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Dubnyk's Last Best Chance

If Devan Dubnyk wants to play for the Oilers beyond the end of this season he's going to have to take advantage of Bryzgalov being on injured reserve.

Chris Austin-USA TODAY Sports

In the comments of yesterday's article on the Oilers most recent roster shuffle I said that I felt there was a silver lining of sorts to the Ilya Bryzgalov injury, in that it would give Devan Dubnyk a chance to play and that in turn would provide the Oilers with a little more data when it comes to making a decision on what to do with Dubnyk this summer. Scott replied with the following:

I agree with you, but I figure the decision has already been made, and they’re going with someone else. Even if they were open-minded, Dubnyk would need to play really well just to get his season numbers close to average. If he sees 1,000 more EV shots this season and saves 930, his EV save percentage would still be just .916 for the whole season, which isn’t very good.

As is usually the case with Scott, he's right and there is very little I can argue with in that comment. We know that Craig MacTavish was looking for a goaltender this summer; he went after Jonathan Bernier first and then pursued Cory Schneider at the draft, there were probably others as well. Given that Dubnyk's numbers since becoming a full time pro in 2010/11 suggested that he was a slightly better than average netminder and that he seems to be trending in the right direction over the course of his career I thought it was odd that MacTavish was looking for another starting goalie, but that's exactly what he was doing. We don't know why MacTavish felt this was necessary, perhaps it was a consistency issue, or maybe he felt the team needed more than an average goalie, whatever the reason it's doubtful that Dubnyk's play so far this season - an 0.889 save percentage in 22 appearances - has done anything to suggest to MacTavish that Dubnyk is the Oilers number one goalie of the future.

And Scott is also right that Dubnyk is not going to be able to get his numbers for this season back to a respectable level. He's been too bad for too long for that to happen now. Just look at what it would take to get Dubnyk's even strength from it's currently putrid 0.886 to 0.916, and, as Scott says, that's still not a very good number. Last year a 0.916 even strength save percentage would have ranked Dubnyk 31st in the league (among goalies playing at least 14 games). It's the same story with his overall save percentage. To get back to the 0.917 Dubnyk has posted since 2010/11 he'd need to be a 0.930 goalie and play 38 of the Oilers final 53 games. I'd be pretty damn happy if that happened but I'm not going to hold my breath. Much like the Oilers, this season is already lost for Dubnyk.

At this point though I'm less concerned with what Dubnyk's (and the Oilers) end of season numbers look like, what I want to see is what the last 50ish games look like. Basically I want to try and erase from my memory everything that's happened since June 2006 this season. More than anywhere else, where this might prove to be of the most value to the Oilers is when it comes to Dubnyk. For arguments sake let's say Dubnyk posts a save percentage around 0.917 from December through April, his numbers will season totals will still be ugly, but it would also be safe to say that whatever was wrong in the first two months of the season is now a thing of the past. In that scenario I'd be very happy to see the Oilers re-sign Dubnyk, at a significant discount on the $3.5M he's making this season, to be part of the team's goaltending tandem for another couple of seasons.

In the scenario outlined above I'd probably roll the dice and keep Dubnyk as the team's starting goalie. What I expect Oilers management to do is go looking for a new starting goalie this offseason. So if Dubnyk were to be re-signed his days as the Oilers number one goalie would be a thing of the past. Dubnyk has options though. He could look for a starting job elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, but I highly doubt that teams will be lining up to give him a job since NHL General Mangers are in with love save percentage and his is not going to be very good at the end of the season. And since there are always goalies looking for jobs in September, I'm sure both Dubnyk and his agent know this, if the Oilers dangled a cheap two year contract in front of him he might take it because something is better than nothing.

Overpaying goalies is a mistake that almost every NHL General Manager makes. For example, I'd argue that Tambellini overpaid Dubnyk, or at the very least mishandled the situation. But now the Oilers have a chance to maybe balance the scales a little bit. The key is playing Dubnyk. And playing him a lot. Something made easier with Bryzgalov on the injured reserve and there being an unknown timeline for his return. This might be Dubnyk's last best chance to prove he's a capable NHL goalie. Maybe he'll come around, maybe he won't. But with a 9-18-2 record there is no harm in trying.