Hole in Goal: Ben Sievens


Ben Scrivens hasn’t been able to get the job done in Edmonton. Could any goalie? 

Photo Credit: Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

In a city where the Edmonton Oilers have been selling hope for what seems like forever, one of the many leaps of faith fans were asked to take was that Ben Scrivens could provide owner Daryl Katz’s sad-sack doormats the kind of goaltending that would at least give them a chance to compete.

When the wheels came off Devan Dubnyk, who’d previously been a pretty good goaltender behind a Three Stooges group of blueliners, for a protracted stretch to sewer the 2013-14 season, he was sent away. In waltzed Scrivens, who arrived from the Los Angeles Kings with a shiny .931 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average in 19 games in Tinseltown.

Skip ahead to now and Dubnyk is looking like the comeback story of the year in the NHL. After stops with Nashville and Phoenix and with his career hanging in the balance a year ago, Dubnyk has found a home with the Minnesota Wild. In his 45 games, Dubnyk’s .927 save percentage is second in the NHL (40-or-more games). His 2.11 GAA is ranked third. His six shutouts are fourth. Wheels back on, he’s in the Vezina Trophy conversation.

Scrivens, meanwhile, has hit the ditch on fire behind a wretchedly inept, inexperienced and overwhelmed team. After posting a solid .916 save percentage and a respectable 9-11-0 record in 21 games with the Oilers last season, Scrivens has struggled mightily – he’s 12-22-9 with an .896 save percentage and 3.00 GAA in 48 games. That .896 is dead-last among NHL goaltenders with 40-or-more appearances.

With his best opportunity to lock down a No. 1 job after two seasons in Toronto and another in L.A., Scrivens has gone from might-be-the-guy in Edmonton to probably-be-the-back-up with a year left on the two-year, $4.6-million deal he signed. Scrivens has underperformed badly this season, even allowing for the hideous, mistake-prone bunch in front of him.

Hole in Goal

When Scrivens got to Edmonton he’d compiled a .910 percentage in 32 games over two seasons with Toronto and had that gaudy .931 with the Kings. In his 69 games with the Oilers, he’s at .903 with a record of 21-33-9 and a 3.01 GAA. All told through 120 games in Toronto, Los Angeles and Edmonton, Scrivens sits at .909 for his career.

Simply put, if your starter is a career .909 (let alone this season’s .896) you’re marginal in goal. If you’ve got a guy stopping pucks at .925 rate or better, you’ve got the best goaltending in the game. Of starters who have made 40 appearances or more this season, Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Dubnyk and Corey Schneider and Steve Mason occupy those slots now.

There’s a whole bunch of very good goaltenders sitting between .915 and .925 right now, notably Tukka Rask, Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, Ben Bishop and Jonas Hiller. Teams can get by with a little less if they make it up on the front end with a dynamic attack or great special teams, but if you want a .910 guy to carry the mail, it gets sketchy. The Oilers, as we know, are neither dynamic offensively or blessed with great special teams.

Of course, there’s an Oiler Effect at play here with both Scrivens and injured back-up Viktor Fasth. Goaltenders behind a team as bad as the Oilers tend to see their percentage shrink and their GAA swell. Those numbers don’t tell us how many clear-cut Grade A chances they face, how many rebounds gets tapped in while defensemen stand around and count the crowd or reflect how the mental edge of a goaltender gets dulled by loss after loss after loss.

Stop Right There

With the Oilers the mess they are going down the stretch, Scrivens has had a percentage under .900 in 10 of his last 20 games. His career mark suggests he’s better than that. Given the flawed team in front of him, the numbers Scrivens has compiled aren’t all his fault, but they are his problem when he’s trying to convince GM Craig MacTavish he can be the guy moving forward.

Scrivens hasn’t done that. Now, with one year remaining on his look-see deal, goaltending remains one of the questions MacTavish has to deal with as he heads into an off-season with so many other holes to fill. MacTavish, his plate already brimming, has to look for an upgrade, another pigeon for the shooting gallery.

On a good team, Scrivens might be able to get the job done as a lower-tier starter. Unfortunately for Scrivens, the Oilers are a half-dozen moves or so from being a good team and we’ve got next-to-no proof MacTavish is capable of making those moves anytime soon. We likely won’t know how good Scrivens is until he’s out of here.

Sadly, that’s part of the problem.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • YFC Prez

    For this site to post insulting nicknames to our goalies makes no sense, what about the fowards that refuse to backcheck as well as a defense that simply sucks. Where are Their nicknames?

  • camdog

    Every player who comes here seems to get sucked into a black hole and every player who leaves this dumpster fire seems to have their career rebound.

    It’s called “Oileritis”. Take two deep breathes, call your agent and hope like hell you get out of this sh$thole.

    As a side note………did anybody catch the Calgary game this evening? Now that is hockey. Now that is a team that plays with heart and plays to win. I have not seen one single Oilers game that remotely resembles the heart and determination that I saw tonight. If you havn’t already done so please for the love of god go turn on the tv and watch a Calgary Flames game……………and you will realize how truly lost this team really is.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Know whats gonna be bad? When MacT overreacts and signs Niemi to a $6 million x 6 year contract. And he brings his career .916 save % to this team. Only to find out that behind this D he’s really a .905 goalie. Awesome.

    Seriously though the call MacT made on Scrivens and Fasth were good ones. They were decent bets. Problem is the cluster f%$&* in front of them. If i were him I would continue to make decent low cost bets ala Raanta, Jones, etc etc. Keep Scrivens for another year and friggin fix the D and C positions. IF and when they are competing in the playoffs and find the goalie is still lacking? Well thats when you might make the big move for a big name goalie.

    • Agree with you on the seemed like a good bet at the time. In hindsight, though, everybody was probably fooled a bit because we were seeing Dubnyk at his absolute worst on a bad team and Scrivens was coming in at his absolute best from a great team.

      By the numbers at the time, it looked like an obvious upgrade.

  • S cottV

    Oilers just can’t let the past go.

    They won 25 years ago, while hanging Fuhr out to dry.

    It’s the deep seeded culture of the team. Run and gun – free flow – offense first hockey.

    No goalie is going to thrive in this environment.

    We need a culture change.

  • camdog

    Some of Scrivens so called weak goals aren’t even Scrivens fault but he gets blamed regardless. The other night an Oil defender (whom may have been a forward) stuck out the stick before the shot so that Scrivens couldn’t see the puck, this lead to Scrivens sending out a juicy rebound to the slot that was easily tapped into the net, as nobody was covering the attacking forward.

    This was a goal that a majority of starting goalies in the league would have let it, however a majority of the teams in the league wouldn’t have given the opposition team said chance.

    Even when DD was having good years in Edmonton, Oiler fans didn’t give him the respect he deserved. Goals like the one I described above often got blamed on DD, when it was a weak play by a defender that caused the goal. It’s incredibly tough to play net in the NHL and it’s even harder in Edmonton.

  • camdog

    Given what you have posed in your article……..it seems pointless to talk about goaltenders if your defence is so weak. Just maybe Scrivens is a great goaltender? Until we get a real GM, we should stop these conversations.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    These articles are the reason I love reading your stuff, R.B.!!

    One question: is the Oilers’ drafting management this year the same essentially that has gotten us into this mess to begin with? If it is, and this is likely the most important year for drafting in a long, long while for us, with this strong of a draft – what on earth are the Oilers, specifically McTavish, thinking?! That draft with 10 draft picks our most impactful pick was #214 overall Kyle Brodziak, as nearly every other team in the league came away with future superstars.

  • Good article Brownlee. I don’t think that a top tier goalie would save this team right now at this point. Oilers have way to many holes to fill on defence and after losing a guy like Petrey what goalie with half a brain would want to come here. After seeing so many good players leave here and perform well above their potential makes me think that this organization has no clue what they are doing.

  • Mike Wazowski

    Mac T looks as bad or worse in the Gm position than Scrivens looks in goal. Visually and evidence based. Where is the problem in the organization? It ain’t in goal.