Do The Oilers Need An Upgrade In Goal?

Doug Pensinger

Has Devan Dubnyk finally done enough to start for the Oilers in the future, or would it be wise to explore the goalie market?

It seems that no matter what Devan Dubnyk does, he's doomed to be surrounded by those who doubt his ability to backstop the Oilers' future. Dubnyk is far from perfect and probably won't ever be in the conversation for the Vezina, but he has also participated in the World Championships and won a Spengler Cup for Canada, and he has carried a 0.917 NHL Sv% since his rookie season on some truly awful teams.

So with all of that, it's a little surprising that the Oilers' new head honcho Craig MacTavish could be looking for an upgrade in goal, according to TSN's Darren Dreger. Dreger's words during an intermission on April 24th were: "Dubnyk has been okay, but the Oilers will look to improve." Jonathan Bernier, Mike Smith, and Ryan Miller were all named as possible upgrades.

But how much of an upgrade would those three be over Dubnyk? And do the Oilers even need a better starting goalie at all? Below is a table that tracks the last three years of Dubnyk and the three goalies Dreger named as possible replacements. How does Dubnyk stack up?

Goalie Games Played Shots Faced Save Percentage
Ryan Miller 167 5022 0.916
Devan Dubnyk 120 3615 0.917
Mike Smith 123 3580 0.920
Jonathan Bernier 55 1341 0.913

The table is ordered by Shots Faced because maintaining a solid save percentage is trickier over time.

Dubnyk has been the second-busiest goalie of the group in the last three seasons, facing 3615 total shots, which is around 30.1 per game on average. Ryan Miller is leading the way in total shots faced because he has had more starts, but he saw the puck about 30 times per game as well. Because of the volume of shots Miller faced it could be said that he is superior to Dubnyk even though Dubnyk had slightly better results over this time frame. But the wrinkle is that Miller will be 33 years old when the 2013-14 season starts, while Dubnyk just turned 27 in May. The issue is not necessarily whether or not Miller will still be a starter next season, but for how much longer after that?

Jonathan Bernier has been playing on a pretty solid LA Kings team. In fact, he faced an average of just 24.4 shots per game over the last three years and the 55 games he played in that span represent 89% of his total NHL experience. We don't know enough yet about Bernier to suggest that he's a guaranteed starting goaltender, let alone an upgrade on Dubnyk.

I would argue something similar about Mike Smith. His overall Sv% over the last three years is largely propped up by a 0.930 mark in 2011-12. Excluding that year, Smith's career save percentage is 0.907 over 196 games and 5320 shots against. Given that goalie performance often swings wildly from year to year, consistency is what NHL teams should be looking for. There's too much room for Smith to regress, especially on a team like the Oilers, and giving him a big contract could turn into an albatross.

Now Dubnyk's performance against league average in the last three seasons:

Year Dubnyk Sv% League Average Sv%
2010-11 0.916 0.913
2011-12 0.914 0.914
2012-13 0.920 0.912

Although there is some concern about Dubnyk's ability to sustain his shorthanded save percentage from this season, his numbers have been respectable over the last three years on some Oilers teams that had scary-bad defense. Shots against only tell part of the story, and the Oilers have made a habit of giving up a load of quality scoring chances.

So do the Oilers need to upgrade their starting goalie?

Devan Dubnyk certainly isn't immune to giving up bad goals, but his overall numbers are sound and he has given his team a chance to win. The three options outlined by Darren Dreger would either require trading significant pieces or spending big dollars - perhaps both in Bernier's case, as he's a pending RFA - and the return on that investment is far from assured.

If the Oilers go into 2013-14 with Devan Dubnyk as their starting goaltender, he's unlikely to prevent them from succeeding. A backup not named Khabibulin would be just fine.

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