Things were supposed to be different. With the firing of Steve Tambellini and the installation of an active, competent general manager, the Oilers were supposed to take a step forward in 2013-14. In the early going, it’s been more of the same – and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Oilers fans are feeling frustrated.
Brand New Low
There are a few things that I think reasonable people should be able to agree on.
- Devan Dubnyk has played 143 career NHL games and has a 0.911 save percentage in that span. It’s kooky to think that the 0.829 save percentage he’s posted over his last four contests represents his true level of ability. We’ve seen this script before: in short periods of time, goalies go up and down ridiculously. There are those who have never believed in Dubnyk as a regular NHL’er, people who think he lets in soft goals and can’t play under pressure and can’t move laterally; I may not share those beliefs but I think that even those people would acknowledge that Dubnyk’s play this season represents a brand new low. He’s shown he isn’t this bad; obviously his game’s a mess right now but there’s little reason to think it will stay that way indefinitely.
- Jason LaBarbera has a pretty strong career as an NHL backup. He’s played 2-1/2 games. The same logic applies to him as does to Dubnyk; whether one really likes him as a backup goalie or not, he’s not *this* bad.
- The 2009-10 Oilers (also known as "the worst team in Oilers history") started the season 6-3-1. They were getting out-shot crazily, but they rode the percentages for a magical 10-game stretch. Good teams sometimes have terrible starts; terrible teams sometimes have good starts.
- If this year’s edition of the Oilers was getting goaltending, they would be anywhere from three to five points better than they are right now. If this team has six to eight points in its first six games, nobody is slapping the panic button.
The other thing I think most reasonable people can agree on is that it’s high time for the Oilers to take a step forward. Ideally, they would have done it in 2011-12; they certainly should have made big strides last season. So watching a team that was seen so optimistically in the summer stumble so badly out of the gate is understandably leading to a ‘torches and pitchforks’ mentality in comment sections and on social media – both venues ideally suited for expressing instant reaction to disappointment.
It’s fair for the Oilers’ fans to expect more than they’ve gotten. It’s fair to say the team isn’t meeting expectations right now. It’s even fair to say that the slow start has put the team’s ambitions for this season in serious jeopardy – if the club was life and death for the playoffs before, starting out in a big hole could end up being the death blow to those hopes.
But the team’s management can’t act out of frustration. It’s not worth adding a terrible goaltender (I didn’t see it, but apparently Sportsnet floated Rick DiPietro’s name at the intermission tonight) who won’t help anything just because Devan Dubnyk has struggled through four games. If they plan to make a bigger move, they have to count the cost; they can’t just rashly go out and ship away Nail Yakupov (as some in the Toronto media have helpfully suggested) to add a player comparable to Devan Dubnyk or Nick Schultz in net or on the blue line.
Standing pat isn’t necessarily the best move here; it may be that there’s a trade option out there that won’t see the Oilers grossly ripped off to add a mid-range veteran. But it is all but certain that if Edmonton’s management makes the knee-jerk move so many are calling for, they will regret it in the morning.