Big Yann or Big Yawn?

Over the years I’ve learned that when it comes to signing free agents the Edmonton Oilers can fool you. Sometimes the big money guys are here for a good time (not a long time) and the secondary moderns are the ones follow. 

Speaking about goaltenders with any kind of authority is folly. Even goalie coaches use vague phrases about mechanics and positioning. I believe the language of goalies exists so that these poor souls don’t hear "why the hell didn’t you stop the damn puck?" every 5 minutes. It sometimes seems as though G’s are to hockey as pitchers are to baseball: even the best of them might get released, face several career crossroads and suffer massive amounts of booing at home and on the road. 

Inside the pitcher/goalie realm live the knuckleballers who are represented in hockey by the Tim Thomas group (waiting until 30+ before putting it all together). That group enjoyed a giant FU moment this spring, when "elite goalie all his life" Roberto Luongo questioned Thomas’ mechanics in game 2 only to let in an equally devastating goal in game 7 under similar on-ice circumstances (the Marchand wraparound, goal #2 in G7).

Making any kind of claim in regard to Yann Danis being from the Tim Thomas family of "elite goalies after 30" is ridiculous. That kind of good fortune combines talent, confidence, luck, karma and the Hockey Gods in equal measure. Still, the resume for Yann Danis suggests that he deserved the look he’s getting from the Oil Drop. 

Danis isn’t an obvious choice for a free agent steal, but there are some things on his resume worth noting:

  • Won the Ken Dryden award for NCAA’s top goalie, 2004. 
  • ECAC player of the year, 2004. 
  • Enjoyed some solid AHL seasons on the deep Hamilton (Montreal) Bulldogs team, mid 2000’s. 
  • Rookie NHL season (08-09) included a .910SP for the lowly NY Islanders. 
  • Backup in NJD the following season, posted a .923 SP for the Devils. 
  • Played well in the KHL last season.

Danis is considered a solid bet by a few good hockey minds. Robert Vollman wrote about him in Hockey Prospectus earlier this summer:

  • Some teams don’t look past Evgeni Nabokov when searching the KHL for options, causing them overlook Khabarovsk’s Danis. Initially a promising goalie prospect, Danis got stuck behind Halak and Carey Price in Montreal’s system. He eventually found his way to the NHL, playing 43 games for the Islanders and Devils from 2008 to 2010, earning an impressive even-strength save percentage of .926 and quality start percentage over 60. This success could be due to the small sample size, but Danis certainly deserves the opportunity to prove it.

There are a few things going Danis’ way at this time: he’s young enough to have several seasons of effectiveness moving forward; even if he starts the season in OKC the Oilers situation is fluid; Khabibulin’s downward trend may end up forcing the issue as soon as this fall; the Oilers have waited too long in free agency to add another goalie to the mix, meaning either they improve via trade or Danis is the de facto first option when the money runs out and the engine blows for the NHL tandem.

At this point the Edmonton Oilers have the look of a team that is about to rely heavily on a young goaltender. Devan Dubnyk is a solid player and may build on last year’s foundation to solidify himself as an NHL starter. Yann Danis is certainly behind backup Nikolai Khabibulin at this point (who may well be considered the starter by Oilers management) but the recipe exists for Yann Danis to get a huge NHL opportunity this season.

Hockey’s Tim Wakefield? I believe we’re about to find out.