Well, it’s off-season. With off-season comes all the crazy talk. One recent bit of crazy talk comes courtesy of Jim Matheson at the Edmonton Journal. I typically agree with a lot Matty has to say. But this one is just way off to me. The suggestion is that we should bring back Nikolai Khabibulin for a year. This is just lunacy to me.
I want to start by saying I like both Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk. I think when each are on their game, they can be really quite good. I do think too though that Dubnyk hasn’t shown that he can be a top end goalie for much more than 45-ish games. So that’s my margin for him.. about 45 games. That leaves 37 games left to play which, if you’re doing the math, is 45% of the season.. nearly half (“thank you, professor!”). That means I see Dubnyk in a 1A / 1B situation, meaning that I think he should share the starting duties with another goaltender. The most games that Dubnyk has ever played in his career was 47. Now, this year, they really pushed the envelope and gave him more games.. so it’s possible he can eat more games. This post isn’t so much about Dubnyk though as it is about Khabibulin.
Now, let’s talk Khabi. Matheson thinks this is a good idea because Khabibulin had hip surgery last April and says he feels the best he has in a while. He missed the start of the season from recovering from the injury. That I wouldn’t say is a black mark. Each game that he played this year, he did look fairly solid. However, was it clear that the fatigue/injury issues were behind him? I don’t think so. February 9, khabi debuts on the season and plays a rather stellar game vs. the Wings in which they lose (but he deserved the win). One week later, he bails out Dubnyk in relief and steals a win.. things are looking good so far. February 19th (3 days later), Khabi allows a mere two goals in another reliable performance. The Oilers rest Khabi for a game, and then he plays against Phoenix on the 23rd of February. This again is another reliable game from Khabi, as he gets the win. The Oilers press their luck and push him another game, on February 25th. Boom.. groin injury… so 5 games into the season, he’s out with a groin injury that keeps him out of the lineup for about a month. Is this reliable??
During the month that Khabibulin was out, the Oilers went 4-4-3.. certainly not a disaster.. respectable, perhaps. They did however allow 34 goals in those 11 games (excluding SO goals), or a 3.09GAA , which we all know is not good (in today’s NHL, that’ll get you a top 5 overall pick in a hurry if you maintain that). Now I don’t hang everything all on Dubnyk during that period… far from it. But Khabibulin isn’t doing the team any favors by forcing us to ride Dubnyk for a month. It’s my belief that this is what the team will have to do though.. ride Dubnyk a lot.. if Khabibulin is brought back.
The best thing Tambellini tried to do in his dying days here was to try and get Ben Bishop from Ottawa. Goaltending isn’t the #1 priority here, no, but it’s still an important need. Ben Bishop would have been the perfect 1A/1B guy for Dubnyk to play with.
The way I see it, at this stage of Khabibulin’s career, he could back up a guy like Kipper or Luongo or Lundqvist.. you know.. guys that can play a LOT of games. They can easily limit the fatigue Khabibulin would suffer by playing too much. Last I checked, hip surgeries don’t fix dehydration, for example (a huge problem for Khabi). So … for Khabi, the complementary player for him is a full on starter. For Dubnyk, the complementary player for him is a 1B type. This means, Bishop was 100% the right idea. It didn’t work, so it’s time to go fishing again. There next attempt probably could be Anton Khudobin. However, he is very inexperienced… so that could be disastrous as well. There is also Ray Emery.. who has had his own issues, such as off ice issues, attitude questions, and his own injury issues. I’d still take a flyer on him for a year.
Now, we could jump into a whole new ball game… Mike Smith. He will be costly, that’s the biggest issue. But I think he should be considered. The biggest reason I think this is because of his puck handling skills. This team was a lot different when Roli was in the net (another stellar puck handler). With Dubnyk, to steal a MacT line, at best, Dubnyk is a non-factor on our break out. At worst, he a monumental hindrance. Now, obviously it is only a minor part of a breakout, since the goalie won’t always be able to get to the puck all alone to start a play off, but I think it does play a factor in the course of the game on dump ins, icing on powerplays, etc.. I think it plays a part. It should come as no surprise that for a speedy, dangerous team like the Oilers, a solid transition game should result in a lot of goals for. It should come as a surprise though that our transition game is not at all good. Part of that has to do with giving the other team too much time to set up, or worse yet, allowing the team to out race you to a dump in, in your zone, or be hemmed by them in your zone. A good transition game starts with the back end. The backbone of any team is the back end… we need to treat this a little more importantly. Dubnyk and Khabibulin aren’t bad goaltenders, but I just think that having even Roli in net serving up bombs to Yakupov, or Eberle would be a sight to see.
Really though, I will close by saying that I think we can make it work with Dubnyk. He’s a very reliable goaltender, but I think he’s reliable for a good 40-45 games or so.. maybe a bit more (remains to be seen). But Khabibulin is the wrong goalie to team him with. We need to stop looking in the past (Khabi’s past hasn’t even been that good, as an Oiler) and look forward. We need a young player that can grow with Dubnyk. We need them to push each other. If Dubnyk is a 1A/1B.. pair him with a 1A/1B, or find a starter and move Dubnyk. Goaltending might not be the biggest issue, but it’s still an issue. Making solid changes across the board will likely do more than making one large move. I don’t think it’s logical to think that Khabibulin will suddenly start being a reliable goalie at this stage of his career (and by reliable, I mean in the sense of the number of games he can play).