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.

  • Souby

    Nice read JW. While I am not against signing Vokoun, my concern is if this would slow the development of Dubnyk. Seeing as the team is rebuilding, is this not the best time to give DD the chance to be the starter and maybe sign a proven veteran to back him up? ST chose him over Deslaurier and the team played better in front of him as opposed to Khabby, so why not give DD a real shot? Just my two cents….

  • Ender

    As long as we’re talking about goaltending, I’m going to bring up the subject of Gerber. What are we doing with him?

    I recognize that his 100% win record and his .958 PCT in the Show this year is completely unsustainable. I know that long-term, he’s not starting-goalie material for the Oilers. Nonetheless, he’s a great option for OKC and he’s proven that he can come up when he’s needed and do a respectable job.

    The guy is a UFA. Should we not be throwing some dollars at Gerber to bring him back for another couple years? He’s pulling better numbers than JDD (who is also a UFA) and he’s only 35; the man has some hockey left to play. I’m thinking it might as well be for us.

    • Gerber feels that he could have a shot at a backup position in the NHL and a one way deal.
      I am sure if that closes up he will entertain the thought of being back in OKC.

      They were talking about this a few weeks back on Oilers Lunch!

  • Blue Blooded

    Oh man… why even get our imaginations going with this article JW!?!? Vokoun is a great goalie! He would do wonders for this team. Lets be real people, our goaltending has been *barf* to say the least! The sad reality is that Tambellini is so damn stubborn about his “MVP”, and I’m not so sure other GM’s undervalue Vokoun at all. Actually, after Bryzgalov’s lousy playoff run, I’d wager most GMs have him at the very least on par with Brizzy. I think he’ll be sought after. If you ask me 2 of Florida, Phily and Phoenix will lock up Vokoun and Bryzgalov… but oh how sweet it would be to bring Mr. Vokoun here.

  • @ Quicksilver:

    I’m not placing blame at the feet of the goalies – there’s lots of blame to go around.

    But a goalie switch is the quickest way to improve goal differential, and in concert with improvements up front and on the blue-line could help get this team out of the basement.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Not sure 30 points on a save% is of any concern right now, it would get us out of 30th if that was the goal. I haven’t given up on Khabibulin yet, still feel he has atleast one good season left. Tomas’ game will go south real fast as well behind this group, bringing in Tomas Vokoun is Khabibulin 2.0. There’s little benifit to micro managing the goalies till there’s something that resembles an NHL hockey team in front of them. We’re best to throw Khabby and Dubnyk to the wolves for 45’ish games a piece this coming season.

      • Bucknuck

        I’m with QS on this one – I think you’re shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic with this one. Also, wouldn’t signing Vokoun stunt DD’s development? Vokoun would only come here to start. For the benefit of 6 wins I’d rather see how DD can handle 55 games and whether his game improves. In 2-3 years when the youth is rolling we’ll have a 38 year old goalie and a back up with little experience.

        Improve your save % is by improving your D and getting actual NHL vets to play the tough mins. If you don’t go after an elite defender, sign O’Brien, Hejda or Babchuk. The grab an actual 3C. There’s your 6 wins.

        Thanks for something different to talk about JW!

        • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

          I too want to see what Dubnyk has with more play I expect he can do well. We have seen a lot of improvement in him. I love his size and calm attitude. I really think he can be a #1. With plenty of cheap goal options around I think we can afford to be patient. I am all for looking for some one to be about an equal partner. I am even for looking for another Roli some one whom had flown under the radar. I think signing someone to the 1 slot is a mistake. I would even be for sending Habbi down and bringing up whom ever from OKC.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        No one is saying

        “bring in a new goaltender and all is well with the team”

        What people are saying is that the goalteding is a mess and needs adjusting *along with* some depth brought in on the backend and down the middle.

        I really don’t know how someone who is convinced that 2 second line centers are the problem, but doesn’t take issue with a starter having one of the worst SV%’s in the league.

        Oh, and an extra 30 points in SV% can easily translate into 10 – 15 more wins.

        I don’t think theirs a center in the world that could have that impact.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          Not buying it Obbie…..

          What people are saying is that the goalteding is a mess and needs adjusting *along with* some depth brought in on the backend and down the middle.

          Give Nikolia those same benifits as you mentioned and he’s as good as Vokoun would be. Put Vokoun on last yrs Oiler team and he surely would’ve sucked as well.

          I really don’t know how someone who is convinced that 2 second line centers are the problem, but doesn’t take issue with a starter having one of the worst SV%’s in the league.

          I’m gambling here. Just rather take my chances that having the opportunity to grab a second center in that top five group this summer will end up being better than what’s going the other direction. We’ve got enough “support” or projected third line players, just want to cash in on some of those for that second shot at someone who could be a top 6 player.

          • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

            So Vokoun on last yrs. Oilers team would’ve been just as bad as Khabibulin?

            By that logic, Dubnyk on the Florida Panthers would have been the hands down favourite to win the Vezina, and Gerber would be collecting 15million dollar/season offers from every team in the league as a UFA.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            If those irrelevant numbers tell the truth then by all means sign your Martin Gerber to a 15 million dollar deal. Who gives a rats arse about Dubnyk then…

            The kid played 25 nothing games on the lousiest team in the league and finsihed with a sub .500 record. Tell me how this impresses you in anyway shape or form?

          • Little Buttcheeks

            You miraculously fail to understand the simple logic in my post.

            1) YOU are saying that Khabibulin is at least as good as Vokoun based on the fact that Khabibulin, while his numbers were worse, played on a worse team.

            2) IF WHAT YOU SAY IS TRUE, then by the same logic, Dubnyk and Gerber must be SUBSTANTIALLY BETTER than Vokoun because they were substantially better than Khabibulin while playing on the same team. Sure, Gerber only played 3 games, so get rid of him. Dubnyk played a similar amount of games to Khabibulin, so the comparison is valid.

            Logic wins every time there big guy.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Most of these numbers you guys are referring to just symbols of success, used by those who are yet to prove themselves. It’s a little simpler for me, Khabibulin can play and Dubnyk is yet to show he can carry the load. This is why we seen 35 start 2/3rds of the games last yr, Renney started the goalie whom he felt gave his team the best chance to win.

            Logic in numbers and logic in on ice abilities are two different things. Khabibulin returns to form and Dubnyk plays yet fewer games next season.

          • striker777

            Khabi returns to what form?

            He’s statistically the worst goaltender in the NHL since the lockout (amongst goalies who have played all 6 years).

            He’s also injury prone and getting older. What form do you expect him to revert to?

            And I don’t think Renney thought Khabibulin gave them the best chance to win. It was more along the lines of trying to salvage this disaster of a contract.

          • Ender

            How many goals do you expect Dubnyk to score?

            Wins just aren’t based on the goaltender. It would be nice if goalies could save the games that they give up 4 goals for when their team scores 5 and saves the shutouts for when their team scores just 1 but that’s not how it works.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            Because Florida is that much better than the Oilers?

            By this logic because DD numbers are so much better that must mean on a playoff team he is a vezina winner.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            The only numbers that matter are the wins, both were sub .500 in that category. Lets not put this dog poo on the table and try to analyze whats in it.

            Dubnyk showed me something with 10 days to go in the season. He went up against the Calgary Flames with a chance to put a nail in their coffin and blew it bigtime. A 4-1 lead 5 minutes into the third and he gassed it. It’s really strange that this is the only loss i remember from all of last year. As bad as Khabby played all yr the only one i remember is this HNIC Dubnyk loss.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Goaltending is the least of the Oilers worries. The so called leaders on this club play less than a 40 games a season during the last couple yrs, why place the blame at the feet of Khabibulin and wonderboy Devan Dubnyk?

    Only in Edmonton will we give the GM yet a third crack at finishing deadlast in the NHL. I have to wonder who’s going to crack first, the fans (the return of less than 10.000 sitting in the seats) or Taylor Hall getting fed up with the norm around here.

    Yup, Vokoun is the answer if we’re shooting for 28th instead of 30th.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      “why place the blame at the feet of Khabibulin”

      Because he stoped pucks at an inferior rate then some of the worst back-ups in the league.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I could see the Flyers finally smartening up and signing him.

    Might shake out Hartnell for us to scoup up for a couple picks/prospects.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I’m all for bringing him in, but like others have said I don’t see him jumping from FLA to EDM. I also have to think that he and Tallon both want to get something done. Tallon is a smart GM and he could’ve gotten a return for Vokoun at the deadline. Have to think they are working on something.

  • Ned Braden

    It would be a dream to sign a proven capable goalie like Vokoun. Unfortunately I don’t think that this has a chance in hell of happening.

    The Oilers have demonstrated a very strange brand of loyalty for their aging, ailing crumbling Russian wall.

  • It would be a pretty ballsy move by Tambellini I think. He has been standing beside his MVP signing for 2 years, signing another goaltender probably would speed things up slightly. I can’t see it unless he thinks his job is on the line though. If his bosses have bought into the “long” rebuild, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to shell out the rest of Khabi’s salary to have him disappear.

    It would be a good start to turning things around, along with getting a bit bigger on our bottom 6 forwards.

    From where I sit, it would be nice to have a season where we aren’t losing our top players to injuries for extended periods too.

  • ItsTheBGB

    I’m pretty tired of “good in the room” guys. If the only merit players like Strudwick and Khabibulin have is that they’re “good in the room” (because they’re certainly not “good on the ice” by any rational metric), hire them as locker attendants or something.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Excellent comment. There’s a couple of expressions I’m getting tired of hearing. Drafting “character players” and “chemistry in the dressing room”. “Character player” is code for not much skill. “Chemistry in the dressing room” is code for cheerleading for your team mates even after a loss. Nobody has the balls to stand up and tell someone if they’re not producing. I wonder if any Oilers veteran ever took Dustin Penner aside and told him he had to compete more. I’d like to see some controversy in the dressing room then I would know someone cares.

      • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

        I agree on the Penner statement as I feel he really needs/needed to be pushed all the time. Some people only perform with a little fear. I think Dustin is one of them. As to “Character players” being code for not much skill I also seem to remember that term being applied to Hall by ST after his season ending fight. One thing that gives me hope is when ST ID’s areas of weakness such as faceoff skill and grit he seems to say all the stuff we do on here so I think he is playing a patient waiting game. We shall soon see if we are at the end of that or if it is still 12 months away. I think its is time to “throw some coal in to the boiler and let the pressure build in to forward progress”.

  • I have had the same idea myself JW, except I think it would cost the Oilers more money than you are projecting.

    I think watching the goaltending this summer might tell us a lot about what Edmonton is really planning to accomplish next season. If they replace Khabibulin, either by demoting him or buying him out, I think it demonstrates they are serious about improving and competing for the playoffs in 11/12. If they decide to keep him, it’s hard to know what to make of that without seeing their goalie usage next season. If they are looking to give Dubnyk 60+ games, and use Khabi as the backup (not that I think that’s a better plan than signing Vokoun, if that’s possible), I think that’s different than if they are planning to give Khabi 50+ games. However, we won’t have any idea which is the case until we’re some ways into the season, by which time it’s probably too late to easily get a replacement.

    • Possibly – the money’s a guess, as are Vokoun’s intentions.

      I don’t think there’s a chance he gets $5.0 million from a team other than Edmonton, though. He’s behind Bryzgalov in the minds of most, and goalie value just keeps falling.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Can’t see Vokoun going from one rebuilding team in the sun to an inferior rebuilding team in the antartic without a massive overpay.

    Would be nice though.

    • VMR

      Yeah that is the question. What kind of dollars would it take to get him here? I think 12 million for 3 years might be optimistic, there arent many teams that would be willing to pay it but I’m thinking there will be some and most of them will be better options than the Oil. Phoenix for one is going to need goaltending.

  • @ phaneufblows:

    I tend to agree – most reports have Khabibulin as a good teammate.

    The problem is definitely his performance, and there’s no evidence that his presence is an issue.

    My “no longer having him on the team” bit was targetted at his performance/injury woes, not what kind of teammate I think he is.

    • EasyOil

      Oh yeah don’t worry JW, wasn’t complaining about the appropriateness of the article, enjoyed the read as always. As is the case with most Oiler fans, I just don’t trust management to necessarily do what we think is best 😉

    • EasyOil

      Oh yeah don’t worry JW, wasn’t complaining about the appropriateness of the article, enjoyed the read as always. As is the case with most Oiler fans, I just don’t trust management to necessarily do what we think is best 😉

  • 24% body fat

    i dont think having khabi on the team is the issue, him being the starter is. Everyone raves about what a good team mate he and strudwick is, and what good leaders they are in the dressing room.

    Is there enough of these guys on the team. Is our long serving oilers veterans really going to be hemsky, horcoff, cogliano, gilbert smid and gagner. and our newer addition veteran Whitney.

    Definitely be nice to solidify our goaltending though.

  • EasyOil

    I’d love for us to drop Khabibulin and pick up Vokoun… how likely do you think that actually is though JW? Vokoun isn’t getting any younger, although he certainly isn’t getting any worse with age, but he probably wouldn’t mind going to a contender. Of course, I can’t speak for him and he may well consider a team such as ours, but following past precedent, its unusual for the truly elite players to sign with a basement dweller in their twilight years (Adam Oates excluded, although we weren’t quite basement dwellers that year). I might be talking out of my behind here, but thats the way I see it. Love the idea, but don’t see it happening unfortunately.

  • Zack

    FIST! From POTF.

    Good Tuesday morning read, except ST probably won’t make a goaltending change to his MVP, ge had his chance last summer to do something and nothing came of it. It would be nice to see another signing in the goalie dept but sadly I don’t think it’s going to happen.