The Edmonton Oilers Should Sign Josh Harding This Summer

Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding earned $750,000 in 2011-12 as the backup to Niklas Backstrom. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Oilers should give serious thought to bringing him aboard in time for next season.

But wait! The Oilers already have two goalies under contract for next season! Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to that: buyout Nikolai Khabibulin. A Khabibulin buyout makes sense, not only from a roster perspective, but also from a financial one. Bring Josh Harding in as his replacement.

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The Oilers and Harding are a good fit for each other in a few ways. Let’s start with why the Oilers could use Harding.

At 27 years of age, Harding fits with the Oilers core group of players, and if all goes well could spend the next decade as an NHL goaltender. He’s a good goalie now; his save percentage for the woeful Minnesota Wild this season was a sparkling 0.917, and over 117 NHL games he’s posted a career 0.916 SV%.

Given his youth and proven level of NHL ability, Harding would give the Oilers a second strong option in net. This is desirable for a few different reasons. First, the competition for playing time would undoubtedly help push both Harding and Dubnyk. Second, redundancy in goal is always a good thing – in the event one guy gets hurt or struggles, there’s always a second capable guy around to help shoulder the load.

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One of the underrated strengths of the glory years Oilers was their depth in net; early on the team had Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr splitting time in net; later on they had Fuhr and Bill Ranford. In all of Fuhr’s years with the Oilers, only once did he play more than 60 games – in 1987-88, when Moog left to play for the Canadian National Team until the Oilers sent him to Boston for Ranford and Geoff Courtnall.

Obviously, it’s far too early to compare a Dubnyk/Harding tandem to Fuhr/Moog, but there’s no denying the value of having a backup who can play regularly.

Still, if Harding has an attractive combination of talent and (relative) youth, why would he be interested in playing in Edmonton?

Part of the reason is the NHL goalie market: the simple fact is that there are more competent goalies available than there are job openings, particularly when the trade market is taken into account.

Beyond that, Harding’s injury history is a big risk for a team looking at him as a starter. A knee injury cost Harding the entire 2010-11 season. He’s missed time with both hip injuries and head injuries, and given that a team might hesitate when penciling him in for 60+ starts.

Edmonton is the perfect middle ground. Harding’s career save percentage is better than that of Devan Dubnyk, and he’d stand a decent shot at taking the starting gig away if he signed with the Oilers, and even if he didn’t he’d still undoubtedly play regularly. Because the Oilers already have Dubnyk, they’d be more willing to gamble on Harding’s health than a team with an untrusted backup would. The Oilers have also done a good job – with Martin Gerber and then Yann Danis – of having a third-string goalie who can play the last few years, so it’s reasonable to expect they’d be prepared in case of injury.

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It seems like a situation that would work well for both parties.

This week by Jonathan Willis at Oilers Nation

  • Eulers

    Jonathan, you forget that Khabibulin has “fire in his belly” and is our MVP. We therefore do not need a young goaltender who can ‘stop pucks’. #Ifixedit

    Fire the Incompetent Steve Tambellini

  • Hemmercules

    Tamblo give up on his superstar? Never! He somehow defends that geezer when everyone and their dog knows he needs to be bought out. Love to have Harding but I don’t think Tambo is capable of pulling off a smart move like that.

    • 1) Then go sign a Russian player who can help the team. Or an off-ice translator who can help Yakupov. Khabibulin’s not getting paid $3.75 MM to hold Yakupov’s hand.

      2) Neither goalie has played even a full year in the AHL, and at least one full AHL year is likely for both prior to any NHL duty. It would be a mistake to hold off addressing the net for a year or two just because there are a couple of mid-round picks in the system who look like they might make good.

      • I gotta say JW, usually I agree with your analysis. But this whole goalie situation is way off base.

        First off, who cares if Khabi makes 3.75 MM or 2, or 5. Its 1 more year, and I can’t imagine we’ll have cap issues this year. Its a pointless argument. I realize its emotional to link salary to performance if someone is being overpaid based on their performance (see Shawn Horcoff). But its irrelevant.

        What is the benefit of spending any time, effort, money, or goodwill (buying out Khabi might not be received overly well by other aging vets we will need to acquire for a cup run one day).

        Dooby performed well down the stretch, and should be given the #1 job next year. I believe you yourself argued the Oilers will be hard pressed to make the playoffs next year. In that case, who cares about a goalie at all.

        Tambo should spend 100% of his energy, assets and time on improving the D and looking to add depth/size up front while deciding which of the current small’ish forwards fit and which don’t.

        This goalie talk is pointless.

  • Dipstick

    I wonder if the Oilers are on Luongo’s trade list…

    We’d rid ourselves of a big contract (Horcoff?) and send prospects and picks (not including this year’s #1) and be set in goal.

    Then buy out Khabi this summer if nobody wants him in a deal.

    • justDOit

      Luongo’s wife is from the Tampa area, and he still owns property there, so I’d say the chances of him agreeing to that trade would be ice cold.

      I like the idea of signing Harding, and I believe people here are reading too much into Tambi’s comments on him. He can’t really come out and say, “Yeah, Nik played poorly for us this year, other than the first 10 games or so, but we’re stuck with him until we find a sucker to trade him to or buy him out.”

      He has to ‘pump Nik’s tires’ for a few reasons, one of them being that he just might need Khabby next season, and doesn’t want a disgruntled, aging goalie with confidence issues.

      It’s like this: I’d love to be driving my old Toyota next year – but if I get the chance to sign a new one this summer, it’s a done deal!

  • Dipstick

    If the market price for Harding is driven down by the potential availability of Luongo, Kipper, Tim Thomas as well as Vokoun. Then it makes sense if it’s for the right term and price.

    My gut it telling me that Harding goes to Columbus though, they won’t be able to land one of the above players and unless they get a goalie for Nash he give Harding the best opportunity to start in the NHL.

    Another option I would like is for the Oilers to buy-out Khabibulin and bring in two quality AHL goalies such as Yan Danis & Anton Khudobin (25 years old). Khudobin has had SV% of .919 this past year & .920 (Providence) / .911 (Houston) the year before. If the Bruins keep Thomas & Rask next year then Khudobin is in the minors again sharing time with Bruins prospect M. Hutchinson. He’s looked good in the NHL with a career SV% of .961 in 7 games. His main issue is size.