A couple of days ago, the Edmonton Oilers signed goaltender - and reigning Golden Rooster champion - Jeff Deslauriers to a one-year contract that will pay him just over a million dollars ($1.05M) no matter where he ends up playing hockey. Whether he'll be overpaid to be well below replacement level in the NHL or overpaid to be well above replacement level in the AHL won't be determined until training camp, but the new contract means that Deslauriers has managed to finagle at least one more big paycheque in his hockey career. Good news for him of course, but not so much for the Oilers.Firstly, Jeff Deslauriers isn't a very good goaltender. But if you watched the Oilers last year, you already knew that. We all saw the short-side goals, the puckhandling miscues, and the pucks zipping over his shoulder. In the games Ben tallied Roosters for, Deslauriers stood out for his poor play more often than anyone else on truly terrible team. The traditional goalie stats do nothing but re-inforce these visuals. Deslauriers' .905 EV save percentage was better than only six goalies who made at least twenty starts, and none of the six goalies below Deslauriers played as much as he did. That's because, usually when you play that badly, you get replaced. I think it's fair to say that, in the present, Jeff Deslauriers just isn't very good.
But that's only half of the problem. The other half of the problem is that Jeff Deslauriers isn't a prospect anymore. Sure, it's possible that he gets better, but large improvements aren't the kind of thing one should expect from a goalie who turned twenty-six in May. It's to the point that this "prospect" will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2010-11 season, which means any discount pricing the Oilers may have received from his RFA years will have come to an end. Thus, there's really no difference in signing Deslauriers to a one-year deal as any other mid-twenties (assuming they want someone a between Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin) goaltender who was available on the open market.
So was Deslauriers the best option at around $1M a the start of free agency? Not even close. Heck, he's not even the best option at that price of the guys still left out there. Mr. Debakey has been pushing for Scott Munroe this off-season, and frankly, he'd be a much better bet than JDD. His save percentage track record is one of the best in the AHL over the last three seasons; in each of those three he's posted a .918 save percentage or better, and has outperformed current NHLer Brian Boucher (in 2007-08) and former NHLer J-S Aubin (2008-09) in the process. Plus, he's only two and half years older than JDD. Based on the numbers alone, it seems like Munroe is the better bet. Once you factor in that he would have cost about half the price, going with JDD just wasn't a good move.
So why did the Oilers decide to qualify Deslauriers in the first place? It's not like Munroe was the only better (and cheaper) option available, so why give him an offer at all? My theory is that the Oilers management don't do a consistently good job of recognizing sunk costs. Deslauriers was qualified (and eventually signed) because he was a high draft pick, because Steve Tambellini went out of his way to make room on the roster for him in 2008-09, and because they invested almost fifty starts in his "development" in 2009-10. None of those are particularly compelling reasons to keep the player. This was the year to cut bait on JDD. Unfortunately, that process is now delayed by a season. Steve Tambellini has made several solid small moves this off-season, but bringing back JDD isn't one.