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

  • JMC88

    I would be on the side of those that suggest that signing a FA like Josh Harding doesn’t make sense.

    The first determination for the Oilers has to be whether or not Dubnyk is their bona fide starting goalie for 2012/2013 and beyond. He’s RFA this summer and contract negotiations will center around that determination.

    I don’t think Dubnyk will sign a contract with the Oilers if the offer doesn’t pay him what a starting goalie for 55-60 games would get paid. Further, I don’t think he signs a contract for less than 3 years nor do I think the Oilers would be very interested in signing him for less than 3 years. Maybe the parties sign for 2 years, but I think 3 years is more the likely term.

    If the Oilers determine that he is not a bona fide starting goalie, then I don’t think the team and the player move forward with contract negotiations on the basis that he only deserves to be paid on the basis of starting 40 or less games.

    If the Oilers do not believe that Dubnyk is the man moving forward, then I think they should consider trading him to another team in return for a goalie who they believe would be a bona fide starting goalie for at least the next 2 or 3 seasons.

    Some commentators have brought up some interesting names like Enroth and Lindback. If not yet mentioned, I would add a goalie like Tuukka Rask who is also RFA this summer. I think Boston has to make a decision on their goaltenders. Would they be interested in Dubnyk who can serve as Thomas’ back-up this season and start 30 or so games this season and then inherit the starting role after this upcoming season?

    Then, the Oilers would have a starter for 55-60 games and Khabibulin can be the back up for the last year of his contract. The Oilers could then try to make the play-offs for 2012/2013, but more importantly, they would have their starting goalie for the next few seasons.

  • db7db7db7

    Another thing to consider, is the shot quality faced by a goalie. I’m not sure if there is such a stat, but I would imagine that the top teams in general create higher quality scoring chances and thus higher quality shots. Harding as a backup goalie probably saw lesser quality competition, and thus lesser quality shots, than Backstrom. My point is, a .916 SV% against Columbus or Edmonton is not the same as a .916 SV% against Detroit or Van.

  • db7db7db7

    Josh Harding would want too much money and duration, and has only played in one organization. You would be taking the Mike-Smith-Tampa risk or Bryzgalov-in-Philly risk Mike Smith is all-world for Tippett, and a bum for everybody else. Josh Harding is NOT Craig Anderson, who had good advanced stats as a backup for multiple organizations.

    Stay in-house. Just sign Yann Danis to backup Dubnyk. And another Danis clone for OKC.

    Clemmenson can probably be had for cheaper and shorter duration than Harding.

    • Actually, Mike Smith had a great year in Tampa one season before suffering a concussion.

      And Bryzgalov played pretty well for the Ducks.

      Nobody’s saying toss a blank check at the guy; but if he’s willing to take a deal like Anderson’s to prove he can play, why not?

  • JMC88

    First, I think based on his play over the course of the season, the Oilers would be leaning towards re-signing Dubnyk on the basis that he will start at least 50 games in 2012/2013.

    So, I don’t think trading Dubnyk is at all their first option.

    But, if they aren’t sold on him, then, rather than going into 2012/2013 with Dubnyk platooning with Khabibulin or another goalie like Harding, the Oilers and Dubnyk may be better served going into 2012/2013 with a bona fide starter who can start 50-60 games.

    Could a goalie like Rask, Enroth, Lindback, or Bernier be that type of starter? Something to consider.

  • RexLibris

    One could argue that Khabibulin’s play/injuries over the length of his contract has directly contributed to the team’s acquisition of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and, to a lesser extent, Yakupov.

    Maybe he is our Most Valubale Player.

    We could trade him to another team looking to rebuild, like a sort of snake-oil/draft-lottery charm: “take on Khabibulin on your roster and we guarantee a top-five draft pick within the season!”

    Somebody call Jay Feaster!

  • db7db7db7

    If you want Khabi off the team but you don’t want the cap penalty, then why not just send him down to the minors? Based on the Souray situation, this team has no problem paying a guy a lot of money to play in the minors for one year. It might even force NK into retirement.

    But I’m not saying to do it right away. Give NK a legitimate shot at training camp, like every other player gets, and have him compete for an NHL job. If he’s comes up third or fourth on the depth chart, then down he goes. Sending him down would be a wake-up call to the other vets as well.

  • Reg Dunlop

    The oil honoring the remaining year on khabbi’s deal and starting him 30 games does only one thing next year. It gives the oil maybe 12 points in those games as opposed to maybe 30 points with an actual NHL tender. The difference between 12th and 8th place.

    Is khabbi tradeable at the deadline next year? You can’t overestimate the stupidity of some decisions of desperate GMs, but if khabbi was a car(a Lada?) you would need to leave the keys and a $100 bill on the dash to attract a thief.

    Is Harding the solution? Maybe not but khabbi is DEFINITELY not the solution.