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


  • dawgbone98

    @rindog

    What’s the purpose of Khabi’s veteran presence when it literally costs the oilers wins?

    And at some point, the Oilers have to start winning hockey games. The ELC’s for Eberle and Hall both end next year, you really need something to show for it.

    Bring another reliable goaltender and a couple of decent defencemen and go from there. Harding fits that bill.

  • dawgbone98

    Gregor, Khabibulin has statistically been one of the very worst goaltenders since the lockout. He’s got a 3-33 record combined in the 2nd half of the last 2 seasons.

    He’s simply terrible, and there’s almost no doubt that Harding is a better bet for next year and the near future.

    • Jason Gregor

      Issue is Harding has been injury prone as a young goalie. That is a concern. Harding is better now, I don’t doubt that.

      The other concern for me is that the Oilers would have two goalies battling for the same spot. I understand some doubt Dubnyk, and that is fair, but I’d rather have a situation where they know where they stand. Khabibulin is clearly the back up, and as a veteran he would likely be a better supporter than Harding, who would want the job.

      • That’s interesting, Jason. I’ve always viewed the internal competition as a positive rather than a negative – certainly fighting for the top job the last two years hasn’t hurt Dubnyk.

        I’m curious if there’s something he’s said or done that makes you think he’d be better off as the clear-cut starter.

        • Lexi

          JW – why the obsession with replacing Khabby? All year(s) you have used stats to point out how bad he is. Fine. But really who cares. The organizations clear plan was to flounder this year, get another top pick, and develop Dubnyk. Check, check and check.

          You have stated before that you don’t think this is a playoff team in 2012-2013. So then, what is the rush with shuttling out Khabby? Why should the team care about it at all? Are you suggesting they can make a playoff run in 2013? If not, what is the reason for wanting him out so bad. To save Katz 1.25 million?? Who cares. Do we have UFAs lining up that we are unable to sign because of cap problems?

          I just can’t see the downside to keeping Khabby as the backup. Unless you think this team is ready to turn the corner and become a playoff contender. But I believe you’ve stated that isn’t going to happen this year. So I’m unclear on the reasoning.

          The Oilers should spend 110% of their focus, energy, assets and time on addressing the D. It would help the goalie stats a lot more than burning bridges buying out Khabby and shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic by getting Harding.

          Am I missing something? You seem to have an irrational desire to get Khabby out. Fine, we accept he is bad, but hardly the main issue with this team. Why spend time debating the merits of trading or buying out your backup goalie?

          • I don’t see the Oilers, as they are, as a playoff team in 2012-13. I also don’t think the playoffs are out of reach in 2012-13 if management makes smart decisions this summer.

            The downside to keeping Khabibulin is that he costs the team games. He’s not a serviceable starter, and he’s not a serviceable backup. He’s not an NHL-calibre goalie, based on his performance in Edmonton.

            You can swap him out, save money, and improve the team. At some point, management has to start doing that, and it strikes me that it might be nice to start sometime before they’re forced to negotiate new contracts with Eberle and Hall.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            OK, if you think they can make the playoffs in 2012-13 then it makes sense. I just thought you had stated they wouldn’t compete this year. I’m glad you clarified this point for the record.

            My issue is that goaltending probably isn’t nearly as important as D in terms of the “smart decisions this summer” you mention it’ll take to turn the corner. Unless they can improve the position a lot more than Harding I can’t imagine it’ll make much of a difference.

          • You are missing a lot here buddy.

            Whether or not JW thinks this is a playoff team (not likely with ST at the helm making bonehead moves) the goal should not be to fail for a 7th straight year. This team could be improved to have a shot at the playoffs and fixing the sub par goaltending provided by Khabibulin is definitely part of the solution, along with fixing the D, and getting a Pisani style (note not actually Pisani) veteran winger to round out the forwards.

            Here are some downsides of keeping NK for you:
            -Hall wants to win, NK makes that less likely. Why disgruntle your best player and future?
            -What message does it send to the team that no matter how badly you play you don’t get shipped out?
            -Why would free agents want to come to a team that continually places in the bottom tier of the league?
            -Edmonton was 19th in SA but 23rd in GA. That that means goaltending is just as big an issue as defence.

            You, along with an astonishing number of posters seem to have an irrational desire to defend the likes of Khabibulin, Tambellini er al and enjoy being the laughingstock of the league year after year.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I have not defended Tambelinni never once not a bit. I loathe virtually every single thing he has done since he became GM. The only move I even remotely liked was resigning Hemsky instead of trading him for some draft picks and perpetually rebuilding.

            Likewise I don’t have any love for Khabby. I’d be happy if he was gone. My issue is just with blaming him for the plight of this team. This team has about 5 problems that are much bigger than a backup goaltender.

            Now its a completely different story if you think Dubnyk isn’t a capable #1. I think he is worth at least another year to prove it one way or another.

            I suppose my whole problem is a complete lack of faith in Tambo to do more than 1 thing at a time. If I felt he could dramatically reshape the D, add some size/grit to our top 9, make decisions about the makeup of our top 6 AND fiddle around with a mostly irrelevant backup goaltending situation then fine.

            I still can’t imagine how signing a mutli-year deal with Harding helps us more than riding out 1 more year Khabby and deciding in the future how to address goaltending.

          • The question if Dubnyk is or isn’t a capable #1 is an interesting one.

            He has progressed, but one wonders if he may regress if handed the job outright with no accountability and nobody behind him who can handle the role.

            IMO he at least needs to be pushed by another up and coming goalie to develop into a true #1.

        • 50 in 39

          I am all for internal competition and I do favor bringing in a quality back-up goalie but it seems that every time Dubnyk has to compete for playing time he doesn’t play particularly well.

          When Khabi proves himself to be unplayable anymore then Dubnyk starts to play well.

          Maybe he plays better the more he plays, maybe he doesn’t have the mental strength to be a starting goaltender (he has never played a single NHL game under pressure), or maybe this all just the peaks and valleys of his development.

  • Lexi

    I believe upgrading the goaltending is the least important issue for the Oil in this offseason. I think if the Oilers can acquire 1 legit top 4 dman and 1 legit top 6 dman and they should be able to compete for a playoff spot. It should be a buyers market this year compared to last for dmen as I count at least 15 UFA who should be effective NHL top 6 guys that could be had for affordable contracts.

    I don’t think we should underestimate the value of having a Russian or two around to help Yak. In the salary cap NHL there is no more valuable asset that a first overall pick and for an 18 year old kid having someone who he can talk to in his own language and knows his culture could be quite valuable. (for this reason I think they should go hard for Tyutin who might be too expensive for Columbus and they will probably no longer need a Russian mentor)

  • nuge2drai

    Everyone seems to forget how good this team looked when our goaltenders were standing on their heads to start the season and stealing us some games. All we need is solid goaltending to be a good team, its amazing how good goaltending can change the way a defence looks.

    Furthermore, our defence improved throughout the season with the emergence of Petry as a 1/2, and Schultz being a solid 3/4 option but our goaltending got worse. If we bring in one of Wideman or Carle, our defense looks like this:

    Petry Smid Wideman Schultz Whitney Sutton
    extras: Potter Peckham Teubert

    Ideally Tambellini Drafts Yakupov and signs both Wideman and Carle, Sutton moves into the #7 spot and Whitney into #6 – this will take the pressure off everyone and let the D play the minutes they are suited for.

    Draft Yakupov – 30/40 goals a season will help this team wins more games next year and – winning is what matters.

    Sign or trade for Lindback/Enroth/Thomas/Vokoun/Bernier/Luongo

    and we are a playoff team next year 🙂

  • Basically, I think there’s disagreement on two points:

    1) How bad Khabibulin is.

    2) How good Harding is likely to be.

    Over his Oilers career, Khabibulin’s been one of the league’s worst-goalies. Of the 58 goalies to play 50 games since Khabby signed in Edmonton, his SV% is 53rd, one spot back of Jeff Deslauriers, one spot ahead of Curtis McElhinney. Josh Harding is 29th, one spot behind Marc-Andre Fleury and 4 spots ahead of Dubnyk.

    Keep in mind these are just post-Lemaire years – either Richards or Yeo was in charge of Minny over this span, and both completely reconfigured team strategy.

  • striker777

    Very astute comment regarding needing Khabi to smooth Nail’s introduction to NHL. This is something that I feel Oilers management never understood about Russian players.

    If handled properly, it could turn into a gift that keeps on giving, because these guys get a better scoop on other Russian prospects, like Ovechkin’s feedback to draft Kuznetsov late in the first round. That kid could be their Jordan Eberle.

    Amazed at how deep some fans on here think. Love it!

  • Interesting how so many guys are saying “Leave the goaltending alone. It’s fine for right now.” while we watch playoff game after playoff game where it’s blatantly obvious good goaltending is one of the keys (if not the primary one) to winning games.

    If we really want to get back to winning next year rather than hacking through the season waiting for high draft picks we’ll have to do something about goaltending. Hell man, Danis and Dubnyk would be a solid upgrade IMO, with Khabby our new $3.75M goalie coach.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    @Dawgbone98 and other members of the Khabibulin fan club

    It was all Khabibulins fault, you’re right. It had nothing to do with the team in front of him that earned the first pick overall 3 yrs in a row. The musical chairs (roster)group of players they had coming and going has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    The Oilers still don’t have a stable top 6, or a #1 or 2 blueliner, yet, you blame #35 for this mess?

    • Look at the records of Khabibulin and Dubnyk with the Oilers. 29-61-13 for Khabby, 36-43-13 for Dubnyk. That’s a 57-point pace with Khabby, a 76-point pace with Dubnyk over the last three years. Over the last two, things become even clearer: 22-52-11 with Khabby, 32-33-11 with Dubnyk.

      Over the last two years, the Oilers have played at a 53-point pace with Khabibulin, and an 81-point pace with Dubnyk.

      It’s not Khabibulin’s fault the Oilers haven’t been a good team the last two years. It is, however, his fault they’ve been the league’s worst team over the last two years.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Mind boggling that people are arguing against bringing in another goalie.

    Outside of a 8 – 10 game stretch (or whateve ever it was) Bulin was once again one of the worst goalies in the league.

    If we want to win, bring in someone else. If we want another lott pick, go with Bulin again.

    Pretty simple.

  • nuge2drai

    To BE CLEAR ( IF STEVE luckily reads this)

    Directions for the offseason – since you clearly need them.

    Offense:
    1.Draft Yakupov 30/40 goals a season helps win games.
    2. Buyout/trade Horcoff (Lander, Belanger are better options) depending on the amensity clause in the new CBS – if not keep him as a 3rd liner and drop his minutes by 1/3 or find a coach who will.
    Too much offense is never a problem, injuries happen, be dynamic and skilled upfront.

    Defense:
    1. Sign 2 of Garrison, Carle, Wideman, Schultz(anaheim) and move everyone down the depth chart.
    A defense built of 3/4 guys can be solid(Canucks as an example) you dont need a #1. 20+ teams in the NHL operate without a Weber, Chara or Lidstrom.

    Goaltending:Sign or trade for Lindback/Enroth/Thomas/Vokoun/Bernier/Harding/Luongo

    2012 Lineup:

    Hall Gagner Hemsky
    Yakupov Hopkins Eberle
    Smyth Horcoff Jones
    Hartkainen Belanger Eager

    Petry Smid
    Garrison Wideman
    Whitney Shultz

    Dubnyk/Lindback

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Perhaps with Mr. Katz being in the pharmaceutical industry, he could invent a vaccine for stupid and fix Khabibulin, no? It’s a little on the grass roots’ish side of thinking but we’d have to start somewhere eh?

  • NewfoundlandOil

    Most comments seem to suggest that upgrading the defense precludes an upgrade in goal (particularly in a back-up role). Granted current management has not shown a desire or ability to juggle more that 2 balls at once, I still don’t see why this is not achievable or conceivable in a single off-season.

    It’s not a one or the other thing for me. Both positions are priorities now. That goals-against # needs to come down for marked improvement next year and beyond.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Little known fact: Not many realise this, but on this day, we are all the oldest we’ve ever been.

    Since we’re going down this prehistoric way of thinking/pinning the blame on someone today. Is it at all possible that Dinosaurs aren’t extinct, they’re just hiding?

  • Lexi

    Yak lived with the Russian speaking family of his best friend and teammate Galchynuk. I think we forget these players are human and underestimate how hard breaking into the NHL is for guys who are from other countries and he will be dealing with not being the best player on his team for the first time in his career and the ups and downs of being a rookie so having a Russian on the team could be very valuable.

    The NK contract was a disaster, but I do believe he can be adequate as a backup for 20 games this year. There’s a reason guys are backups, they aren’t that good. If there is one thing I learned from this playoff is that goaltending is a crapshoot and I believe DD is a legitimate top 20 goalie and that will be a good enough to contend for a playoff.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I guess the real issue is…

    Is signing Josh Harding really going to have any significant impact on whether or not this team improves in the standings next year?

    If so, what is the reward compared to the risk of buying out a veteran that seems to be good in practice and in the room.

    What benefit is there of buying out a player and having some of his cap hit attached to the roster in the following season (where competing in the playoffs is the absolute minimal goal) compared to using him in his final year to help a guy like Yakupov (if drafted) and give Dubnyk some relief for 20-25 games?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ rindog

    Why on earth is the playoffs not the absolute goal this coming year?

    We’re trending on worst team in history with this last three year stretch, time for the excuse to go away.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Infinibuild

    As others mentioned, asking the team to upgrade two defenders and a goaltender in the summer shouldn’t be too much to ask.

  • db7db7db7

    What a useless thread.

    If we buyout Khabby, we save $0 in cap space in any year. The only reason to buy him out might be if Katz is running low on funds.

    SEASON SALARY CAP HIT BUYOUT SAVINGS B/O CAP HIT

    12-13 3.75M 3.75M 1.25M 2.5M 3.75M

    13-14 $0 $0 1.25M -1.25M $0

    • I thought it was obvious that if you can save $500,000 dollars with no decline in performance, it makes sense to save that $500,000.

      Sure, $500,000 might be the equivalent to Katz of $500 to me, but I don’t go around burning hundred dollar bills for the heck of it.

      • db7db7db7

        There have to be better options out there. I don’t care if Tambi needs to sweeten the pot a little by say trading Khabbi and a second round pick for a 6th round pick. To me that would be worth opening the roster spot and saving the cap space.

          • db7db7db7

            If we want to sign or trade for Suter, Shultz, Parros and one of Lindback/Enroth/Thomas/Vokoun/Bernier/Harding/Luongo we do.

            Plus we still need to re-sign some of Smyth, Gagner,Petrell, Petry and Dubnyk.

            Unless the Cap goes up or we use a post CBA amnesty clause to cancel Horcoff’s contract, we could be right up against the cap. Better to have the cap space in case Suter decides he wants to play for us than be sorry.

  • db7db7db7

    I do not like bulin on the Oilers and I would love to have him replaced by someone but I am not a fan of a buyout, mainly because we are paying 1.5 cap hit the year after next for a guy who would have been our backup and off the books not to play, the Oilers might not be a cap team but why handcuff yourself. If Bulin only plays 20-25 games a year I am ok with sticking with him for one more year then having a party when his contact comes off the books.

    Plus if we draft Yakupov having a Russian on the team is a nice bonus, and if you are stuck with his contract (cap hit) anyway then let him back up one more year and see what we have in dubbie.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Infinibuild

    “I still can’t imagine how signing a mutli-year deal with Harding helps us more than riding out 1 more year Khabby and deciding in the future how to address goaltending.”

    An ironic statement considering the name you post under.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    The problem is why would Harding sign a 1-2 year deal?

    Don’t get me wrong I’d add Harding, but I don’t think it is going to make sense for both us and him. A guy like Biron, Gustafsson, Sanford, Garon those guys I see signing the type of term we are looking for.

    • stevezie

      At that point we might as well promote Danis. A vetern but not ancient guy familiar with the organization who just won the AHL’s Vezina. I’d be surprised if he’s not backing up someone in the NHL next year. Not shocked, but surprised.