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
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