The Edmonton Oilers could start next season with Ben Scrivens and Ilya Bryzgalov as their goaltenders. They could wind up with neither of them. Split it down the middle, and they’ll end up with one or the other.
The uncertainty in the goal crease, of course, is because Scrivens and Bryzgalov are pending unrestricted free agents and will be free to sign wherever they choose after considering their options (or lack of same) on the UFA checklist – money, an opportunity to play, the chance to win, lifestyle.
It’s a dicey situation for GM Craig MacTavish because of the uncertainty that comes with the UFA wildcard and because he’s dealing with two distinctly different players at different points in their careers, not to mention a whole bunch of questions regarding both of them.
Big-name hunting via trade or free agency notwithstanding — and not having to figure out the answers to those questions from the comfort of my armchair — I wouldn’t mind seeing both of them back in 2014-15.
ABOUT BEN . . .
At 27, Scrivens is at a point in his career where he has to establish himself as a bonafide NHL starter or risk fading into the ranks of career back-ups, who don’t get the money or the marquee time starters do. He’s getting that chance now after stops in Toronto and Los Angeles and has so far made the most of it.
In five games behind the NHL’s most porous defensive corps, Scrivens has fashioned a .944 saves-percentage and a 2.21 goals-against average, including a record 59-save shutout. He’s likely already got MacTavish and boss Kevin Lowe bouncing contract numbers off each other. What would it take?
Unless the wheels fall right off, Scrivens is looking at a substantial raise from the $625,000 he’ll earn this season. How much of a raise and how much term is the question. Another question, will Scrivens want to earn that money and get that term here or elsewhere? What’s out there?
Even if Scrivens falls off that gaudy .944, which is likely, he and agent Jay Fee will have options. While it’s likely Scrivens will command an overpay here because the Oilers are devoid of blue-chip goaltending prospects, what about opportunity to win, what about lifestyle?
THEN, THERE’S BRYZ
I wasn’t big on signing Bryzgalov – I think I called him a kook – but he’s looked decent through 18 appearances behind that horrid Edmonton defensive group for a guy whose phone didn’t ring until the Oilers came calling. He’s .907 with a 3.15 GAA.
If Bryzgalov, 33, has been any kind of distraction around the dressing room, which was a knock on him in Philadelphia, where the Flyers paid him millions to just go away, I haven’t read or heard anything about it.
Bryzgalov has made more than $35 million playing goal in the NHL during his career, but if he wants to keep playing, at least in this league, he can’t afford any missteps. He’s got more hockey behind him than in front of him. Stop pucks. Be a good teammate. Keep bizarre in check. So far, so good.
I don’t think there’s another GM out there who sees Bryzgalov as a starter moving forward. Can he be happy taking a marginal pay cut on his $2 million salary as a back-up? If the answer is yes, will he and agent Ritch Winter be willing to talk about plying his trade here in that role for the team that saved him from a scrap heap?
IS IT A FIT?
Scrivens has just 56 career NHL games in the books, so there’s risk when it comes to paying him like a proven starter. Of course, that applies to other GMs who might be interested as well. Even if he gets the bulk of the work the rest of the way, Scrivens will have played less than 75 NHL games when it’s time to talk money.
The high-water mark for Scrivens in terms of games played in a season as a pro is 51 (he played 39 with the AHL Marlies and 12 with the Maple Leafs in 2011-12). I’m not saying he can’t play more than that, only that he hasn’t.
That’s where I see a fit as back-up for Bryzgalov, who looks more capable of playing 20-25 games a season than Nikolai Khabibulin was when he arrived in town older and injury-prone — with a sweet four-year deal from Steve Tambellini in his back pocket.
We’ll hear bigger names than Scrivens or Bryzgalov thrown around as potential targets for MacTavish this off-season, and that’s understandable, but I think they could work as a tandem. The caveat, of course, is that MacTavish does something about the defensive group playing in front of whoever is tending the twine.
That’s an item that’s already been written countless times and will be again.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.