So there’s been some talk out there lately about acquiring a new goaltender, possibly moving one of the young guns to get one, and other things. I’ll offer my take.
The Oilers are very stacked with high-flying offense. Currently, we’re looking at Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner, David Perron and Ales Hemsky (who may be gone before the end of the year). This is an obvious position of strength.
On the blue line, the Oilers currently have (at the NHL level): Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Anton Belov, Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz and Andrew Ference. Of these guys, Justin Schultz and Anton Belov are standouts. Neither, at this point, are what I’d consider clear #1 guys, however. They’re definitely above average.. but there is no d-man in this group that you feel safe with on the ice in any situation.
In goal, we have Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera. Of course, questions galore over the ability of these two, these days. Some would say there have always been questions. For me, I always thought of Dubnyk as a bit above average, but certainly not elite… generally, quite usable. That I don’t think has changed. However, I had always hoped the Oilers would sign/acquire a guy that could share the net with him, like Ben Bishop, Cory Schneider, etc. That hasn’t worked out yet. Worse yet, both goaltenders have been flakey at best. I think LaBarbera has been enough to “hold the fort”, but the Oilers have either played much better/hotter goaltenders so far this year, or their own goaltenders have let them down (save for maybe the Canucks game where they were just blown out, and the Habs game where their efforts were too little too late). Still, the goaltending issues aren’t new, in my opinion. Dubnyk is good, but he’s not a guy that typically out-battles the other team’s goaltender.
The Oilers are off to what appears to be a terrible start. They’re averaging just over 4.5 goals against per game, which is obviously quite brutal. Some of this does hang on the defensive group, some on the buy-in of forwards, some on the system, perhaps. But I have believed for quite some time now that the Oilers really could do themselves a favor by acquiring two key pieces: a “stud” defenseman (i.e. a complete d-man.. a guy who has good offensive talents and can also “shut down” the opposition, all the while racking up a lot of time on ice.. think Shea Weber) and a solid goaltender. I’m not so sure the Oil need a Craig Anderson (although I certainly wouldn’t refuse that type here), but they could probably stand to have a 1A/1B situation between Dubnyk and another goaltender. It’s clear (to me anyways) that Dubnyk is not the piss-poor goaltender his early starts this year have made him look like. I’m fairly certain he will recover, but the question is how long this will take. Are we really going to want to watch LaBarbera try and stop shots from the slot while Dubnyk battles net demons? I don’t think so.
MacTavish did try and correct the goaltending issue he predicted, as though clairvoyant (although some fault him for being a part of the problem by making Dubnyk question himself..I don’t really believe that). It didn’t work, as we know, and he was left with LaBarbera. That’s basically like asking Mila Kunitz on a date, and her telling you that you can go out with Wilmer Valderrama instead. Not exactly a great consolation prize. LaBarbera is doing as best a job as he can to fill in for Dubnyk (credit to him for making as many saves as he has, with the D leaving him hanging to dry many times in a game, just like Dubnyk), but this duo is going to cost standings points… that I can guarantee.
It’s possibly Dubnyk returns to his .914 – .921 SV% form. I don’t really consider him to be a big problem per se. He played awful in his first few games, but I do believe he is better than that. The defense has to for sure get better before any goalie will work here too. However, I do think it’s a problem when you have a goalie who isn’t playing very well, and he’s backed up by a guy who has his own issues. I also think Dubnyk is the type that needs a guy to push him sometimes… he needs that red-hot Khabibulin perhaps.
As mentioned already, I think the Oilers need that clear #1 d-man I think Nurse will be that type one day, but we have to be patient with him. He’ll also need someone to “ease” him into the league. I’m thinking we’re easily 3 or more years from seeing him as a difference maker. The Oilers simply can not wait that long. Klefbom also isn’t someone I’d peg for making an impact here for another 2 or 3 years either, if ever.
So again, the Oilers have these wonderful forward gems, and not a lot of sparkly pieces in the back end. It’s time to balance things out. I know I won’t make any friends saying this, but they will have to make some hard decisions soon to fix that blue line. I have always believed that you build a team from the back end up. This means that they may have to say goodbye to one of the top 4. I am not saying this because of the hot water he’s been in, but Nail Yakupov would be the guy I would move. The 1st overall for 2014 would also be an asset I would use. Ales Hemsky (if there is interest) would be an asset I would use that would help balance salary if needed. One of the NHL d-men might have to go… a Ladislav Smid or Jeff Petry. A higher-touted defensive prospect might have to go… Martin Marincin or Oscar Klefbom. Of course, I’m not talking about all these pieces, but these are pieces I would dangle.
It’s definitely tough to make a trade though, because it takes two to tango. The skeptics (of a deal being done) point out that dealing from a position of weakness is never good. This is definitely true, but there are teams with weaknesses that the Oilers could target… that will level the playing field.
It’s sadly time to end the infatuation and attachment for these talented players (I know it’s hard) and make these hard choices for the benefit of the team. I think this team is looking better, but we still see a lot of high-quality chances where the opposition is in all alone on our goaltender. In few cases, that goaltender has bailed his teammate out, but more often than not so far, that’s led to the red light going on. The Oilers need their next Chris Pronger who will help stabilize their back end. I’ve been saying that for quite some time (probably since they moved Pronger). Championship teams have these caliber of d-men. They also are going to need another goaltender who can reliably handle things when Dubnyk is struggling (not all great teams have that kind of guy, but when your d-core is Swiss cheese, you need this).
Lastly, here is a graph to make my point:
(Yes, one player doesn’t win the cup.. just being goofy).