect his PK number will improve and his EV number will fall a bit.

    But that’s not the point here. the point here is that Dubnyk needs to get games in, a slightly lighter workload should help Khabibulin, and long-term Dubnyk’s development is of some importance to the organization.

    Moreover, whether you approve of a literal flop or not, Steve Tambellini’s team is ideally built to do it. If we’re worried about not flopping, I’d suggest bringing in a veteran forward who can handle himself in all three zones and PK a bit, but clearly that isn’t a concern for management at this point.

    • I was thinking it had to of been you who posted his EV numbers. But here we are 4 weeks into the season and we’ve played 13 games. So far we’ve played back-to-back games once and have had at least 2 days off before the next game 6 times. It’s been a retarded schedule for the Oil so far, and so far not one that has allowed them to play DD proportionally. I deffinatly agree that I would like to see DD in some more games here, but the schedule so far just hasn’t allowed it. Your going to give your “starter” a week off between games? I’d be willing to bet if we saw Tom Renney’s schedule with starts for Knabi and Doobie, that it would be pretty close to spot on to this point in the season.**

      ** Maybe someone can ask Renney this??

  • Oilers4ever

    Watched the Flames in Denver following the Oilers vs. Hurricanes game last night.

    Calgary finally won the game, but the speed of play and the sharp passing and shooting was at a much higher level than what we witnessed in Raleigh.

    I’m afraid the Oil is in for far more blowouts. One would think Tambellini would have provided his coach with more NHL-calibre players if for no other reason than to protect and mentor the rookies and young players. As noted in the above posts, the Oilers are in reality an AHL club but are charging NHL prices.

  • Oilers4ever

    More Dubnyk and less Khabibulin, please. Can you believe that Sportsnet gave Bulin the play of the game last night? I truly do not understand the MSM drool that is staining Khabibulin’s jersey.

  • Dan the Man

    I’d like to to see Dubnyk play 1 out of every 3 games until he proves he’s not capable of it.

    He showed towards the end of last year that he improved with more work. If there was ever a good time to break in a young goaltender it is now.

  • I agree that DD needs more starts, and I think he’ll get them now that we have a more usual schedule(as compaired to the 1-2 games per week we started the season off with). Not something as of to this point I would be concerned with.

    Yes this is a rebuild, but what part of the “rebuild manual” states you should literally flop? As far as these kids go their is no better way to help them than to have a veteran goalie in net most of the time who can hopefully bail them out a few times, and be a rock back their in terms of communication etc.

    As mr. advanced stats on this website… why don’t you post the save % numbgers for Knabi at even strength and then on the PK. If i’m not mistaken his even strength numbers are going to be closer to the .930 ish level… while his save % is going to just be horrible down a man.

    I think this is another case of using the numbers that best suit something you can write about, instead of explaning that the Oilers lack of anything close to resembling a PK has crippled his numbers. The guy has made countless unreal highlight saves this year and 1 bad game in which the team did 0… zip… nada to help him out is not reason to toss him under the bus.**

    **At least not yet anyway

    • DK0

      I think maybe you might have mistaken JW’s suggestion that Dubnyk should play more as a backhanded way of saying “Bulin is terrible”. All he is saying is that less games probably helps Bulin and his injury history as well as giving Dubnyk room to learn and prove himself.

      This thread is staying way too sane, let me fix that:


    • Nice comment. At FIST I couldn’t believe it, but this may be the FIST time I’ve seen you write something that didn’t have to do with your signature topic, that being the advocacy of the FIST movement. What the FIST is going on here Fisty McFisterton?

  • Agree 100%, JW.

    The only reason I can think of the Oilers playing Khabby so much is to show him off for a possible trade. Still, that likely won’t happen till the trade deadline (if at all). And even if that’s really the Oilers motive; why not play him less?

    • I can’t see any team being interested in Bulin at this time, or any time for that matter. He’s old, and his flashes of briliance are becoming fewer and farther between with glipses of an old washed up vet starting to appear.

      Johnathan, I have noticed over the years that no matter how well a back up goalie has played in a game, the ball always gets put back in the court of the vet! At the same time, I’ve watched other teams have backup goalies come out of nowhere and steal the show, and starting job away from the vet on that team. Minnisota seems to be a reoccuring example of this. Manny was over turned by backstrom, backstrom getting pushed very hard by harding.

      I guess my question is why do Oiler backups never seem to get a chance to push the starter? I mean a fair chance, play well and stay in the net!

  • I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing them play in a 1A/1B type rotation. I’m all for giving the hot hand the start, but in a season where blowing the doors off expectations means finishing outside the bottom five in the league why not experiment and see what happens?


  • Skidplate

    Agree whole hearted. The early going, our games were so far spaced that Re-khabby wasn’t worn out, but now that we don’t have much time between games, Double D has to play more.

    • Ender

      Barring an unfortunate misunderstanding in the pen this summer, we have Khabi’s services booked for another two seasons past this one. If the Oilers are truly committed to playing him as the starter this year, I can’t fault the logic too much at this stage. I would think, though, that the intent would be to have him in a back-up role during his final season in 12-13. That would logically mean that next season represents the ‘passing of the torch’. Maybe we see Dubnyk in 25 games this season and then play in more of a 1A/1B split scenario with Khabi next year?