Steve Tambellini continues to scour the globe for low-hanging fruit. For the second week running, he has invaded the neutral hills of Switzerland, this time acquiring cheap and experienced depth at the goaltending position in the person of Martin Gerber.
As C&B's resident optimist (as well as its resident batshit-crazy goalie) I like this signing. Certainly Gerber is no long-term solution, but with Khabibulin under contract for three more years and two youngsters chomping at the bit, a stable veteran is just what the doctor ordered to fill out the organizational depth chart. I'd say he provides injury insurance if the #1 guy goes down, but since this is Khabibulin we're talking about, it might be better classified as Mishap Insurance.
Tambellini is nothing if not thorough. After signing two 23rd men on the roster on the same day (Strudwick and MacIntyre), he's systematically signed three backup goalies in the last month. He apparently believes in redundancy which is a good thing cuz so do I.
Gerber will be 36 when training camp breaks, the exact same age that the Oilers gave long-term, eight-figure contracts to Khabibulin and Dwayne Roloson. The Swiss veteran comes a lot cheaper, having inked a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $500 K in the NHL or $200 K if he winds up down on the farm. The pact seems both parsimonious and generous all at once, as the man is guaranteed a decent wage if he plies his trade down in OKC, but is available to the big club at a minimal cap hit. A much better and fairer deal under the circumstances than, say, a $750/100 split.
Of course Gerber will be looking to cash in on the higher value, and more importantly, to reestablish himself as an NHL quality netminder. With questions abounding about Khabibulin's physical, mental, emotional, and legal health, Gerber has picked a situation where he will at least get solid consideration if/when things start going wrong, which indeed could be right off the hop.
As C&B's own Jonathan Willis pointed out in this fine article over at Hockey Or Die a couple months back, Gerber is pretty well-qualified as an NHL backup. He's played 226 games in the bigs, posting a respectable Sv% of .910. His stats with Atlant of the KHL last year (30 GP, 2.31, .914) don't suggest his skills are eroding, and while his season was cut short by a scary neck injury, he recovered sufficiently to deliver yet another solid showing at the World Championships. It was Gerber's eighth Worlds playing for Ralph Krueger and Switzerland, where he holds an impressive lifetime Sv% of .928 in 40 games for a middle-tier hockey "power". He also appeared in three Olympics, with his shining moment being a 2-0 shutout of Canada at Turin in 2006 which leaves a scar to this day. In short, the guy is a pretty accomplished netminder, at least in relation to his current position on the depth chart.
It's easy to imagine Krueger having gone to bat for Gerber as a good fit for this gaping organizational need, regardless of whether or not the stopper winds up with Ralph on the big club. At best (for the club), he provides solid netminding in the AHL while mentoring one of the kids. Another scenario sees him carrying the major load for OKC while JDDDD reprise their role from last season (shudder), which would at least mean the farm club isn't left high and dry like it was in 2009-10. But my guess is the big-league roster will carry one over-35 vet at all times, so Gerber's immediate future is closely tied to Khabibulin's. He doesn't have quite the credentials - although he did win a Stanley Cup !!!1!!one! - but he's cheap, he's healthy, and he's low-maintenance. All in all, a solid addition.