Late last week, Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish took part in a TeleForum with hundreds of Edmonton Oilers season ticket holders. While the Oilers new GM answered many a question throughout the hour long event, probably the most surprising response to many fans, came when the discussion turned to starting netminder Devan Dubnyk.
MacTavish has rarely, if ever, been one to beat around the bush when it comes to answering a question. Making his rather candid and fairly accurate assessment of his number one guy, no real surprise.
I've always believed that when you're assessing goaltenders, if you have to ask the question you know the answer. The question would be, has Devan established himself as a number one goalie in the National Hockey League? And I still think it's a valid question. So, I think that Devan, although he's trending upwards in his numbers and played adequately for us this year, I still think, and I know Devan feels the same way, that there's another level for him. From our standpoint, we'll see that he can get to that level.
Some may look at that as rather harsh criticism for a player that was arguably the team's best over the first couple of weeks of the season and finished off the season with an impressive .920 SV%. On its own, the number looks fairly nice but upon closer examination, that is not necessarily the case.
For starters, of the thirty-seven games in which Dubnyk received the starter's nod, the former first round pick made a habit of allowing that "ill-timed" goal on far too many night's. Even during certain outings in which he was fairly solid, he had the tendency of giving up that stinker at the worst possible moment.
In nine of those thirty-seven starts, he allowed what I feel were momentum changing goals that led to Oiler losses. Not included in those nine were Edmonton's blowout losses to San Jose and Nashville because they were so soundly beaten, it did not matter in the end. Also, games against Colorado and Chicago, in which he was pulled from for poor play and injury, were not included. Edmonton ultimately managed to come back and win both games, making a bad early goal a moot point.
Think about that for a minute. Nine starts is exactly 25%. Meaning Dubnyk allowed an "ill-timed" goal once in every four starts. When you look at it from that angle, no one should be the least bit surprised with MacT's take on his starting netminder
A stat on it's own, especially where goalies are concerned, rarely tells you the entire story. If you were to compare Dubnyk's numbers to Nikolai Khabibulin's over the past two seasons, here is what you see:
Dubnyk - GP: 38, SV%: .920, GAA: 2.57
Khabibulin - GP: 12, SV%: .923, GAA: 2.54
Dubnyk - GP: 47, SV%; .914, GAA: 2.67
Khabibulin - GP: 40, SV%: .910, GAA: 2.65
Outside of Dubnyk taking over the starters role, there is not a whole helluva lot to choose from. Though to anyone who has watched this team play over the last two years, there is no doubt that the former fourteenth overall pick has been the better goalie.
When you break the numbers down start by start, Dubnyk has been more consistent, no surprise to anyone who watches the games. That being said, there are far too many who tend to point to his save percentage number as a signal of his arrival as a legit starter but simply dismiss his habit of allowing bad goals, at the worst possible moment. Sorry but you can't have it both ways. The two go hand and hand.
There are those who point to the sheer amount of rubber fired Dubnyk's way during the 2013 season and feel his .920 SV% is even more impressive. However, when you go and take a closer look around the league, not only in 2013 but over the last five years, you tend to see a bit of trend forming. Not shockingly, the numbers for the vast majority of netminders being peppered on a nightly basis, tend to look far better than most thought they would.
Buffalo (33.5): Ryan Miller - .915
Edmonton (32.8): Devan Dubnyk - .920
Washington (32.3): Braden Holtby - .920
Toronto (32.3): James Reimer - .924 (8th among league leaders)
Carolina (32.4): Cam Ward - .915
Ottawa (31.4): Craig Anderson - .914
Phoenix (31.6): Mike Smith - .930 (3rd among league leaders)
Minnesota (31.4) Niklas Backstrom - .919
Carolina (33.2): Cam Ward - .923
Boston (32.7): Tim Thomas - .938 (1st among league leaders)
Phoenix (32.6): Ilya Bryzgalov - .921
Anaheim (32.3): Jonas Hiller - .924
Florida (34.1): Tomas Vokoun - .925 (3rd among league leaders)
Anaheim (33.4): Jonas Hiller - .918
Edmonton (33.1): Jeff Deslauriers - .901
Atlanta (33.1): Johan Hedberg - .915
Florida (34.7): Tomas Vokun - .926 (2nd among league leaders)
New York (33.5): Yann Danis .910
Tampa Bay (32.9): Mike Smith - .916
Atlanta (32.7): Kari Lehtonen - .911
Outside of the Oilers and Islanders respective goaltending carousel in 2009-10 and 2008-09, an injury plagued season from Kari Lehtonen in '08-'09, was the only occasion a team that finished the season in the bottom four in shots allowed, had their staring goalie finish the year with a sub .914 save percentage. In fact, outside of this season, this group had produced a top three save percentage in each of the previous four.
Making, in my opinion, Dubnyk's number of .920 far less impressive. There is no question the Oilers tender took another step forward in his overall development during the 2013 campaign but he still has a ways to go. At twenty-seven years of age, he is by no means a "youngster", though many a goalie have not hit their stride at the NHL level, until the latter half of their twenties.
By no means, does this mean the organization needs to turn the page and go in a different direction. Devan Dubnyk has earned the right to see what he can do over a full 82 game schedule. Having said that, the jury is still out on just how good a goaltender he can be and with his new general manager a self-professed "impatient guy", his window of opportunity could close rather quickly.