What Happens if Devan Dubnyk Keeps Struggling?

Devan Dubnyk has struggled early in 2013-14. Through two games, his numbers are wretched, but most realize that two games is far too short a span of time to base a decision on. But what happens if the month of October goes by and he’s still struggling?

To try and figure out what it means, I went back to the NHL’s last full season (2011-12) and looked at all the goalies to play in at least 50 games. There were 22 in all; in each case I split their season into two segments – the first 10 games and the rest of the year.

What I found was that the first 10 games are somewhat predictive of success, but that they’re a terrible guide to go on.

The Chart

If we look at our starters’ first 10 games played, there’s a massive range of performance. The worst guy (Craig Anderson) posted a 0.881 save percentage through 10 contests. The best guy (Jonathan Quick) had a 0.941 save percentage. That’s a 60-point spread in save percentage. The gap the rest of the way was just a hair over half that, ranging from the worst (Corey Crawford, 0.899 save percentage) to the best (Mike Smith, 0.931 save percentage). The old maxim ‘you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and never as bad as you look when you’re losing’ is borne out here.

The first 10 games do matter, in the aggregate; just not a lot. Looking at the direction of our trendline, we can see that guys who do better early tend to do better late, and guys who do worse early tend to do worse late. How much worse? Well, a guy from the top-third of this group in the early going (they had an average save percentage of 0.932) posts a 0.921 save percentage over the rest of the season. A bottom-third guy (average save percentage of 0.894 through 10) posted a 0.915 save percentage the rest of the way. There’s some built-in bias (obviously, guys who keep floundering stop getting games at some point) but it does show that a massive gap early generally means a smaller gap later.

It’s also, unsurprisingly, entirely possible for a goalie to rebound from a lousy start. Anderson, mentioned above, was a 0.920 save percentage goalie over the rest of 2011-12. Robert Luongo went from a 0.894 save percentage over 10 games to a 0.925 save percentage the rest of the way. With the exception of guys with extenuating circumstances (age, injury) it’s always a better idea to lean on the long-term track record than it is a 10-game stretch, because even very good goalies have terrible 10-game stretches. Good goalies have them less frequently than bad goalies, because there is talent involved here, but they still have them.

Devan Dubnyk

And here’s where we tie this back to the Oilers.

Devan Dubnyk hasn’t had 10 bad games; he’s had two. But given the clamour that’s already arisen, it’s probably fair to say that eight more bad games could finish him as the Oilers’ starter. They shouldn’t. It’s difficult not to overreact to short-term trends, and all too easy to look at what’s happening right now and say a change has to be made. The fact is, however, that if the Senators or Canucks had dumped their guy with the good track record 10 games into 2011-12 they would have been making a huge mistake. The best thing they could do was to completely block out those 10 games and focus exclusively on the long-term record.

In Dubnyk’s case, the long-term record is good. It’s not great, and it’s not terrible, but it’s good. He’s been a 0.915 save percentage goalie since making the full-time jump to the NHL in 2010-11; of the 32 goalies to play at least 100 games in that stretch that ranks tied for 18th (one point higher would put him in a tie for 15th). He’s not an elite goaltender, and he’s not a poor starter; he’s right around the league average.

If the Oilers decide they want an elite goalie, that’s well and good and they’re welcome to try and grab one. But dumping Dubnyk – even if he struggles not just through two but through 10 – for another middle-tier goalie like Jonas Hiller or James Reimer (both posting a 0.915 save percentage since 2010) or even Ryan Miller (0.917 save percentage in that span, 0.915 save percentage career) would be incredibly stupid.

  • 27Ginge

    Elite goaltenders have 6-10 4+ g games a season.
    Playing in front of Boston, CHI, LAK defence.
    The last 4 cup winners.

    Dubnyk has averaged 8.
    In front of a 30th, 30th, 26th defence. Facing the 2nd most shots.

    Dubnyk since taking over the starter role from KHB in Jan 2012.
    has provided the 2nd best 3G or less games rate 88%.
    Lunquist is first.
    Andersson 3rd.

  • vetinari

    We should be committed to Dubnyk because we are stuck with Dubnyk. Give him as many games as possible and if he comes out of his slump, great. If he is still slumping by Christmas, then look for trade options but get a long term fix and not just a short term band-aid.

    Dubnyk’s been known to go into slumps and probably should have played more in the preseason to get used to his new equipment and his new defencemen. That being said, at least one third of the goals that he has given up should have been stopped by an average NHL goalie– and there’s no point harping on it because he knows it; his teammates know it; the coaches know it; and the fans know it. Let him work through it without the distraction of every second article being on the Oilers’ poor goaltending performances.

  • justDOit

    Until this team plays a solid game, I’m not going to get too worried about Doobie.

    JW: You’re right – LaBarbie looked pretty suspect in his mobility, and his flexibility didn’t seem too hot in the shootout. If that first shooter doesn’t put it wide, LaBarbera couldn’t have stopped it.

  • 27Ginge

    I think I’m going to bash the classiest guy on the team, who has as much seniority as anyone and is consistently praised by those around him for his leadership. I think I am going to do it because he didn’t play very well for a fortieth of the season.

    So here it goes: Dubnyk plays like poo head.

    Wow. I feel better.

  • 27Ginge

    I find it funny that people will ignore some warts in a skaters game because he has a “big body”. Being big is a definite asset in hockey, but it’s something they completely ignore in Dubnyk.

    His positioning and reflexes are not among the upper echelon of NHL goalies, but the fact is, the guy is 6’6″ 200 lbs and a ton of pucks just hit him.
    How else can he continually post .910+ save percentages, especially if he’s as bad as some people on this site suggest?

    I think it’s time we just accept him for what he is, a big body who stops an average amount of pucks and will give the team a chance to win on most nights. The stats don’t lie, that’s what he is, and it’s as good or better than most teams.

  • washed up

    I’d say stick up Dubnyk, at least for the rest of this season. Chances are the Oilers won’t make the playoffs. Unless they are able to get an elite goalie that will steal them 10 or 12 games, no sense bringing in another middle of the pack guy. This team has bigger problems then goaltending.

  • **

    I remember the 06′ season when we were running a tandem of Juicy and Conks before Rolly the Goalie, and the Oilers were still a playoff bound club. This tandem of Barbie and Dubby is worlds better then that horrorshow. I think that is a fair assumption. The Oilers barely made the playoffs due to circumspect tending earlier in the season when the Oilers often outplayed their opponent and would loose 3-2 because of 3 aweful goals.

    Its only 2 games, and the sky is not falling. Frankly Taylor playing outta position, and 2 AHL centers are more the problem then a couple softies. Dubby should of won game 1. Game 2, the Oilers were never in that. This is such an Oilerblown story.

    A great article at some point would be comparing Corsi numbers from 06 regular and post season.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Gotta hold on to Dubby. 2 bad games, so what. 10 stinkers, who cares. A bad season or 2, still we have to wait it out. A bad career here, well it may suck missing the playoffs for another decade but at least we didn’t give up on all that potential Dubby had. After all what if we jettison his useless a$$ and his replacement doesn’t pan out.

      • Toro

        Jon,

        Avid Oiler fan and season ticket holder who has missed maybe 3 to 4 actual Oiler games the past 4 or 5 years I don’ feel we can afford to be patient with our goalie. Dubie needs to stop those far to often weak goals my mother- in could stop…. End of story. Fans and Oiler players know he is going to let one or two stinkers per game…so deflating? It’s like Dubie falls asleep or loses total concentration in those cases. After several years of this we need to change the culture in what our expectations are for a #1 goalie in Edmonton. A new goalie would at least take away the team and fan mindset that soft goals are normal in Edmonton.

        Dubie, please… Please prove me wrong!!!!!!!!

        • 916oiler

          It’s so ridiculous when people say that Dubnyk gives up one to two stinkers per game.

          For argument sake, lets say Dubnyk lets in 1 “soft” goal every two games. If he stops every one of those “soft” goals, his GAA last year would be 2.02 and he would have had a save percentage of .937…

          If that is the expectation, then Dubnyk is setup to fail no matter what he does. The fact is that the apparent soft goals are highly overstated.

          I’m not defending his first two games because he simply was not very good, but the expectations from some fans is beyond reality.

      • Czar

        So why would MacT be looking to trade for Schneider this Summer? I don’t think Craig is as impressed with the numbers as you stat guys. The results that matter are wins and Doobie needs one tonight!

        • Because Schneider has a decent shot at being a top-10, rather than middle-10 NHL starter. If you can land an elite goalie, you do it – as I noted in the piece. It’s just not worth making a move for a guy who doesn’t stand a good chance at being a clear upgrade.

          Also: wins matter at the team level, but they’re a terrible way to judge a goalie.

          • Czar

            Agree with the upgrade part and Schneider definately would have been BUT MacT has never seemed as sold on Devan as the stats crowd.

            Doobie needs a win for the team and his confidence at this moment. Eventually all goalies are judge on they’re ability to win games,like it or not.

          • Czar

            My theory is for Doobie to get a couple wins to relieve some of the pressure/criticism he is getting. It was MacT’s theory that we needed an upgrade regardless of Doobie’s numbers.MacT did,if you hadn’t noticed,flush quite a few players from the past as well this summer.

  • geoilersgist

    Couldn’t agree more. I don’t understand all the Dubnyk hate. The guy has two bad games and people want his head. Patience is needed here folks, same goes for the whole team. Give them at least 10 games to gel.

    Simmadownnaw

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    in the short term, until DD could regain his game, Labarbara would have to take over as #1, and we do have a pretty good backup in OKC named Richard Backman who could come up here and backup Labarbera if DD falls completely flat. my 3 cents.