Roster Change Priority: Find A Goalie

ShooterTutor

The number one job for Peter Chiarelli with regards to his roster, now that he’s taken
over Hockey Ops in a historic coup, is going to be finding a new goaltender.
That job is ahead of finding “Heavy” players. It’s ahead of fixing the giant
mess on defense left behind by MacTavish. As bad as the defense is/was, the
goaltending was that much worse and is by far Hockey’s most important position.
If you don’t believe me then ask the Minnesota Wild or the Montreal Canadiens
their thoughts on the matter.

Edmonton, as we all know by now (or should), finished the
league dead last in 5v5 save percentage and 27th in 4v5 shorthanded save
percentage. In overall save percentage Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth were 46th
and 47th out of 47 goalies who played at least 1250 minutes this
year. It was a complete failure at the team’s most critical position. The
goaltending coach was fired. The head coach was fired. The team changed systems
(slight tweaks really but still different). The results were the same.

It’s still a contentious issue but I don’t believe that the
defense can make such an impact on a goaltender that he can go from .915+ down
to .890 or thereabouts. The evidence doesn’t support such claims. I’m not going
to try to change anybody’s mind on that right now but perhaps we can at least
agree that if the Oilers hire McLellan or someone of his caliber that we can
count on the Oilers being better defensively than they were before.

I think that’s a fair compromise for everyone on either side
of that argument. If Todd McLellan or, McDavid willing, Mike Babcock can’t get
the Oilers playing a better brand of hockey, then who can?

Last year the Oilers allowed 2008 shots at 5v5 which was 24th
in the NHL for shots against at even strength (wedged between the Blackhawks
and the Senators). They “earned” the 30th ranked save percentage at
.9019 and gave up a total of 197 goals against. Side note: the 29th
ranked team in 5v5 goals against gave up just 174 goals against 5v5.

So to reiterate, that’s:

2008 SA – .9019 SV% – 197 GA

Had the team received the 16th ranked save
percentage of .9237 then the Oilers would have allowed just 153 goals against.
We’re not talking about having Carey Price or Devan Dubnyk numbers, just middle
of the road. If they got even that much the team could have cut down on 44
goals against when the skaters were even.

Last year the Oilers spent the sixth LEAST amount
of time on the 4v5 shorthanded with almost 360 minutes played. They allowed the
ninth MOST amount of goals with 47. They allowed only 307 shots
against them, tenth least in NHL, and yet the goaltenders had the 27th
ranked 4v5 save percentage (.8469). The penalty killers were doing a pretty
good job of limiting shots and chances but the goaltender wasn’t making the
stops.

So to reiterate that’s:

307 SA – .8649 – 47 GA

Again, had the team received just the 16th ranked
save percentage performance from its netminders then they would have been at
.8765 and have allowed nine fewer goals against shorthanded with 38 goals against.

In total the Oilers could have cut out 53 goals against them
in just two game states by getting just less than median NHL goaltending. We’re
talking about more than half a goal per game against already by being average.

If Chiarelli can do better than find an average starting
goaltender then the Oilers are set up to cut even more out of their game.

I know there’s this nonsensical idea that the Oilers are
still years away from winning (because…reasons), but finding the right starter will help bypass
that notion. How many “years away from winning” were the Flames before the
season started? The NHL is a league of parity and the Oilers have been three years
away from winning for six years now.

THE SEARCH BEGINS…

A key acquisition between the pipes can completely change
the outlook of the team.

One of the players that has been rumoured to be on Edmonton’s
wishlist is Cam Talbot. He’s played 57 games over the last two years, which is
more than Scrivens played in the three years prior to Edmonton picking him up and more than LA backup Martin Jones has played in the last 2 years. The
mental snag to get over is that the Rangers have been a good team over that
period of time and nobody feels comfortable poaching a good but unproven goalie
from a good team after being burned by Scrivens.

Still, over the last two years (his entire NHL career) he has
posted a .9343 save percentage playing 5v5 and an unbelievable .9286 save
percentage playing 4v5 shorthanded. Both numbers are higher than Henrik Lundqvist
albeit in fewer total minutes played.

Both sets of numbers are significantly higher than the
Median numbers referred to earlier in the article.

Using the shots against by the Oilers and his save
percentages over his entire NHL career we’re talking about a massive upgrade over what the team was getting this year. Those numbers over the course of say 55-65 games (that we would expect a 1G to start) represent a massive cut to the number of goals against.

Talbot’s save percentages are very good so we might assume that his numbers will come down a bit.
That’s still a massive swing by changing out just a single position and not
taking into account any other upgrades to the defense or playing style due to
the actions of the new GM and new coach (whomever that may be).

There’s no guarantee of anything though. The Oilers could take a gamble on a guy like Talbot or Martin Jones who has good (better than what Scrivens provided, worse than what Talbot provided) numbers but limited games and it could all come up snake eyes again. 

Alternatively the team could settle for a more established player like Antti Niemi who has been around long enough that he’s established himself as a legitimate starter but a very average one. He has a career .916 save percentage but has only ever had two seasons at .920 or higher. He’s a relatively consistent performer although his last two years have been far from his best. 

Looking at just these last two seasons his 5v5 save percentage has been .9199 over 125 games and his 4v5 shorthanded save percentage had been .8622, which are both below average compared to his peers. Nonetheless, they would be an upgrade in Edmonton’s net.

Personally, I don’t mind a relatively unproven player like Talbot. He has played more minutes than Jones at the NHL level and performed well. He’s not particularly old, and it’s reasonable to assume that the Oilers could acquire him without having to give up anything overly significant. Let’s say, the 16th pick in the upcoming draft at the high end. Fortune favours the Bold, as they say, and I think trying to find a good starter is preferable to settling for someone like Niemi just because he’s an established “starter”. In all likelihood the team will regret an Antti Niemi 3 year contract for about 2.5 years. 

The team can address the one thing that cost them the most wins by finding a single player. A competent starter and an average season from Ben Scrivens can cut out 50+ goals against alone. The team seems incredibly far away from winning but it’s hard to ignore how quickly things can turn around if they find a goaltender. It has to be the primary item on Peter Chiarelli’s to-do list with this roster.

All numbers via stats.hockeyanalysis.com

  • Tikkanese

    I hope the Oilers save the trade chips for Defense and sign Niemi instead of trading for a goalie.

    Is Niemi the best goalie out there? No. Is he a perfectly good, proven and a consistent starter? Yes. Is he “free”? Yes. Are Talbot, Jones, Tokarski, Gibson, Lehner etc all question marks as being a starter? Yes. Are they “free”? No.

    Are any of the UFA defense top pairing answers? Maybe some were 4 years ago but now, no not really.

  • Serious Gord

    I think the goalie issue and how to approach it really reveals what a mess Mact/Klowe have made.

    What does a average to above average solid starting goalie with a proven track record cost? 5mill? 6 mill? For three or more years?

    That money and term have to fit under the cap. So the oil either have to have the room to add one or they have to trade assets that cost about the same.

    And that’s when it becomes obvious that he oil are paying far too much for 3/4 line players. They simply haven’t the cap space. Scotty bowman said that that is where teams have to find the bargains and thus cap room to buy or maintain first/second line players.

    And Mact/Klowe bought old,declining players at far too high a price. Somehow these players – some of whom may be held in some positive regard by fans – have to be jettisoned for as little salary eating as possible.

    Chiarelli is going to have to make some unpopular moves to fix the bottom half of the Roster cost. It will be interesting to see how he is regarded when he acts.

  • 5 Cups

    Yet another great read from Henderson. Thanks.

    I personally think that letting go of Dubnyk after 1 terrible year is MacT’s biggest mistake for the long term outlook of this team. Bigger than Nikitin mistake and bigger than Eakins mistake.

    He was a 1st round pick, developed by the Oilers, had 3 really good years, but one bad year and he is cut lose.

    Dubnyk has shown this year that last year was a one off and now has 4 quality years as starter (over 0.916) out of 5.

    I sure hope that Chia can find a Dubnyk for next year. But I doubt a goalie of his caliber will be available.

  • pkam

    Didn’t most fans and authors here said last year that Dubby wasn’t good enough and we needed a better goalie? So it turns out that Dubby can get the job done in Minnesota?

    My question is how many goaltenders are better than Dubby and available?

    If Dubby cannot help us, is Niemi who can’t help the Sharks to make the playoff able to help us? Or it is going to be one of these young talented but unproven goalies? Honestly, who is not considered an elite goalie do you think can help us with this defense group?

  • CaliforniaOil

    Okay how about this for a plan of action,

    Scrivens plus a third( maybe the montreal pick) to NYR for Talbot plus a 4th

    Then July first sign Niemi or Neuvirth, preferably Niemi but who ever takes the money truck Sneaky Pete, good nickname?, pulls up to their house

    Go after Mike Green and Paul Martin, while trading Jultz somewhere for a mid range prospect

    • That trade will be laughed out in New York minute. Maybe you should start writing along side Haggerty. No way NY lets talbot go for less than our # 16 pick. And to me he is a gamble. Unproven as a starter but at this point I would take the risk.

      • CaliforniaOil

        How is that trade unrealistic and laughable?

        Scrivens has proven a stellar backup option in his LA days but we now know that he struggles under the starter load. Talbot is also unproven, as you said, but we can see that he has starter potential, so there is an issue they have King Henrik who isn’t going anywhere soon so they have time to continue developing Skapsi and who ever else they have in their system. A 3rd round pick plus Scriven makes sense for Sather, who needs to refill his prospect pool.

        Talbot is a safe bet to make when you have the potential signing of a Niemi,or a Neuvirth, plus the option of wrangling in a Matt O’Connor.

        I can see it a long shot but don’t slander a dreamer to the level of Haggerty, like come on its not THAT bad

        • The Ever Disappointed Oil Faithful

          I agree that the Haggerty comment was a little harsh. Apologies. However Talbot has a tremendous upside. Scrivens, while a capable back up has pretty much shown exactly what he is, a mediocre starting goalie in the NHL. I find it very hard to believe that Slats would part with Talbot for anything approaching what you suggested, but it is hockey and strange things happen. I am of the belief that all this talk of a goalie being the our most pressing hole to fill is bollocks. We need an actual NHL calibre defence and until that happens Edmonton is a goalie graveyard. I personally believe PC will trade Hall for a top flight Dman. It’s a shame too if it happens cause could you imagine Hall and McDavid together on a line? It would be pretty special.

      • The Ever Disappointed Oil Faithful

        Take Neuvirth and Niemi, as well as Talbot. Have the more established Neuvirth or Niemi start the majority until you are confident that Talbot can carry the load. I believe that Talbot can be a starter in this league. We may be able to pull him away from NYR.

    • Johnnydapunk

      That is nonsense, Dubnyk had to go through a few teams and demotions after he left Edmonton until Burke got a hold of him and fixed whatever was ailing him. That is like saying Scrivens will be a bonafide star on a better team which I doubt but he should be fine as a backup.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I do not know what issues MacT had to try to overcome to get or try and get people to come here….what I do know is he went without a helmet too long…his appraisal of a quality defenceman is as appalling as i gets for a man in his position and his pro-scouts advising should be sent packing to boot!

  • BobbyCanuck

    For your comments…

    Are pro hockey players able to adapt thier style of play to suit a situation?

    Can NHL’ers be coached into playing smarter, heavier, and/or playing a 200 ft. game?

    Now to sedgeway, can our existing top 6 forwards learn a thing or two about defensive play?

    I have noticed during these play-offs, forwards are back-checking when they need to, as in if they sense the D-Man is getting into trouble behind the net, or along the back boards, they actually race back from the point in order to help out. This little bit of ‘puck sense’ if you will, has resulted in the forward being able to clear out the rebound or help the D get to the puck out of the zone.

    If the above is not coachable, and more like an innate skill, does this mean that our forwards will never learn how to back-check?

    I think that having forwards back-check goes a long ways towards making your D/Goalie look good

  • 916oiler

    “If Chiarelli can do better than find an average starting goaltender then the Oilers are set up to cut even more out of their game.”

    Omg. Someone knows how to use an If-Then statement. Can you please share with your colleagues that there is no such thing as an ‘If-Than’ statement? K thanks.

    Aside from the much appreciated proper grammar, very well-written article. I’d be ok with Niemi for 2 years, still nervous with Talbot or Jones after what we got from Scrivens.

    You have a new fan

      • 916oiler

        “…If…Chiarelli can do better than find an average starting goaltender…then…the Oilers are set up to cut even more out of their game.”

        It’s math/reasoning/logic. Too many times I see bloggers on this site use ‘than’ instead of ‘then’. ‘Than’ is used mainly for comparison and frequently used incorrectly. ‘Then’ indicates a future outcome based on an initial hypothetical.

        I know most people don’t want to hear this, but when you’re paid to write it might be a good idea to know some of these things. Plus it’s nice to read proper English.

        Grammar. The difference between knowing your $hit, and knowing you’re $hit.

  • 916oiler

    All of the following should be explored by Chia as starters

    Brian Elliot
    Jimmy Howard
    Craig Anderson

    Laurent Broissoit should be our “Back Up” next year

    Scribbles and Matt O’Connor in the AHL

  • Petrolero

    I think just about everybody is right here. What separates good from great is mental toughness. You could have two 10 year old goalies, but it’s easy too see their emotions when they get scored on. The one who can shrug it off is going to play at a higher level. That is the same for forwards and defence. When you have a forward in a slump, maybe they don’t score for 10-12 games, but your team can still win. Your goalie gets in a slump, it shows on the score sheet real quick. All 6 players on the ice need to have confidence in each other. Better goaltending = better defence = better forwards and vice versa. Just imagine what goes through our goalies mind when Niki and Jultz step over the boards??? We need to upgrade both positions in order to succeed.

  • Zarny

    Gawd damn goalies are quirky.

    Price, who should win the Hart this year, had a 0.905 SV% 2 years ago. Go figure.

    The trend is toward successful tandems. Scrivens should be better next year. A veteran like Niemi or Anderson might be a better compliment than Talbot or Jones. There are young G like Gibson, Lehner, Allen and Vasilevskiy. Neuvirth. Ramo. I’d inquire about Bernier. Wonder if Crawford or Howard are available?

    Lots of options. It will be interesting to see what approach Chiarelli takes. No pressure though. It’s the most important position in hockey and the Oilers had the worst goaltending in the league.

    • pkam

      I remember reading one of Price ex-coach said just before the Habs changed their goalie coach 2 years ago, that the Habs goalie coach then was destroying Price.

      And Price has been stellar since the hire of the new goalie coach. What a coincidence.

  • Johnnydapunk

    I personally believe first priority should be solving this pathetic defensive core in front of these poor goaltenders.

    Once the defense is at least NHL caliber then we can start evalutaing goaltending. I mean look what happened when Dubnyk went to a solid defensive team in Minny…

    It hard to read how good a goaltender is when you have Edmontons D in front of them.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I am just tired of seeing horrible players leave Edmonton and play well elsewhere. Or players we all seem to think are great leave because of a 100,000$ contract issue. If a New coach and GM can fix that it will be a great start. Part of that will be finding the right guys this summer. If This all works out and we make playoffs soon fans will buy for the coach an GM in any establishment within 1oo km’s of Edmonton. They may never have to buy dinner again in their lives.

  • Spoils

    disagree.

    goalies are key. and we need a real starter (not two backups and a dream that one of them will rise). but great teams with great D can win without a Carey Price. 5 of the last 10 cup winners I would argue have goalies that were more a product of their team than their own greatness.

    Getting a true blue #1D and then ensuring we have 7 NHL defencemen, that is the most important piece.

    again – yes – real starter, but we aren’t winning stanley next year, and it is much harder to build a full D. we can upgrade a goalie when we are ready for a run.

    D

    that is the priority.

  • toprightcorner

    Sorry Matt but I disagree with you in that I don’t thing a goalie is the most important add. There are many options for goalies but minimal for a top pairing dman. I do think Scrivens will improve from last year and we need to add another goalie but I would rather end up with a great dman and a decent goalie then the other way around. Hence, #! priority is a top pairing dman

  • BustedSoulO

    How many “1 Goal Games” did we lose last year? (Actual question)

    Compare that to the 50 odd saves that a barely competent goalie would have probably gathered in.

    Didn’t Calgary have a season lost on 1 goal games last year? And wasn’t everyone saying that it was a fluke they were winning this year?

    A Good goalie wins games for teams.

    Before we trade our elite, let’s get what UFA D we can, give away as little as possible for the best goalie we can, and see if winning (and even losing a few) games by 6 – 3 , 6 – 4, isn’t EXACTLY what this fanbase really wants.