The Edmonton Oilers announced this morning that they had traded goaltender Jason LaBarbera to the Chicago Blackhawks for the proverbial bag of pucks.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 14, 2013
This is good news for basically everybody involved.
For the Edmonton Oilers…
This means a bunch of things for Edmonton, and basically all of them are good.
First, it means that Ilya Bryzgalov is ready to go. With Devan Dubnyk crashing and burning this season, the Oilers need a starting goalie they have some confidence in, and Bryzgalov has done nothing but play extremely well in Edmonton.
Second, it gives the team additional flexibility to make other moves, as Bob Stauffer points out:
With the classy LaBarbera off to Chicago the #Oilers are now down to 48 contracts
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) December 14, 2013
Third, this restores the natural order to the goaltending depth chart. Edmonton now has two veterans at the NHL level, a good third-string veteran in Oklahoma (Richard Bachman, who filled in ably in Edmonton prior to getting hurt) and space on the farm for Laurent Brossoit, the club’s top goaltending prospect.
For the Chicago Blackhawks…
Chicago has had some injury problems in net, and LaBarbera gives the team some valuable depth.
Finnish rookie Antti Raanta, who the Oilers tried to sign in the summer, has played extremely well in the Blackhawks’ net, going 5-0-1 with a 0.926 save percentage after being elevated from the starting role in Rockford to the starting role in Chicago.
But he’s all Chicago has right now. Starter Corey Crawford is expected to miss roughly three weeks thanks to a lower body injury and Raanta’s backup right now is Kent Simpson, a rookie pro who has provided the AHL’s Rockford Icehogs with a 0.900 save percentage goaltending over 15 games. That’s not much of a backup policy.
Mostly, though, it seems likely this move was brought on by Nikolai Khabibulin being Nikolai Khabibulin.
Khabibulin has been on injured reserve for a month now with a lower body injury (as per TSN). In the four games he played for the Blackhawks, he posted a 0.811 save percentage. He’s been well and thoroughly beaten for an NHL job by Raanta and when everybody’s healthy it’s hard to see how the ‘Hawks could send down the superior goaltender to hang on to a guy who was signed as a veteran stopgap.
That leaves a hole long-term in Rockford, where Simpson seems unready to take on the starting role. Because of his reasonable contract, LaBarbera can fill that slot and provide Chicago’s farm team with exceptional AHL goaltending and the Blackhawks themselves with a reliable third-stringer.
This is a chance to play.
The Oilers couldn’t afford to give LaBarbera a chance to play his way back into form; with Devan Dubnyk imploding and LaBarbera unable to calm the waters the team really had no choice but to go out and find somebody else. It put the goaltending depth chart into disarray, and once the music stopped and everybody got healthy there weren’t going to be enough chairs for everyone involved.
LaBarbera goes to a contender, which leaves him the chance of being the backup for a Stanley Cup winner if injuries strike again. While he’s probably looking at a long stint in the AHL, that was going to happen regardless, and this move means at least he’ll be playing in the minors rather than fighting for time with another solid third-stringer. It gives him an opportunity to rehabilitate a career badly tarnished by his short stint in Edmonton.
It’s a win-win-win.
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