Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Stopper

As a part of this ongoing series about the various holes in the Oilers lineup, I will finish the discussion today with probably the most important position in hockey. Mistakes from the goaltending position tend to cost teams games. Not only that, a goaltender can play lights out and still allow 6 goals. The symbiotic relationship they have with team defence cannot be overlooked; a goaltenders save percentage is as much a function of their skill as the defensive strategies of the team. So in this article I will talk about two things, do the Oilers have good goaltending (here or in the system), and do they need it for a sip from Lord Stanley's silver mouth.

It's also a position that sees meteoric rises and spectacular failures from season to season. Steve Mason put up 10 doughnuts in 61 games and a .916 save percentage to win the Calder in '08-'09 and followed it up with .901 in a 58 game campaign the next year (he was MORE experienced). Sure Hejda and Klesla lost some time, but going from near the top of the league to being basically a replacement level goaltender (see: Mike Smith, what the f#%& is Tampa doing right now with their goaltending, seriously someone tell me; Stevie Y what?) has gotta make the statisticians scratch their head.

Some Red Wings envy and Holland quot-age after the hop. And maybe some stuff about Devan 'Skyscraper' Dubnyk.

The fact is, the very unpredictable nature of the creature has made the brilliant stats guys state that unless you are getting above average goaltending, there is no reason to be paying big bucks. Both of those examples cover it in far more depth than I have the patience to type out at 2AM, but I will summarize it nicely with one of the quotes stolen from a blog stolen from a blog stolen from Ken Holland's greasy, draft-whoring lips:
My feeling is if you can get one of the five or six best goalies in the league you can spend the money. We can’t get into those guys, and the difference between the eighth goalie in the league and the 15th goalie, it’s a big difference in money. It’s not a big difference in performance. - Ken Holland, Red Wings General Manager and General Luckbox
Sometimes I admit I'm a bit bitter (see: Jealous) of the Red Wings success, but lets not forget they took Adam fucking DeLeeuw 20 picks before Datsyuk. I'm sure the '98 draft went down something like this:

Ken Holland: Hey that Pavel guy looks pretty good but I can't pronounce his name so lets pick Adam DeLeeuw.

Sorry about that. Anyways back to the question of goaltending: which horses do we have in that stable?

Nikolai 'Point 164' Khabibulin

Yes that was his blood alcohol content when he was pulled over by a Scottsdale, Arizona Police officer. For a skinny guy who sweats like Sean Avery in a hot yoga class, it's mind boggling he could be so sauced and still think his albeit superhuman reflexes could drive a motor vehicle effectively. Regardless of all of his transgressions in the preseason, Khabibulin has really stepped up for the Oilers and delivered some great performances. I might even say he's been the team MVP. That is if I was on a head full of purple-dip Mexican LSD while eating dumpster donairs. He's played 36 games over two seasons and hes making money for 2.5 more years on a 35+ contract. When the UFA signing went down you could just see the Red Vitriol dripping from the Tyler Dellow headline: A Loser Move for a Loser Franchise. We had it out a bit over what I perceived as melodrama, but it's not like I totally disagreed with him:
I’m merely trying to run a thread contrary to all the gloom here. I like this blog (and lowetides et al.) but sometimes Oiler fans only seem to look at the negatives. I say this UFA signing can be above-average to downright awful based on Khabi’s performance. But, like the cap space, nothing is guaranteed. - Me, the Glass-Is-Half-Full guy
Well ladies and gentleman it appears we have entered the awful zone, but yet to meet up with downright. His numbers this season are unflattering:

Season Team Lge GP A PIM Min GA EN SO GAA W L T Svs Pct

2010-11Edmonton OilersNHL1800101159323.5061025000.890

The good news may be the fact that if the 5% cap inflator is activated, Khabi's salary will still likely not be a key limiter for potential moves for the remainder of his contract. Further on the plus side is that Khabibulin's numbers are based on a stretch where the Oilers got their ass absolutely hammered by mid level teams (including the first time in Khabi's career he got lit up for 8 - that was a bad night in new yolk city). He may still be able to turn out slightly above average goaltending if the defence decides to make less turnovers than a McDonald's processing plant (yea, I made it sound like an industrial operation). Assuming he gets about three times his current number of starts (still a stretch with his health issues), he would have to be a sparkling 918 from here on out just to hit league average (roughly .910). He's done that once in the last 9 years, and that was on a Hawks team that had 46 wins.

In other words don't hold your breath, hes a solid bet for another below value season.

The Man they call the Human Building

OK, so no one calls Devan Dubnyk the human building. But man is the kid big. He's 6'6" and spaghetti thin (200ish), probably as close to an ideal goalie body as one could have. He's had an interesting ride early in his NHL career:

Season Team Lge GP A PIM Min GA EN SO GAA W L T Svs Pct
2009-10 Edmonton Oilers NHL 19 0 0 1075 64 1 0 3.57 4 10 2 515 0.889

2010-11 Edmonton Oilers NHL 9 0 0 507 27 0 0 3.192 2 3 283 0.910

Full credit to Dubnyk this year, he's played well (ranked 23 in sv pct this season) for the most part and I think the most improved thing I have seen in his play is that he's a lot more quiet mechanically. This lends to a certain indomitable wall-like presence when he's in his butterfly and even more importantly a sense of consistency in stopping medium and long range shots. It's been my experience that a goalie is judged more on the weak goals than the great saves, and I think Devan has really cut down on those. I'm going to throw out a comparison now, a goaltender that in these stats starts one year older than Devan Dubnyk:

NHL 18 0 2 897 46 1 0 3.08 4 8 2 360 0.887
NHL 29 0 4 1644 71 6 2 2.59 8 15 4 687 0.906
NHL 64 1 12 3788 139 5 5 2.20 33 18 10 1729 0.920

I think I've given enough information to guess at the identity of the goaltender, and I definitely think there are some stylistic similarities (and some other similarities hint hint) that this kind of progression would be a Best Case Scenario™. A lot will depend on Khabibulin's health, the Oilers play, and Devan's ability to force himself into the starters spot, but this season at least the early returns look promising.

The Johnny Cash song with Pads

In terms of raw physical ability I'm not sure I've seen a better goaltender than Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers. I'm betting some of you just threw up in your mouth a little, but I'm not trying to defend his inconsistency. The problem with JDD is that he would make 3 five-bell saves in a game and then let in a clean slapshot from the point over his glove shoulder. His style was Cujo-esque: deep in the net, razor reflexes and top-level goalie athleticism.

His NHL career  as a starter began with some promise, playing in some tough games and managing to give the team a shot at a few games it should have no business being in (this was a dead last team we are talking about):

Season Team Lge GP A PIM Min GA EN SO GAA W L T Svs Pct
2008-09 Edmonton Oilers NHL 10 1 0 540 30 0 0 3.34 4 3 0 272 0.901

2009-10 Edmonton Oilers NHL 48 3 8 2798 152 4 3 3.26 16 28 4 1377 0.901

I'm still not convinced that he cannot improve his technique. I mean you can't teach 6'4 and gumby legs to Olvier Roy. He's always going to hover around 6' and he will never have the reach that JDD has. Amazingly enough NINE GAMES into Devan's season basically everyone has written JDD off. I mean everyone. Staples, Lowetide, HFBoards, etc all have JDD up in the attic beside Nana's doily collection. I say the kid deserves one more shot in finding his toolbox, because the tools are all there. Will he get it in Edmonton? I tried the magic 8-ball and it said 'Try again later'. If I was a betting man I would say 'Try never'.

The French Butterfly

Olivier Roy is a goaltender that was widely regarded pre-'09 draft as one of the top goaltenders available (some had him as a late second rounder), but when the actual draft came he fell to round 5, 133rd overall. At 6' he's a bit smaller than the obvious move towards bigger and bigger NHL goaltenders, and this means he wont have the extra 6 inches DD has to cover the top corners in a butterfly. Brodeur is of a similar size (listed at 6'1) and both came up through the QMJHL, so if you want a pipe dream there it is.

In all seriousness though, the scouting reports and blogs have talked about his competitive nature and great reflexes. His career in pro/minor-pro is also very solid:

Season Team Lge GP A PIM Min GA EN SO GAA W L T Svs Pct

2007-08 Cape Breton Screaming Eagles QMJHL 47 1 0 2428 116 2 4 2.87 27 11 3 1003 0.896

2008-09 Cape Breton Screaming Eagles QMJHL 54 0 2 2935 139 2 3 2.84 35 12 3 1326 0.905

2009-10 Cape Breton Screaming Eagles QMJHL 54 1 2 3155 138 2 5 2.62 32 21 0 1367 0.908

2009-10 Springfield Falcons AHL 3 0 0 140 6 0 0 2.57 1 1 0 63 0.913

2010-11 Acadie-Bathurst Titan QMJHL 21 1 2 1221 60 1 1 2.9512 9 0 571 0.905

I'm not sure what else there is to say except that with his minor pro credentials he certainly is the range of a starting goaltender at the NHL level. Of course the science of determining which goaltenders 'have it' is closer to Tswana Witchcraft than micro-stat science... My fearless prediction: somewhere above Mike Morrison and somewhere below Martin Brodeur.

But they are just glorified shooter tutors right?

Since the start of the 90's the Conn Smythe has been given to a goaltender 6 of 20 times. When the results of a cup can hinge on a single critical mistake, it stands to reason the goaltenders position will be vastly important in gaining a championship. Detroit (recently Chicago and Philly) is a counter-example, bringing in goaltenders who have generally been regarded as league average, and still dominating long stretches of post season play.

I think the obvious conclusion is that it's again a key piece that can be overcome if two of the other three bases are covered (elite forwards and a powerful D core). From the Oilers perspective I would guess that if we do not manage to snag another lottery pick on our way up (hopefully up), then we have the most likely chance of getting the goaltender piece filled based on the potential of DD, JDD (I still believe!), and Olivier Roy versus magically falling upon a future Zetterberg.

That piece is not here today, but the potential is definitely there.



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