Report: Oilers pursuing Ray Emery

Photo: Leech44/Wikimedia

TSN’s Darren Dreger passed on some unsurprising news on Thursday morning: the Edmonton Oilers are in pursuit of Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery.

When I looked at free agent goalies early last month, Emery was one of the names I considered, and had perhaps the most interesting track record. From that piece, here’s a chart that shows the variance in goaltender even-strength save percentage over the last three seasons:

That black line shows the gap between the best and worst performance, and offers both the most compelling reason to sign Emery and the best excuse to stay away from him. Looking at it optimistically, Emery is the guy other than Mike Smith who has had the best single-season even-strength save percentage – albeit over just a 10-game sample in Anaheim in 2010-11. He also has nearly the worst numbers on the chart, a 0.899 save percentage posted during 2011-12 with Chicago. This year, he was back at the top of his game, and that’s presumably why NHL teams are interested.

How good is Emery, really? I’m a big believer in looking at long-term performance – goalies fluctuate up and down, but over time their track record reveals quality.

Emery has faced 4,572 shots at even-strength since the 2004-05 NHL Lockout. League average even-strength save percentage in that span is roughly 0.919; Emery’s save percentage is 0.920, making him slightly better than a league-average goalie. That’s not the same as saying Emery is average – because starters play more minutes than backups a league average save percentage generally indicates a guy in the 1A/1B range, better than the typical backup but not as good as a legitimate starting goalie. Nor is there much sign of drop off in Emery’s game; over the first half of the span we’re looking at he was a 0.921 EVSV% goalie while over the last half he was a 0.919 EVSV% goalie.

Based on performance, Emery is probably a hair worse than incumbent goalie Devan Dubnyk; if the Oilers added him he likely would settle into a 1B role, pushing and challenging Dubnyk but not supplanting him as starter. Prior to some lower body trouble that cost Emery nine games this season, he’s also been pretty healthy the last three years.

Put it all together and, dependent on contract, Emery looks like a strong addition to the Oilers.

Another possible goaltending name was suggested by Ryan Rishaug:

LaBarbera has faced slightly fewer shots than Emery post 2004-05: 3,541 at even-strength. Emery’s save percentage was 0.920, league average is roughly 0.919 and LaBarbera’s numbers over that span are 0.918. In other words, we’re splitting hairs here, with Emery just narrowly better than league average and LaBarbera just narrowly worse. Interestingly, LaBarbera got a vote of confidence from Dubnyk:

I don’t know who they want. There’s not that many out there, free-agent wise. I know Jason LaBarbera is a great guy, he’d be great in the room. There’s Hedberg; Khudobin, who is the same age as me.

Despite the differing perceptions of Emery and LaBarbera, either would provide the Oilers with a backup who could both spell and push Dubnyk; depending on contract either would be a strong addition in Edmonton.

Recently around the Nation Network

At NHL Numbers, Rex Libris analyzes 10 years of drafting (from 1979 to 1989), and finds something interesting:

One main item that stands out in this initial stage of analysis is that there is no direct and necessary causal realtionship to drafting success and organizational success, although there is a stronger correlation to drafting failure and organizational ignominy. Teams like the Canadiens, Red Wings and Nordiques were among the best drafting teams and later became successful on account of that ability. At the same time the Sabres, Rangers, and Bruins were also among the top of the drafting class during the same period but in large part did not reap any significant rewards as a result of this ability.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here: