The Edmonton Oilers can stockpile all the talent they want up front and load up on proven defensemen, but if they don’t have a goaltender they can count on, the rebuild they’re selling fans isn’t going anywhere. Is Devan Dubnyk the man for the job?

I don’t know the answer to that, but if the Oilers don’t give Dubnyk every chance to address the question in their final 32 games, starting tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, then they’re making a huge mistake in how they are building this team for the future – and that wouldn’t be a first.

When Dubnyk, 25, steps between the pipes against the Blackhawks tonight at Rexall Place, he’ll be making a fourth straight start for the first time in the three seasons he’s spent in the NHL – this is the closest thing to a real roll he’s put together since the Oilers drafted him 14th overall in 2004.

Dubnyk gets the call on the heels of backstopping the Oilers to five points in their last three games, a stretch in which he’s allowed just five goals on the last 113 shots he’s faced in a 3-2 shootout win over Colorado, a 3-2 shootout loss to Vancouver and a 2-1 shootout win over San Jose.

He’s looked completely capable of being The Man in his last three games, but what about while carrying the bulk of the workload over the next 32?

We’re about to find out – aren’t we?


Dubnyk, a former scholastic player of the year while in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers, is a sharp guy. He’s knows what’s at stake here, even if he’s smart enough not to get caught up in the big picture and let it interfere with the task at hand.

"I’m enjoying it," says Dubnyk. "You have to allow yourself to enjoy it and reflect when you do play well and put some games together.

"As much as you have to stay level-headed, it’s important to enjoy it and feel good about yourself and your game, give yourself a pat on the back once in a while. That’s how you build confidence. That’s what makes the game fun. I always feel I’m playing my best when I’m having fun."

After a stretch Nov. 11-Jan. 11 in which Dubnyk went 3-6, he’s been having plenty of fun during his tidy little roll, but coach Tom Renney and the entire organization is going to have to see more of the same, a lot more of the same, before anybody can say with confidence he’s the guy they can count on to take over the blue paint down the road.

This is when Dubnyk, you’d think, will have every opportunity to grab the goal crease from Nikolai Khabibulin – not only for what remains of this season, but for years to come. It`s about time he stakes his claim, isn’t it?

PUT UP OR . . .

After going 12-13-8 and outperforming Khabibulin in his 35 appearances last season, a lot of people, me included, were calling for Dubnyk to take the top job when this season began. It hasn’t worked out that way.

It was Khabibulin who backstopped the Oilers hot start in October, so Renney leaned on him instead. Dubnyk didn’t do enough to force the issue in his favour. This next stretch, then, represents a second chance. Dubnyk faces the Blackhawks with good, but not great, numbers – he’s 8-11-1 with a .911 saves percentage and a goals-against average of 2.83 in 24 games.

"You look at any NHL team and goaltending matters," said defenseman Ryan Whitney. "No matter how good you are up front, no matter how good your top six is in the back, it always comes down to that goalie.

"You need that solid guy in the back. The thing for Devan is he’s right on the cusp. I don’t think he’s quite proven yet he’s a No. 1 goalie, but if you look at his recent string of work, he has been and I think he will be."

"Obviously, it’s an opportunity to keep going and it’s an opportunity for the whole team," Dubnyk said. "We all play together to win games. It’s not just me, it’s not just somebody else. It’s as a team.

"If you can get on a roll and win games together, that’s growing together and it’s exciting to have that opportunity."

Yes, yes it is. Let’s see what he does with it.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • EasyOil

    It would be a massive weight off the minds of Oiler fans everywhere if Dubnyk can become at least a solid No.1 goalie. I think (or at least hope) he can, and the team needs him to be.

  • geoilersgist

    I really hope Dubby grabs the reins and can run with them for a solid stretch of at least 6 games then give him a break. Then get him back in there regardless of how Khabby plays to see if he really can be a starter for this club.

  • vetinari

    I also thought that Dubnyk won the starter’s job by the end of last season but until recently, he looked really shaky during some starts and would give up at least one or two soft goals which would turn out to be the difference makers in a lot of games.

    Dubnyk may be at the type of player where he has to play 3 out of 4 games to be consistent. I don’t think he is the type of player that can play in a “two headed monster” situation or as a backup. I think Dubnyk is an all or nothing player and this is the stretch that will determine whether the Oilers agree that he’s the guy going forward for the foreseeable future.

    • Thats what I’ve been saying for a while, a lot of goaltenders around the league don’t get consistency until they play a few in a role. Its all about confidence and being routine so you can get in a mind set for the game. When your coach doesn’t make a decision till the night of the game you’ve already screwed your goaltender. You need to give him a full day notice so that he can properly prepare himself from the time he wakes up to be in the proper mind set. That can be said for a lot of players.

  • I find myself ever hopefull that Bunz will be the guy of the future, but what I dont know about Goaltending is a lot. I dont think Dubnyk looks like a #1 at all. He’s so very inconsistent, and even if he is a future starter, I dont think the guy is going to be elite.

    But what do I know? He’s better than Khabi right now, he’s young, and there isnt anyone better that can be called up. Let him play out the string.

  • Talbot17

    I would not give up on him being only 25, he has great fundamentals just not consistent yet. If i was oilers management i would still look at Bernier in LA, Ben Bishop in St. Louis, because most teams that fair well in the standings that do not have a clear #1 young goalie usually have a tandem that they can shift between.

  • EasyOil

    Good article Robin. There has been speculation that there might be a buyer for Khabibulin. Is there a realistic possibility that he could be traded. If so, what teams might be interested? I am looking forward to Bunz developing over the next few years. A Dubnyk/Bunz duo could be very good if they both realize the potential that is projected/hoped for. Do you see Danis as a good partner for Dubnyk next year if Khabibulin were to be traded?

  • vetinari

    I think Dubnyk should get every chance to show what he has… Let’s see what kind of talent he has, I think the mental side of it is something we don’t have to worry about as much.

    Personally, I think he has a great calm demeanor that many other great goalie have, and I think he is built to handle pressure well. Sure, he has been know to let in a few bad ones here and there, but on the same hand, he’s still young for a goaltender, and relatively new to the NHL.

    Let the last 32 games show what he has, and give him the work load. Let him finish the season as the starting goalie, and let him think he is coming into next season as the starter, and see what he does with his off-season.

  • DieHard

    I could almost swear we were saying pretty much the same thing last year around this time. I think DD has 8 or 9 games to verify if the Oil need to be trading for a goalie for the future.

  • Redfern

    In my view, Dubnyk’s ceiling is Sean Burke, his floor like Alex Auld or Stephen Valiquette (perennial backup that just can’t take a top spot for more than a few games). I sure hope its the former and not the latter! If Dubs can get the majority of the starts down the stretch I think he’ll prove to be a solid #1 goalie for next season. If not, then its just more of the same. This team needs to trust in Dubnyk or find another solution cause I see Khabbi either gone at the deadline or over the summer.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Here we are almost 3 seasons later scratching our heads still hoping Dubey rounds into form.

    3 months of one bad goal per game and a sv% teetering around .900, one strong week and he’s back? Where was he when the games mattered?

    If my opinion appears a little grey in spots, put me in the no category please.

    Was hoping to add a new entry in your HFD handbook Robin. If there’s still room, can we add HCRSIUHB? (His critics really shoved it up his backside)

    • Eddie Shore

      He was on the bench while swiss cheese was in net for like 6-7 games in a row. I don’t know if he will be a #1 but he’s better than Bulin and would be a reliable backup for the team regardless.

    • book¡e

      Your wording is a bit stilted. Almost three seasons later? You were expecting a definitive verdict on Dubnyk after his rookie season, when he got into 19 games?

      You’ve also used this “games that mattered” terminology before. Games that mattered how? You think this team was ever on track to seriously challenge for a playoff spot? Are those the games that mattered? Games that could have led to an 12th-place finish instead of 14th?

      Dubnyk does need to find consistency. He does need to avoid allowing the bad goal. I don’t know if he’s capable of it, but these next 32 games look to me to be his best chance. If he delivers in 20-22 starts over the final 32 games, then those will be the games that matter.

      If we don’t see it now, we likely won’t.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        3 seasons is around about accurate though isn’t it? By this time the Oilers should know if they have a capable goaltender or not. I’m leading towards the not despite a good week.

        Games that mattered, games played before they throw in the towel on the season. Shirley by New Years this must’ve been the case, no

        Like yourself Robin, we can watch a player for a month or two and know if there’s going to be a player in there or not. I know i can, i’m sure you can as well, or atleast we both have an opinion on this matter. We’re both right in Dubeys case.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        With Marty, atleast the Oilers would’ve known there’s going to be a need for a backup goaltender soon. With Dubnyk, they’ve tied up a spot on the roster for 3 yrs and the Oilers are no further ahead today in their search for said goaltender.

        Imagine some of the grief Turco would’ve alleviated clearing the puck for all of these suspect defencemen.

        • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan


          with tambellini at the helm, there is no way we can sanely conclude the oilers would have known anything.

          for all we know, smilin steve would have stepped out and dubbed turco the MVP of the team

  • Reality Check to the head

    I like Dubes, I think he can be a steady presence for the Oiler. As this article suggests, he seems to have his head screwed on straight and we have seen that you can have all the natural talent in the word, but if you cannot keep it together in head then you will implode at sometime.
    I like Devan’s positioning and I believe he has increased his compete level as of late. A few posts in the Vancouver game do not hurt either.

  • vetinari

    No matter how DD plays, if the Oilers have ANY opportunity to move Khabby to a team looking for a veteran backup going into the playoffs they should deal him. Bring up one of the OKC goalies to finish the year – you might as well see what you have there (if anything) in a back up role. In the summer you can find another inexpensive goalie to pair with DD next year.

  • Reality Check to the head

    I totally agree with Brownlee.

    The oil have to ride Dubby pretty hard down the stretch to see what they’ve got. Optimally, I’d want to see him play 3/4 of the remaining games; 2/3 at the very least.

    The “1 soft goal per game” trend over the season is obviously a concern, but some guys need to stay active in order to stay sharp. Hopefully with more consistent playing time, Dubnyk will show more consistency.

    Re the posts about potentially trading for Bishop or Bernier – I don’t know that I’d be giving up assets for one of those guys when I could use those same assets to address the blue line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in recent years, there have always been decet/good goaltenders available on the FA market for reasonable term and reasonable money (excluding the flyers’ lunacy with Bryzgalov). Why give up assets when you can sign a UFA?

  • Reality Check to the head

    Couple of thoughts on this. The historical lack of certainty by the Oilers organization has created a lack of confidence down the line to the NHL team and especially the minor league system. That lack of judgement and decisiveness has caused the team to throw in the towel on too many prospects and they have gone on to do well elsewhere.

    They have shown signs of turning this around of late with the development of Smid and Gilbert. Now young hopefuls like Cornet are getting a shot if only short term. The Oil drafted him in ’08 and he has done four years of junior and minor pro combined. He may be for real he may not but at least there are signs that the pipeline has at least been primed.

    Paajarvi on the other sign is more indicative of the previous lack of direction and certainty as to how to develop a young player without making a mess of it.

    As far as Dubnyk is concerned…what choice do they have but to play him. Khabby has pretty much gone to seed and they have no other goaltending prospects who are potential big leaguers. More power to Dubnyk but if he hasn’t got what it takes the Oil are in trouble. The goalers they have drafted are years away from being ready.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I think the Oilers mismanaged Dubnyk at the beginning of the season. He played great against Pittsburgh in the season-opener with a 2-1 shootout win. What was his reward? He was riding the pine the next game. He had a decent outing against Vancouver I thought despite a 4-3 loss and then he allowed 2 goals in a 2-1 heartbreaker in Calgary. His stats after three games was a .932 save percentage and a 1.94 GAA. Then Khabibulin started the next 4 games. After playing 4 games, Dubnyk’s numbers are even better…a .946 save percentage and a 1.71 GAA.

    Now I know Khabi had a great start and Renney decided to ride the hot goalie. But this organization always seems reactionary. How can Dubnyk find any consistency when only starting 4 games in the first month of the season? There isn’t anyway that Khabi is the goalie of the future, but there is a chance that Dubnyk may be that guy. He should have been playing a lot more and given a chance to develop while getting the bulk of the work. Instead, this team reacted to a great start and threw goaltender development to the side while chasing a playoff spot that they should have known was still a remote possibility.

  • NastyNate

    Die hard: trade for a goalie of the future?
    Some one suggested a whole collection of assets including dubnyk for Miller.

    Miller: 6.25M cap hit
    10-11 30.7S/60Min .916SV% 2.59GA
    11-12 30.3S/60Min .899SV% 3.07GA
    Total 30.6/60Min .911SV% 2.74GA

    Dubnyk: 0.8M Cap Hit
    10-11 32.1S/60Min .916SV% 2.71GA
    11-12 31.7S/60Min .910SV% 2.87GA
    Total 32S/60Min .913SV% 2.77GA

    Lets See Big, Younger, Cheaper Contract, Faces more Shots, Better numbers the last two years.

    You look at the last two years versus:
    Harding 6’2′ 32S/60Min .912SV% 2.65GA
    Bernier 6’0″ 27.6S/60Min .908SV% 2.55GA
    Enroth 5’10” 31S/60Min .915SV% 2.81GA
    Bobrovsky 6’2′ 30S/60 .916 SV% 2.54GA
    Greiss 6’1′ 29S/60 .918SV% 2.36GA
    Neuvrith 6’1″ 28.7S/60 .909SV% 2.63GA
    Linbach 6’6″ 29S/60 .911Sv% 2.62GA
    Gustavsson 6’3′ 30S/60 .901SV% 3.00GA
    Reimer 6’2″ 31.6S/60 .915SV% 2.68GA
    Emery 6’1″ 28.6S/60 .914SV% 2.46GA
    Ellis 6’1′ 29.6S/60 .914SV% 2.51GA
    Pavalec 6’3′ 31.5S/60 .912SV% 2.75GA
    Fluery 6’2″ 27.4S/60 .916SV% 2.31GA
    Voukoun 6’0″ 31.8S/60 .919SV% 2.57GA
    Price 6’3′ 29.7S/60 .920SV% 2.37GA

    If they played with the oilers would the player be an improvement. Facing 32 shots on there team not even ours,
    Fluery would face 4.6 more shots 4.6/27.4 a 16.8% increase in GA. 16.8 X 2.31 = .39
    2.31 + .39 = 2.70 A 1 G diffrence every 14 Games. Imagine his Save% and GA behind our Defence.\

    Price over his three years is below the league average 2 of three years and is one goal less every 7 games.

    Of this group only Vokoun and price may be a goal better every 6-7 Games with there defence.
    What are they like on our team?

  • NastyNate

    I’m not sure what their contract situations are but both Leneveu and Danis in Oklahoma are putting up stellar numbers in the minors. I think offloading Khabibulin at this deadline is a must, bring up Denis, promote Roy to Oklahoma (his numbers in his first pro season aren’t all that bad 2.56 & .923%). If Duby can’t hold the fort without Khabby we need to evaluate our current assets. Danis, 30, is not like Gerber last year who was in the twilight of his career, hes only 30 and if we have to run with a two headed monster for another couple years so be it.

    If you don’t want to go the Danis route, ride out this year with dubby starting the majority of the games and hope we can land someone in the offseason. I find it tough to evaluate duby with our lacklustre defense, until our overall team defense improves i don’t think its a good idea to try and find a long term goaltending solution (outside of what we already have).

    • D-Man

      Keep in mind – buying out Khabby doesn’t come off the cap… His $3.75 million would still hit the books as he’s over the max age…

      Personally, if Dubnyk proves he’s ready to take the reins, I have no problem with a 55-25 game split with Khabby as the backup… He’s turned his game around to a point where he’ll be okay for 25 games… No point in rushing Roy or Bunz (Danis is a stop-gap), let’s make sure they’re getting 40 games plus a season until they’re ready to challenge for a spot on the big club… AHL goalies are a dime a dozen otherwise…

      Now if Dubnyk proves he’s not capable of taking the next step – I think we might need to sit tight for one more season… We don’t need three goalies like years before… I can’t see having the ability to deal Khabby anywhere and I’m not sure Katz would ‘okay’ a buyout, when cap space isn’t saved…

      • NastyNate

        I would prefer trading Khabby for whatever we could get in return. I’m not advocating rushing either Roy or Bunz either, but if Khabibulin can be traded Danis could be a valuable backup to Dubnyk for the rest of the year or if Dubnyk falters give Danis a shot. Regardless who we have in net right now I don’t think we are going to be succesfull. It feels like we are in stage 2 of our rebuild we have revamped our forwards to a certain extent (could still be improved), but we need to start adressing our defensive situation now and once that has been shored up, then it would be time to address long time goaltending situation.

        • D-Man

          I think you’re right about stage 2 of the rebuild… Unfortunately ‘stage 2’ might be another two years and I completely agree – our backend is in dire straits… Although we have a lot of young talent on the way through Klefbom and Musil (and Marincin/Gernat to a lesser extent), we don’t have any immediate help in the system… Teubert, in my opinion, is the closest and his upside is maybe a #4 d…

          I’d like to see another top pick on the backend and maybe the addition of another top 4 through a Hemsky or Gagner trade (if possible) or the FA market… We shore up the back end – we won’t need stellar goaltending… Just ‘tenders who don’t let in that bad goal… By the way, I’m not really adverse to trading Khabby – if there’s a deal out there… I just can’t see us getting anything better than a 3rd or 4th round pick… Even though the cap space would be beneficial – we’re not getting enough of a return to make this worth our time, and we also have no idea if Danis can play at the NHL level… Too much risk considering we’re not sure if Dubnyk is ready…

  • D


    Do you see Dubnyk possibly developing into a “steady” option like Moog, but someone (maybe Bunz) coming in down the road and grabbing the reins of “great”?

  • D-Man

    Dubnyk’s development has been slow and somewhat inconsistent. Personally, I don’t see that elite goaltender in the making with Dubnyk. Now another goaltender, who was picked after Dubnyk in the same draft year, is definitely having success and could turn out to be an elite #1 sooner then later. I think we all know who he is and if you have not guessed by now, it is Schneider. I’m not trying to do a Schneider vs Dubnyk comparison but I think it has merit. It seems as if the Canucks are doing a better job in developing young talent then the Oilers.

    • D-Man

      You did make one valid point about Dubnyk’s development… When the Oiler’s brass decided a couple years ago that we didn’t need an AHL franchise and sent our prospects to other team affiliates, we set Doobie back at least a year, maybe two… He rode the pine rather than play regularly…

      I don’t necessarily think we need an elite goalie though either… We just need someone solid to man the net, avoid letting in cheesy goals and not cost us games… Tambo needs to focus on enhancing our back end and adding some more depth on our 2nd and 3rd lines before seeing if there’s an elite tender out there…

    • DieHard

      Your last sentence made me respond. I think you could change the word “developing” to “recognizing” and be more accurate back in those days. I think Oiler management these days are going to be much better in both categories going forward. It just takes f’ing time.