As the losses have mounted through 17 games, the demand by fans of the Edmonton Oilers that GM Craig MacTavish DO SOMETHING to change the fortunes of the team have grown louder by the day.
MacTavish gave those fans what they wanted Friday, sending hard-nosed and popular but limited defenseman Ladislav Smid and Olivier Roy down Highway 2 to the Calgary Flames for prospects, MacTavish followed that up by signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a one-year contract.
Yes, Ilya Bryzgalov, the goaltender the Philadelphia Flyers just paid $23 million to not play for them two years after signing him to a ridiculous nine-year contract worth $51 million. Ilya Bryzgalov, the oh-so flakey laugh riot, Knob Hockey hero and dressing room distraction represented by Edmonton agent Ritch Winter. That Ilya Bryzgalov.
With the Oilers floundering at 4-11-2 and staring at an eighth straight year out of the playoffs less than two weeks into November during a season in which MacTavish and new coach Dallas Eakins have over-promised and under-delivered, these aren’t the bold moves MacTavish talked about when he took over the chair formerly occupied by Steve Tambellini.
This is desperation on display.
Make no mistake, Devan Dubnyk left the door wide open for MacTavish to make a deal to address his goaltending – forced his hand, actually – with an absolutely abysmal performance so far this season. That’s on him.
The last straw, obviously, came in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game the Oilers played more than well enough to win. That’s been the storyline more than once this season, one repeated often enough that the upgrades MacTavish has made to the roster on paper haven’t translated to the standings. How could MacTavish stand pat?
Fair question, even if dealing from a position of weakness almost never turns out well. But Bryzgalov, now 33 and coming off back-to-back seasons with save percentages of .909 in 2011-12 and .900 in 2012-13? Bryzgalov, whose career save percentage of .913 on good, bad an indifferent teams is a wash with the .911 posted by Dubnyk, including his horrid start to this season and a career spent on a bottom-feeder team?
I’d argue, and did on Twitter, shunting Dubnyk aside is like deciding to trade in your old Ford because it isn’t reliable enough, then replacing it with a Lada that’s six model years older. In terms of actual performance, I don’t see it as a clear upgrade. Then, there’s the flake factor with a player who has had dubious chemistry with teammates in the past.
WHAT’S THE PUNCHLINE?
Bryzgalov, to understate, has some quirks. He’s out there. He tends to fill the notepads of reporters — never a bad thing for those who work the beat – and wear on the patience of teammates. Bryzgalov, you might remember, once compared Edmonton to the North Pole when talking about why Anaheim teammate Chris Pronger might have wanted out of Edmonton.
"He (Pronger) maybe tried to leave here because here in November months is a minus-32," Bryzgalov said in an interview with The Score. "Could you imagine? It’s eight months in a year of snow."
Might Bryzgalov push Dubnyk to be better or even displace him as the starter if he can reverse the slide in his performance of the past two seasons? I think it’s unlikely, but it’s possible, I suppose. Is it a big gamble? Not really, at least in terms of money, reported to be $1.75 million, or term.
Still, it strikes me as an ill-conceived signing brought on by another season off the rails because it wasn’t supposed to unfold like this again. It’s a just-do-something — ANYTHING, dammit — move. A distinct hint of panic over a plan gone wrong. It’s desperation on display.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.