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.

  • outdoorzguy

    I’m tired of always hearing excuses whenever the Oilers lose with Dubnyk in net. The defence played bad; the forwards didn’t come back; don’t give up on him yet! At the end of the day, for all the fault that has been pushed to other areas of the team to blame loses, Dubnyk has never shown he has the ability to stand on his head and save a game by himself, because apparently he often has no help.
    Time to find an NHL caliber goalie!!

    • Czar

      “Never shown he ahs the ability to stand on his head and save a game by himself.”

      Last year the Oilers allowed 35 or more shots 11 times when Dubnyk was in net last year. The Oilers still managed to get points in 6/11 of those games while Dubnyk posted a GAA of 2.35 and a save percentage of .939. I’m not sure what more a goalie has to do to “save a game by himself”.

  • **

    This is not a time to panic. Dubey is our guy. If there’s one thing I know about goalies (hello Philly) it’s that if you don’t believe in them, they don’t perform (here’s to you, Fleury). Give him some time to settle in. This is his contract year and he knows what is at stake. Work on getting the defence in front of him to limit quality scoring chances. I know he’s given up some fluff, but that trend won’t continue. Work the phones and see if we can flip one of our many defensive prospects for a battle hardened defender. Confidence is everything in sports. It often surprises and trumps talent. Get him into the sports psychologist and then let him feel that you believe in him.

  • Spydyr

    I love the experts that call one of 7 starters not to have a below average save % season inn the last 3 years, Servicable.

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    Oh here is one!

    taylor hall is serviceable!

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    When the puck is dropped he is the 2nd best golie at providing winnable games. 3 G or less.

    Back-up

    Malkin is a 2nd line centre!

  • Spydyr

    Way early to throw Dubby under the bus. He is a middle of the road tender. AT this point of the year you are not going to go out into the market and get a much better replacement.Reimer is not better, neither is Miller at this point. You are going to get an elite guy no matter what you offer.

    In the meantime, fix what you can, like STOP giving the puck away, and kick some ass at the defensive positions… total circus infront of Dubby.

    This is Smiths baby, things remain the same no matter who plays the spots… this guy should be shown the door. No D man has improved his game under Smiths watch.

  • Toro

    The fan base is really sensitive right now. We have the league’s longest playoff drought and we’ve dealt with a lot of crap during that time. That’s why patience is wearing thin. 2 games does not a season make and I do believe that Dubnyk will bounce back but we can ill afford to lose games because of poor goaltending. I don’t believe that there is a quick fix in the trade market or free agency but we need Dubnyk to start playing better and soon because the margin of error for this team is slim. We already know that Mactavish at least kicked the tires on a few goaltenders in the offseason. This is a big season for Dubnyk so while it is too early for panic, he is under the microscope.

  • Wax Man Riley

    I have the ‘pleasure’ of watching the blue jays play 150+ games a year for the last 30+ years, if the offense score 5+ runs a game, you could argue that they don’t need superb pitching to win games,but we all know that’s not true, maybe once in a while it’s alright but not every night. Same hold true for hockey, a mediocre goalie with 1 1/2 good line of good offense will not win you enough games to get you through to the next round, the playoffs, so to speak, I can promise you that!

  • Spoils

    did MacT hurt whatever mojo he had by shopping around this summer, did we lose him into the ground, did the pad change hurt him…

    as JW says even without the bad start he has been GOOD not GREAT.

    i just don’t think this is anything new. I think a great goalie is our top priority.

    ideally when Nurse/Klef/Schultz have our d primed and nuge, hall, yak are in the top 10 scoring.

    so ride him for 1.5-2.5 years? pick up a killer at the 2015 or 2016 trade deadline in exchange for draft picks and prospects, win cup(s).

    if dubnyk becomes truly great, awesome! it strikes me it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

  • Spoils

    “W. BRETT WILSON
    Father, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Adventurer, Speaker, Dragon”

    She’s so good, a dragon uses her for therapy. Finally, a good decision by management for once.

  • Zarny

    If Dubnyk continues to struggle the Oilers have their answer to whether or not they can win with him.

    Middle of the road starter is a good description of Dubnyk so far. That’s probably good enough to make the playoffs; but it won’t win the Stanley Cup.

    Dubnyk doesn’t need to just not struggle; he has to start playing at the level of a top 10 G in the league. Otherwise the Oilers need to upgrade G…if winning the Cup is the actual goal.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    3 games, zero wins and an .847 save%. He’s costing this team wins.

    MacTavish worked hard to try and bring in Ben Bishop, then Cory Schnieder and followed up after that on Jonathan Bernier. Even our GM can’t get rid of him fast enough.

    Eakins and crew go 1-3-2 on the upcoming road trip.