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.
|Player||EV SV%||PK SV%||PP SV%|
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|
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.
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.