At the beginning of March 2006, the Oilers were a bubble team. They were sitting tied for eighth in the Western Conference with multiple other teams on their tail. Despite their position in the standings, if you squinted hard enough, you could see a legitimate contender.
The ’06 Oilers boasted a deep offence thanks to breakout performances from guys like Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jarrett Stoll, and Raffi Torres. They also had a rock-slid blueline, anchored by the future Hall of Famer, Chris Pronger. There was a lot to like about this team, but there was also one glaring issue — goaltending.
The team had been operating with a three-headed goalie tandem of Jussi Markkanen, Ty Conklin, and Mike Morrison, who was, oddly enough, used often as a shootout specialist. None of those three aforementioned goalies were getting the job done. While the Oilers were allowing fewer shots than just about anybody in the league, Markkanen, Conklin, and Morrison each had save percentages in the .880s.
Ahead of the trade deadline, general manager Kevin Lowe sought to solve this issue by acquiring Dwayne Roloson from the Minnesota Wild. The cost was fairly steep, as the Oilers sent their division rival a first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick.
The Roloson deal was one of four that Lowe made ahead of the ’06 trade deadline. In January, he shored up the blueline by sending prospect Tony Salmelainen to Chicago for Jaroslav Spacek and Jani Rita and Cory Cross to Pittsburgh for Dick Tarnstrom. The day after the Roloson deal, he sent Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny, and a second-round pick to Boston for Sergei Samsonov. Of all of these trades, the Roloson deal was the one met with the most skepticism.
But Roloson was a veteran who had posted two very good seasons in Minnesota before the lockout while splitting the net with Manny Fernandez. Edmonton hadn’t had a stable starting goaltender since Tommy Salo was around, so paying the price for Roloson was absolutely necessary.
The deal looked like a flop right off the hop. With the Oilers battling for a playoff spot, the team dropped Roloson’s first three starts and the new goaltender looked shaky between the pipes.
After that, Roloson would silence his doubters. He got his game back facing his former team in Minnesota, stopping 30 of 31 shots en route to a close 2-1 victory. The rest of the way, Roloson posted a .916 save percentage, helping the Oilers clinch the eighth seed in the Western Conference. He started every single game in the regular season for the team after being acquired, save for the season finale after they had already clinched a playoff spot.
But it was in the playoffs that Roloson really found his groove. He posted a .929 save percentage in the team’s first-round series against the heavily-favoured Detroit Red Wings, highlighted by a 44-save performance in a pivotal win in Game 3 at home. Roloson was brilliant again in the second round against the San Jose Sharks, posting a .931 save percentage. His best play game again in a pivotal Game 3 with the team down 2-0 in the series. Roloson turned aside 32 of 34 shots, including multiple in sudden-death overtime before the Oilers finally won in the third extra frame.
After breezing through the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Oilers reached the Stanley Cup Final where they would face the Carolina Hurricanes. Roloson’s storybook performance would, unfortunately, be cut short due to an injury suffered in Game 1. You know what happened, so I won’t remind you.
Elsewhere, Minnesota flipped the first-round pick Edmonton gave them along with Patrick O’Sullivan to the Los Angeles Kings for forward Pavol Demitra. L.A. used that pick, No. 17 overall, on Trevor Lewis, who was a nice depth player on both of their Stanley Cup teams in 2012 and 2014.
Honestly, it doesn’t even matter what happened with that first-round pick that Edmonton gave up because Roloson was so damn good for the team down the stretch and into the playoffs. All told, Roloson posted a .927 save percentage over 18 games during the Oilers’ playoff run. His excellent play in net was the missing piece that turned the Oilers from a team on the bubble of making the playoffs and not into a team that nearly won the Stanley Cup.
While this was certainly Lowe’s riskiest deal ahead of that trade deadline, it was also his best. That said, it isn’t the best trade he made as the general manager of the Oilers. We’ll get to that one soon.