There’s No Easy Answer


After two seasons in the basement, I think it would be fair to say that most people – from fans to the media to the folks actually running the team – are ready to see some improvement from the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers biggest weakness over the last two seasons has been goaltending. Honestly, picking through the list of Oilers’ weaknesses over the past couple of seasons is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, so I won’t bother – but even with all those problems, goaltending has stuck out like a sore thumb. Whether it was throwing the Deslauriers/Dubnyk tandem into the fire in 2009-10, or letting Dubnyk sit while Nikolai Khabibulin enjoyed the red light behind him, the Oilers haven’t had solid goaltending since Dwayne Roloson was let go.

There’s a simple, two-part solution to this particular problem: first dump Khabibulin, and second, sign Tomas Vokoun.

Before I get into the mechanics of making that move, I want to show the three year averages for Vokoun, Khabibulin and Dubnyk and then show the likely impact on the Oilers’ goals-against totals.

Three-Year Averages

Player EV SV% PK SV% PP SV%
Tomas Vokoun 0.931 0.889 0.931
Devan Dubnyk 0.914 0.87 1
Nikolai Khabibulin 0.919 0.841 0.927

Immediate Impact

The following table shows three scenarios, each modeled on the Oilers shots-against totals from last season. The first line shows what actually happened last season. The second line shows last season re-vamped using the three-year averages for Dubnyk and Khabibulin, and assuming that Khabibulin got Gerber’s starts. The third scenario uses the shots-against totals from last season, but this time assumes 60 games from Vokoun (his three-year average) and 22 from Dubnyk.

Scenario EV Shots EV SV% EV GA PK Shots PK SV% PK GA PP Shots PP SV% PP GA Total GA
Last Season 2021 0.914 174 495 0.851 74 71 0.972 2 250
Khabibulin/Dubnyk 2021 0.917 168 495 0.852 73 71 0.957 3 244
Vokoun/Dubnyk 2021 0.926 150 495 0.884 57 71 0.95 4 211

So, to summarize:

Last season was a bad one for Khabibulin, and if we assume he regresses to his average performance of the last three seasons, we can expect the Oilers to improve by six goals against – which is the equivalent of a single win. This would move them from 30th in the league to 30th in the league, barring other improvements.

If we plug in 60 games of Tomas Vokoun at his average performance for the last three seasons (behind a terrible Florida defense), we can expect the Oilers to improve by 39 goals – the equivalent of 6-1/2 wins. That would carry the Oilers from dead last to 26th in the NHL, all else being equal.

What’s Involved?

Buying out Nikolai Khabibulin wasn’t an option I’d given much thought to – until I read Scott Reynold’s opinion piece over at Copper & Blue last week. Essentially, the Oilers are still stuck with Khabibulin’s $3.75-million cap hit for the next two years (there’s no getting around the over-35 rule), but they could save themselves $2.5 million in actual dollars while – best of all – no longer having him on the team.

It probably wouldn’t take a lot of dough to sign Vokoun, either – the goalie is almost criminally underrated (fun comparison: in Khabibulin’s single good post-lockout season, the one that convinced the Oilers to sign him, he posted a 0.919 SV% – the same total as Vokoun’s worst post-lockout season). I’d be very surprised if a three-year, $12.0-million offer didn’t get a deal done – it’s less than Vokoun’s making now, but would still be one of the richest UFA goalie offers over the last few years. He’s also easily worth the money – his save percentage is off the charts year-in and year-out, no matter how bad the team he plays for is, and for those who argue he can’t get the job done when the games really matter, I’d point to his record at the World Championships, where he’s 23-4-1 with a 0.942 SV%, which is just slightly better than his work in the 2010 Olympics (3-2-0, 0.936 SV%).

Another fun point with Vokoun is his age – he turns 35 on July 2nd, but thanks to the way the NHL calculates age, he wouldn’t be signing a 35+ contract (the NHL calculates based on a player’s age on June 30 the summer before the contract takes effect).

Is It Worth It?

Yes. Vokoun’s a truly elite goaltender in a poor market, and he’ll be overshadowed by Ilya Bryzgalov and the bogus idea that he isn’t a championship-calibre goalie.

What about the fact that the Oilers are so bad that Vokoun wouldn’t have made a big difference this season? While an issue, the Oilers need to start winning some time, and I can’t think of a better way to knock 39 goals-against off the equation. Using the goaltending numbers from last season, the other way the Oilers could do it would be by preventing a little over 400 more shots.

Besides, the big flaw with assuming things will stay the way they are is that they don’t. The Oilers should be better at scoring goals next season – despite firing all the guys people hated and bringing in a new coach and a bunch of offensively-talented youngsters, they actually lost 20 goals from 2009-10, so there’s nowhere to go but up (though of course I said that last year, too).

The Oilers need to try and start winning eventually. This is a big first step.

  • 9 Inches Uncut

    How is Bryzgalov a championship calibre goalie?

    The way NHL GMs view goalies can be downright baffling.

    Only thing I would change is to take that basement picture and photoshop a scrawny kid eating fishheads in the corner. That would better represent the Oilers.

    And maybe have another dude covered in feces to symbolize the fan base.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    Voukoun…. no thanks. Instead take one of the training wheels off of Duby and give him a shove. (40ish games) If he makes to the end of the block with only falling off and skinning his knee a couple of times then by next year he can take the other training wheel off and be the man.

    • Ender

      You know, this past season everyone was shouting awfully loud for Dubnyk to be the starter or at the very least get equal playing time and be the 1A/1B. Was that only because we were going to lose anyway so it didn’t matter? Now that we’re in danger of winning a few games this coming season, DD isn’t good enough to stand in our net anymore?

      I like the idea of Vokoun or another well-established top goalie in our net as well as anyone. The thing is, though, if Dubnyk is supposed to be the goalie of the future for this team, he does need to be passed the reins at some point. Otherwise, we’re just developing a career backup. Is that what we’re doing here? Growing someone to tend twine when the starter is sick or tired?

      I like the idea of winning as much as the next guy. Opinion is split as to whether we have the team to make the playoffs in 11-12. I’d like to see it and some of these young guys give me reason to think we can do it, but I honestly didn’t see 30th-place in the cards last summer either. The point is . . . if we’re destined to finish 10 or 11 in the conference next season anyway, having Dubnyk start 50-60 games might not be the worst thing in the world. If he struggles, he still hasn’t cost you much and you can get ready to jettison him and find your real goalie for 12-13 when expectations will definitely be playoffs or better. If he suprises and carries you to the playoffs this season, then you know he’s for real and all your rookies have some faith in him going into a season that matters.

      Forget the whale-hunt. Put DD in net and have a couple of veterans behind him (Khabi/Gerber) to keep us from being a complete freak-show if he falters. We had a very long wait trying to separate the wheat from the chaff between DD and JDD. Assuming that process had any kind of merit and we now have the wheat, it’s time to put it to the test.

  • 9 Inches Uncut

    We need a 108 goal differential increase to make the playoffs. I excpect 30 more from the kids. If goaltending can get us 39 we need about 39 more. How much can we realistically expect a 3c (Belanger) and a top d would get us?

  • 1. I don’t think we have any confirmation from anywhere that there are any nominal savings to buying out NK. The formula might well be that you pay him what you signed him for and his full cap hit counts. He might as well be on the roster somewhere.

    2. There are other teams possibly looking for vet #1 goalies and there aren’t many quality choices available: COL, PHA, PHO, WAS, FLA themselves. He’s likely going to want to play for a contender or not move. And it is utterly daft to think he’s under-rated by NHL professionals.

    3. FLA paid a tremendous price to Nashville for Vokoun based on an identical philosphy to the one expressed in the OP above–that stellar netminding will shave off GA and add wins. Where has it gotten them?

    4. I’m not convinced the analysis in the OP is correct. Do we have any evidence that we can move goalies and their SPs will remain the same? Maybe we do, I honestly don’t know. But since we’re talking about alleviating goals against, and since that is a team stat and since the rest of the team is essentially the same, can we expect goals against per game to change that much?

  • Ender

    The solution to all problems Khabbibulin is as follows:
    1 – Trade him to any really cash-strapped team for a draft pick/prospect/bad contract we don’t care about that fills a hole (whatever we can get or they don’t want)
    2 – That team makes a deal with some KHL Squad for him to “retire” and play in Russia for the duration of the contract. He doesn’t show up, said NHL team doesn’t pay him, but keep the salary cap, so they dont need to spend as much to reach the floor
    3 – The Oilers send him a care package of Rexall Suppliments and good vodka so there’s no hard feelings
    4 – Sign Vokoun

  • Little Buttcheeks

    The title says it all, there is no easy answer. The goaltending certainly needs to be better going forward but we could end up back at square one by signing another aging goaltender. One of Dubnyk, Roy or Bunz should hopefully become a number 1 guy in time so I wouldn’t be in favour of paying a goaltender who isn’t on our roster anymore and another one over 35. Is there any way that Khabi’s legal issues force our hand? Unfortunately, given how management and coaching has praised the Bulin Wall, I doubt that we will see a different NHL goaltending tandem for the Oil next season.

  • Ender

    Dog Train wrote:

    Is there any way that Khabi’s legal issues force our hand?

    Long story short, no. That ship has sailed; if the Oilers were going to do something in that vein, they’d have done it long since. If that possibility ever existed, they’re stuck with him now.

    • VMR

      Dont think there ever was anything they could do. He never missed a day of work so it’s not like they could suspend him for not reporting.

      We all seem to recognize how bad Khabi has been but I’m not sure the team does. Renney continued to throw him out there, the media seemed to not notice his bad rebounds and the soft goals he gave up instead focusing on his occasional highlight reel saves. I’d be really surprised if we see any change this offseason because to bring someone else in we’d have to ditch Khabi and I cant see Tambo doing it.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    I think the final decision will come down to actual money. Tambi can’t afford to park Souray and Khabi’s contracts in the AHL or buy both them out. That’s the kind of money that would get a GM Fired! Along with Nilssons salary.

    I know Katz has deep pockets, but even billionaires don’t like to throw that much money away.

    Khabi will be here next year unless he’s 1) in Jail and 2) can’t get entry into Canada due to a criminal record. IMO, the 2nd scenario is preferable, as he would be in breach of his contract and he could be suspended with out pay nor counting against the cap.

  • Ender

    This isn’t even a debate. The Oilers are going into next year with a tandem of Khabby and Doobie, they’ve already said as much.
    Its not even the worst tandem in the league, so we have bigger fish to fry.
    Now, about signing a UFA defenseman who can defend…and a guy who can win a faceoff…

    • Crash

      I’m with you Team Hall and somewhat agree with QS…forget about the goaltending, hand DD the starters job or at least split the games. The last thing the Oilers need to worry about is the goaltending tandem…it’s fine the way it is.

      I agree with those that say there’s no point in adding some other starting vet netminder and pushing DD further back…he’s starting to come, so let that trend continue, give him more games. It would be nice to add a top 3/4 d-man if possible, some toughness in the bottom six and most of all stay healthy for a change.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Thier is no rational, resonable way you can argue a tamdem is “fine the way it is” when one guy is putting up some of the worst numbers in the league.

  • striker777

    I am against buying out anybody this season. There is simply no point. If we sign Vokoun, then only for 1 year (overpay him), while Khabibulin is in the minors, then trade Vocoun at the trade deadline to a contender for their 1st round pick. Bring back Bulin to finish the season. I project us finishing between 10-12th place next season. Then we have 2 first-round picks and don’t have to buy out Bulin.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Well, that Anderson/Budaj tandem was pretty bad, as was the Philly merry go round. Just two examples.
    Besides, when you have one good goalie and one poor one, that can’t be the worst tandem, remember the Conkanen project?

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Flyers goaltending actually had really solid regular season numbers, it was just a PO meltdown.

      You’re right, Colorado’s was probably equally as bad (finished 2nd last oddly enough) but I bet you wont find a bunch of Colorado fans saying the goaltending was fine the was it is.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Believe it or not i think Khabibulin will land himself another contract after this one’s concluded, can even see it happening here.

    If Tambellini can convert that 19th into a top 6 selection, everything changes. He’ll surround those kids with a few vets and compete for a playoff spot this year. Khabby’s a better goaltender if the puck is in the other end for half the game instead of it being in the Oilers end for three quarters of it.

  • Ned Braden

    Vokun’s last two years save % (.922 and .925) and GAA (2.55 and 2.55)

    Rehabby last two years PRIOR to new contract with Oilers, save % (.919 and .909) and GAA (2.33 and 2.63).

    Oh also Vokun’s injury report from the last 12 months
    2011/04/06 Missed 3 games (back spasms).
    2011/03/29 Back spasms, day-to-day.
    2011/01/25 Missed 1 game (undisclosed).
    2011/01/23 Undisclosed, day-to-day.
    2010/04/11 Missed the last 2 games of the regular season (back injury).
    2010/04/08 Back injury, day-to-day.

    Definition of insanity : doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…

    • Ned Braden

      You haven’t answered how Khabibulin and Vokoun are similar, outside of age. And you have selective chosen endpoints to appear to strengthen your argument – feel free to note the seasons prior that, where Khabibulin had seasons of .902 in 06/7 and 0.886 in 05/6 and Vokoun had seasons of 0.919 in 07/8 and 0.926 in 08/9, or the past 2 years where Khabibulin has a combined sub 0.900 sv% which is relevant in deciding whether it makes sense to consider replacing Khabi.

      There are reasonably arguments against signing Vokoun to an overpay, short team deal (I’m for the idea of signing Vokoun to such a deal, but as always it depends what other options are avaialble), but one of them isn’t “he’s kinda the same age at the time of the prospective signing as was Khabibulin”.

  • Ned Braden

    @ speeds

    I am fine with replacing Habby, his time here has been an unmitigated disaster. I was not trying to defend him or justify his signing. But why replace him with another 35 year old goalie, who is only going to sign on with a team to be a starting goalie?

    This team is in rebuild mode. Why not allow Dubynk to be the starter. Let him play 55-60 games and see how he handles it. I would much prefer that to signing of another goalie.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      I am fine with the second paragraph if that’s what the team decides to do. If they’ve decided internally that they will give Dubnyk 60+ games UNLESS Khabibulin stands on his head and forces them to give him more games, I can’t say that’s a crazy idea for a rebuilding club, especially if the money you would have spent on Vokoun could then be applied to add a quality F, or D, or two.