Aside from the comments on Yakupov, the most interesting comments to me in Steve Tambellini’s last press conference were the ones on the Oilers’ goaltending situation. Tambellini confirmed that Nikolai Khabibulin would be back, and praised his veteran goaltender.
Asked by Bob Stauffer whether or not Devan Dubnyk was a starter, Tambellini answered this way:
Only to the point, Bob, where maybe he hasn’t done it long enough. In peoples’ minds, they see the potential. I know he wants it, I know he wants it badly. I’ve always said to both him and Khabby, ‘I don’t care who it is, just somebody take the net.’ If I’m saying that to a young guy, and if I’m a young player and my manager has told me, he’s given me the green light that if you’re playing that well it’s your net, go take it, I’m pretty excited. I like what I saw the last third of the season, I liked his poise. I liked the way he handled, you know playing once a week or every two games here and then sitting five games is much different from managing your energy, confidence levels, expectations from the rest of the team that ‘we need someone to be in a post that can help us win every night, give us a chance to win every night.’ So there were good signs.
The first sentence of that quote is the one that jumps out at me. Dubnyk’s career save percentage in the NHL is 0.910, which is right around the league average and compares favourably to guys like Marc-Andre Fleury (0.912) and Martin Brodeur (0.910) in the same span.
On Khabibulin, Tambellini was definitive, saying “We’ll have Nik back.” Asked what role Khabibulin would return in, he expanded on that statement:
You know, when I talked to Nik in his post season exit meetings, he told me he wants to play another four or five years. I said ‘You feel that good Nik?’ and he said ‘Well why not?’ So, by him saying that to me, he’s still feeling the compete and the challenge. I think guys like Nik Khabibulin need to be, or like to be, challenged or motivated, they’re not afraid of it. So Devan’s poised right now to take games from him and I love the fact his plan is to get the net back.
Khabibulin and Dubnyk both started playing for the Oilers in 2009-10. Here’s the list of active NHL goalies (minimum 50 GP) and their save percentages since that season, with Khabibulin and Dubnyk bolded:
Devan Dubnyk ranks 33rd on the list. Omitting his cameo at the end of 2009-10, and he moves to 22nd among NHL goalies, tied with Craig Anderson. He’s young, and even if he’s reached his plateau he’s still a very respectable 1A/1B-style goalie.
Nikolai Khabibulin ranks 53rd on that list, tied with Jeff Deslauriers and Curtis McElhinney. Only four guys with a minimum of 50 games have posted a worse save percentage. Omit his strong part-season in 2009-10 with the Oilers (18GP, 0.909 SV%) and his save percentage drops to 0.899, ahead of only Alex Auld and just behind Ty Conklin and Jonas Gustavsson.
The numbers are clear, and in this case tell truth. The decision to stick with Devan Dubnyk is a good one. The decision to stick with Nikolai Khabibulin is indefensible for a team actively trying to win.
Khabibulin’s late season collapses the last two years have been pivotal to landing consecutive first overall draft picks. Post-Christmas, the last two years, Khabibulin’s record has been a mind-blowing 3-33-6, with a 0.880 SV%. Overall, his record has been 22-53-11, as opposed to Dubnyk’s 32-32-11 mark.
A team actively looking to move out of the basement would look at what Khabibulin has done the last few years, decide that he’s not up to the job, and find another option. Even the Oilers’ third-stringer this season – Yann Danis, the AHL’s goalie of the year – is a better option for the NHL roster than Nik Khabibulin.
It’s a bad choice for the Oilers, but this isn’t new. They’ve been making bad choices with Khabibulin since the day they signed him.