One of the running jokes amongst Oilers fans is the lack of goaltending the Oilers have suffered from since Curtis Joseph carried them on his back in 1997 and 1998. Tommy Salo's greatest contribution to the Oilers was the return for him when he was traded to the Avs. Sure, they had that unbelievable spring in 2006 when Dwayne Roloson's .927 save percentage was an ill-timed Marc-Andre Bergeron shove away from a cup, but that was the pinnacle of Roloson's time in Edmonton.
Aside from Joseph, the names of the goaltenders who've passed through Edmonton since Grant Fuhr reads like the list of quadruples and quintuples at the bottom of the shoebox housing your hockey cards:
Brathwaite, Conklin, Cowley, Deslauriers, Dubnyk, Essensa, Foster, Gage, Garon, Gerber, Ing, Khabibulin, Markkanen, Minard, Morrison, Passmore, Reddick, Roloson, Roussel, Salo, Shtalenkov, Takko, Tugnutt, Valiquette.
And while management may not have anyone to hang their hats on just yet, the level of goaltending in the organization is higher now than it's been in a very long while.
Thanks to NHLE it's easy to categorize and rank the skating prospects in the organization. The translations give readers and fans an idea of progression and some targets for the future. Goaltenders are much more difficult to judge. Goaltender development is anything but linear, and though there are those who believe they've figured it out, each year phenoms from out of nowhere take the place of heralded never-weres. Predicting the development curve of goaltenders is akin to alchemy, so the best we can do is track save percentage, the best measure of talent in a goaltender. Below is a list of all of the goaltenders in the organization, either under contract or through draft rights.
|David LeNeveu||Oklahoma City||AHL||722||342||24||0.930|
|Yann Danis||Oklahoma City||AHL||1037||521||38||0.927|
|Tyler Bunz||Medicine Hat||WHL||1872||1017||79||0.922|
- The only time Nikolai Khabibulin has approached .931 in his entire career was his 1999-00 season with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL. He posted .923 with Phoenix in 1998-99 and .920 with Tampa in 2001-02. If he stays on the same path, he's going to be 9 goals better than he's ever been in any season. It's unlikely, but even if he just posts .910 for the rest of the season (given the same ratio of minutes), he'll still finish at .919 for the season, his best season since 2001-02.
- The last time David LeNeveu posted a save percentage like .930, he was chasing co-eds as a 19-year-old superstar for Cornell in the ECAC in 2002-03. .930 would be his best professional season ever and by a wide margin.
- Like LeNeveu, Yann Danis is in the midst of his best season since his days in the ECAC. Danis posted .942 for Brown in 2003-04 and posted a .924 in Hamilton in 2004-05.
- Tyler Bunz has improved in each of his WHL seasons with Medicine Hat. .886 ---> .898 ---> .919 --->.922. Though he was cut from Canada's World Junior team (and he handled it like he's studied at the Shawn Horcoff School of Handling the Media), and stop me if you've heard this one before, he's logging the best season of his career thus far.
- Olivier Roy's .912 doesn't look impressive, but he's the only one in the group who moved up into a tougher league for the first time. Not to repeat myself, but .912 would be the best season of his career. Though he's gone from the CHL to the professional game, his game has improved as well.
The planets have aligned for the Oilers. Somehow, four goaltenders are playing at the highest level of their career and their elderly patriarch is playing like he's 28 years old. Obviously this isn't going to continue. The odds that these five goaltenders have suddenly raised their true talent levels are astronomical, but the two that matter - Roy and Bunz - may have done so. So while the fickle finger of regression will poke a hole in these bubbles, the future, at least in the short term, is bright.