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A (Modest) Defense of Jeff Deslauriers

Defending Jeff Deslauriers, in these parts, is not an easy thing to do.

The truth is that Jeff Deslauriers is not a particularly good NHL goaltender and everyone knows it. So the defense seems to have failed before it has begun. Some of his champions have favoured unfortunate and now-infamous backside-related statements of confidence, which has further eroded Jeff's credibility. And, of course, watching him every game, we Oiler fans grow infuriated at his gaffes: his puckhandling, his seemingly inalienable ability to let in elementary-school goals on the short side. We watch, essentially, Ty Conklin except without that one year where he nearly saved us from Tommy Salo and got all our hopes up.

Also, Conklin? A surprisingly good puckhandler. But that's neither here nor there.

The truth is that, when we began this season, Jeff Deslauriers was the backup. Number two with a bullet, as they say. He ought not to have appeared in many games at all, but then Nikolai Khabibulin got hurt and the rest is history. So a young man has been forced into a role he's wasn't ready for and we, as fans, have suffered the consequences.

Bear that in mind, and Jeff Deslauriers hasn't actually been bad. Certainly, he's been good value to the Oilers, who pay him approximately six bucks an hour. Compared to his fellow backups, his save percentage isn't too bad, particularly when you consider the epic failure that is his defense (call it the reverse of "Brodeur is a fraud"). He hasn't blown the barn doors off and he shouldn't make any NHL GM pencil him in for a handsome $2 million offer sheet when he goes restricted in July. But, compared to his peers, Deslauriers has been pretty handsome value for the Oilers

Any defense or assault on a goaltender obviously needs to be compared to other goaltenders. Three teams in the NHL - Atlanta, Boston, and Montreal - have platooned their goaltenders and have no clear backup. For the other twenty-six non-Edmonton teams, I pulled the save percentages and the cap hits of the goaltenders who have played the second-most games for them. Note that this therefore ignores deadline trades: Jean-Sebastien Giguere is a Duck, Vesa Toskala is a Maple Leaf, and so forth. This is the closest thing to a fair method I could devise. Then I threw Jeff Deslauriers into the mix to see where he would come up.

The usual caveats to a backup goaltender's save percentage applies: the sample size will be smaller and the backup will, as a rule, be facing lousier teams. That's why he's the backup. Therefore, your average backup 'tender will have a somewhat inflated save percentage compared to his actual ability.

Deslauriers clocks in at a tie for fifteenth in save percentage among these twenty-seven goaltenders with a .900 save percentage. This is a shade below the median, which is between Mathieu Garon's .905 and Martin Biron's .902. A lot of the guys above him on the list ought, however, to be starting. Columbus, for example, runs out Steve Mason and his .898 save percentage. Antti Niemi's .909 is seventh among backups, preposterous when his starter Cristobal Huet is posting a .899. Chris Mason in St. Louis has a not-bad .911 save percentage, but Ty Conklin's .922 is off the freakin' hook.

So, in exchange for this marginally sub-par for a backup performance, Deslauriers is paid significantly below par. His 2009-10 cap hit of $625,000 is twenty-first among backups by this measurement, against an average of $1,385,222. So, in exchange for a fairly marginal drop in performance to a median backup - in a 2,000-shot season, the difference between Jeff Deslauriers and Martin Biron is four goals - we're getting Zack Stortini's cap hit, or Aaron Johnson plus a bit, or close enough to Gilbert Brule that the rest is a matter of demoting two-way contracts at the right time. And I'm not unconvinced that the .002 between Biron and Deslauriers isn't just the difference between playing behind the New York Islanders defense and playing behind a defense whose fourth-best healthy member is Jason Strudwick.

Now, this isn't show-stopping stuff. Deslauriers provides tolerable play at a pretty good price, and that's not going to win or lose you the Stanley Cup. But it sure helps. This team has a lot of problems, but if Jeff Deslauriers returned for $800,000 next year as the backup, he wouldn't be one of them.