Ryan recently wrote about why he think the Oilers stand a good chance of finishing dead last in the Western Conference. In that article, he mentioned Nikolai Khabibulin as one of the big reasons why, figuring that Khabibuliln would likely be the starting goaltender for the Oilers to begin the year. If that's the way that Tom Renney decides to roll, it'll be a very poor decision. Nikolai Khabibulin is both very bad and very old, which makes him both extremely unlikely to rebound to league average this season, and almost certainly a player who isn't part of the future. Investing playing time in him is goofy.
But that's not the only problem the Oilers have between the pipes. Even if Renney (wisely) decides to sit Khabibulin down, can the Oilers really expect Devan Dubnyk to provide quality goaltending?
In order to help find an answer to that question, I went looking for players with a similar NHL performance to Dubnyk's in their 22 to 24 year-old seasons, and then looked to see how they performed at age 25. All of the comparables listed below started their NHL careers sometime in the last fifteen seasons, and never played more than five games in a season prior to their 22 year-old season. They also had a save percentage between .902 and .912 (to put them within shouting distance of Dubnyk's .907). Here are the results:
Mika Noronen isn't included in the average because the lockout forced him to play his 25 year-old season in Finland, but he flamed out of the NHL shortly thereafter, so taking him out actually inflates the Dubnyk comps a little bit. Still, I think the average performance is a fair expectation for Dubnyk coming into 2011-12: splitting duty between the pipes and performing below the league average. He might end up being a whole lot better (or worse) than that, but it makes for a decent line in the sand.
Looking over these names also suggests to me that we're more than a stone's throw away from knowing what kind of goaltender Dubnyk is going to be. Pascal Leclaire had the best 25 year-old season, so you might have expected that he'd become a top goalie. Instead, injuries and poor play have him out of the league. Tomas Vokoun, meanwhile, had a poor season at 25 in 2001-02, but he'd go on to become Nashville's starter in 2002-03 and never look back. Surprisingly, the statistic that looks to have the most predictive value when assessing the quality of these young goalies seems to be games played with (I'd argue) the four best goalies on the list coming in first through fourth in their 22-24 year-old seasons.
That last little tidbit isn't particularly encouraging with regard to Dubnyk, but I also don't think it's worth fretting over: there remains a very wide range of possible outcomes for the young netminder, which is why holding on to him for another season makes good sense. Still, a young goalie who could be anything from great to awful but is probably a bit below average, and an old goalie who's almost certainly going to be terrible makes for a pretty worrying tandem.
There were other options available. The Oilers could have bought out old man Khabibulin, and signed a guy like Ray Emery, a player young enough to be around for a while if he turns out to be good, likely to be better in the present, and very likely to be less expensive in terms of real dollars. That the club elected not to do this (or something similar), especially considering Khabibulin's legal problems, is simultaneously baffling and depressingly foreseeable.