Of all the problems the Edmonton Oilers have had this season – and yes, they have been myriad – the struggles of goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth should sit at the top of the list. Craig MacTavish compared this year’s team to the 2005-06 edition of the Oilers over the summer; what nobody realized was that he meant Conkkanen was going to rear its ugly head once again.
That’s why it’s interesting that there are two quality NHL goaltenders still sitting on the market as unrestricted free agents.
Great Seasons in Edmonton Oilers Goaltending
- 2005-06: Jussi Markkanen: 37GP, 0.880 SV% / Ty Conklin: 18GP, 0.880 SV%
- 2009-10: Jeff Deslauriers: 48GP, 0.901 SV% / Devan Dubnyk: 19GP, 0.889 SV%
- 2013-14: Devan Dubnyk: 32GP, 0.894 SV% / Jason LaBarbera: 7GP, 0.870 SV%
- 2014-15: Ben Scrivens: 17GP, 0.888 SV% / Viktor Fasth: 11GP, 0.891 SV%
The tandem of Scrivens and Fasth isn’t quite at Conkkanen levels of ineptitude, but they are climbing this list in a hurry. Imploding Devan Dubnyk of a year ago is now a fond memory; even the team that started the rebuild got better goaltending during Jeff Deslauriers’ only season in the NHL.
That’s why it would be a mistake to let goaltending off the hook for this year’s problems. Even career AHL’er Deslauriers, playing behind the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers Rebuild defence managed to stop more pucks than the current tandem.
There are a lot of things killing the current team – offensive execution, defensive breakdowns, gaping holes at centre and left defence – but no single factor has been more detrimental to the Oilers than the implosion of its goalies.
Tomas Vokoun is a gamble. He’s 38 years old. Injury limited him to all of two games last season. But the potential upside is incredible. As recently as 2012-13, Vokoun posted a 0.919 save percentage over 20 games with Pittsburgh – with that being the eighth consecutive season he topped the 0.915 save percentage mark, despite playing most of that span behind the Florida Panthers’ vaunted defence. He was even better in the playoffs, stepping in for an imploding Marc-Andre Fleury (and putting the lie to the idea that Fleury’s problems were defence-caused) and posting a 0.933 save percentage over 11 contests.
If Vokoun is willing to entertain coming to Edmonton, the Oilers should not wait a moment. Sign him now.
The other option is old friend Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov stepped in last season for the Oilers after being bought out by Philadelphia; he posted a 0.908 save percentage over 20 starts after coming in cold before Edmonton flipped him to Minnesota for a draft pick. It was a marriage of convenience a season ago that worked out well for both parties; with Bryzgalov on the sidelines and the Oilers struggling in net once again perhaps it’s worth revisiting.
What About the Cap and the Roster and Patience?
Roster space isn’t a problem. Assuming that there is no market for either Viktor Fasth or Ben Scrivens, the Oilers can always run with a three-headed goaltending monster for a while; Jesse Joensuu has already cleared waivers so it would be a simple matter of sending him down to Oklahoma. “Three goalies” isn’t ideal, but it beats “zero effective goalies” by a wide margin.
The salary cap isn’t a big problem either. The Oilers left themselves enough wiggle room just in case Nail Yakupov or Leon Draisaitl hit their bonuses this year; it now seems apparent that isn’t going to happen.
The one logical argument against bringing in a stop-gap is that either a) one of the current goalies is bound to turn things around eventually or b) there might be a chance to acquire next year’s starter via trade – Antti Niemi being a name that’s cropped up in rumours. Scrivens and Fasth are better goalies than they’ve shown, but the Oilers need to show improvement yesterday and they can’t afford to wait any longer if another option is out there. As for a player like Niemi, if that trade isn’t available now there’s simply no time to wait either.
Why the rush if the season’s lost? Because the Oilers as a franchise have to make strides now or risk losing this group. We’ve seen the Sam Gagner/Andrew Cogliano retooling swept away; now we’re in danger of seeing the Taylor Hall/Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rebuild fail too. Frankly, Edmonton can’t afford another rebuild; they need results from this group of players if the long march through the wilderness is ever going to end, and giving them another option in net is the quickest and easiest way to throw out a lifeline.