Devan Dubnyk arrived this summer with a big time contract signed in July that represented the first real sign of security in the big man’s career. His 2-year, $7 million dollar contract was a clear indication Oilers management is committed to him for the next two seasons, and likely beyond. Or was it?
The 2011-12 season represented a high water mark in the career of Devan Dubnyk: he finished with a .927 save percentage at even strength, meaning he was about "average" among the 30 league starters despite playing in front of a rickety defense and young forward group. On the downside, Dubnyk’s PK SP was a very poor .854 on the PK and a ridiculous .862 on the PP.
The EV number represented a nice step up from the season before (.921) and gave Dubnyk a clear edge over the previous starter Nikolai Khabibulin:
- Dubnyk at evens the last two seasons: .921 and .927
- Khabibulin at evens the last two seasons: .905 and .913
For giggles, lets place Dubnyk’s season against the top end NHL starters from last season:
- Brian Elliott .945
- Jaroslav Halak .938
- Mike Smith .936
- Jonathan Quick .933
- Henrik Lundqvist .933
- Niklas Backstrom .931
- Cory Schneider .931
- Roberto Luongo .929
- Jimmy Howard .929
- Tuuku Rask .929
- Pekka Rinne .928
- Miikka Kiprusoff .928
- Jose Theodore .928
- Devan Dubnyk, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, Jhonas Enroth .927
I think that’s a solid number, especially considering the defense Dubnyk played in front of last season. Place him on the Canucks and it is completely reasonable to suggest he would be in the range with Luongo and Scheider (obviously, since he is in the range now!) and the big man should be able to improve on the number (save percentages have been going north for years, so he’d have to improve just to keep pace).
Still, there have always been nagging stories about Dubnyk and his ability as a #1, owing mostly to "lateral movement." Darren Pang caused quite a stir in Oilers Nation just about a year ago with this quote:
- Pang: “I did a poll of four NHL GMs about Devan Dubnyk and asked them what they thought his upside would be as a #1 goaltender. The answer coming back is: No. And that’s based on his lack of lateral movement. He’s a competitor, he’s working hard, he’s winning over his teammates but at this particular point, no, not a #1 goaltender. I would say there’s at least five or six goaltenders in the same age group who have got more upside as a number one.”
It is important to remember that Pang isn’t just giving his opinion, but asked 4 NHL General Managers about him and got the same answer. That’s fairly damning, although in fairness these are the same GMs that the NHL owners are flushing a season over in order to make certain they can’t shoot themselves in the foot with addled contracts and CBA loopholes.
There are other concerns, including the lack of playing time/activity. With the lockout now over the 1600 hour mark, Dubnyk still doesn’t have a job in Europe and has become a vagabond in search of practice time.
- Dubnyk: “I’d like to be home in Edmonton, but every time I’m there I end up not skating for four or five days and I can’t be doing that. If the NHL gets going I’m going to have to be ready."
Dubnyk is quoted in the article as saying he’d love to play in Europe, but those jobs are dear and teams are unlikely to sign a goaltender who could jump ship at a moment’s notice unless there’s star value. Additionally, the NHL goalies who have gone over appear to be struggling with playing angles on the wide ice and could pick up some bad habits while adjusting to it.
There is no ideal solution for Dubnyk, but he is remaining active and would certainly get the lion’s share of the work should the league decide to return to normal.
Recently management has sent mixed messages about their own feeling towards Dubnyk. GM Steve Tambellini endorsed Dubnyk as the Oilers #1 goalie the moment he signed the big man to a 2-year deal at $3.5 million per season, but Kevin Lowe expressed in a recent interview that the position is not completely stable:
- Lowe: "Goaltending is a question mark, and I say that in all respect to Devan Dubnyk and Khabi (Nikolai Khabibulin). Khabi has been injured and he’s approaching 40. He’s given us stretches of strong goaltending but his health is one thing. (Dubnyk)’s got to go out and prove it now if he’s going to take over the Number One job.”
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
I think the Oilers made a decision in the summer–when they signed Dubnyk–to commit to him as the #1 goaltender. Unless something shakes loose that represents a clear upgrade it would seem to be the intelligent course. The Oilers could do themselves and Dubnyk an enormous favor by adding a veteran defender who can help with those sorties into the Oilers zone–especially on the penalty kill.
With Andy Sutton’s injury, it would seem to be the first order of business after the lockout.
As for Dubnyk, he’s overcome a battle with Jeff Deslaurers for "goalie of the future" honors and worked his way to a fine payday. If he wants those big contracts to continue, he’ll need to improve his numbers–especially when down a man–and prove to the Oilers management group he’s worthy of backstopping the Boys on the Bus 2.0.