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Importance of the Backup Goalie

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The backup goalie is going to be critical for the Oilers success this coming season and in the years ahead.

Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers will be making a big decision between the pipes having to select one of Anders Nilsson or Ben Scrivens to back up Cam Talbot. You could argue that the backup position is meaningless and doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Talbot will likely get the majority of starts, and whoever backs him up just needs to be good to average.

One thing to consider, however, is that Talbot is still trying to establish himself as a legitimate starter and needs a new contract for next season. The Oilers cannot negotiate anything with him until January 1, 2016, giving Talbot only a few months to prove his value and lock down that number one spot. An impending contract negotiation, along with a capable backup that should push for minutes, is more than enough motivation for Talbot to perform well.

A quick glance at the candidates:

Based on training camp alone, you'd have to give the nod to Nilsson. He hasn't allowed a single goal, but he's been playing against some very, very weak competition. He has a good track record in the KHL, so we should consider that, but it's worth noting that the team he was on has a history of strong goaltending.

If you look at the training camp as well as previous experience, Scrivens should get strong consideration. He had a horrible year last season, no question, but his history in the AHL, and his experience in Toronto and LA indicate that he's a very capable back up. His training camp hasn't been awful either. It just hasn't drawn as much attention as Nilsson's.

Now, regardless of who the Oilers pick, the most important thing is that they pick someone. A three-goalie carousel has never (ever) worked, and should not be employed anytime soon. McLellan himself has typically had one goalie that played a bulk of the minutes (Nabokov from 2008-2010 and Niemi from 2010-2015), with a capable backup who could step in as needed.

San Jose Sharks Goalie History
Season Starting Goalie % of Goalie TOI (ES)
2008/09 E. Nabokov 74.4%
2009/10 E. Nabokov 85.1%
2010/11 A. Niemi 72.0%
2011/12 A. Niemi 79.3%
2012/13 A. Niemi 88.1%
2013/14 A. Niemi 74.5%
2014/15 A. Niemi 72.4%

It's worth noting that in Niemi's first season as a Shark, he played 72.0% of the total goalie minutes (at even-strength), which is the lowest proportion of minutes a starting goalie has played with McLellan behind the bench. Niemi had only 64 NHL starts under his belt (along with a cup ring) going into the 2010/11 season making him a bit of a risky acquisition, To ease him in, and possibly to create some healthy competition, McLellan only gave him 60 starts, handing a good chunk of minutes to a very capable Antero.Niittymaki.

Considering the fact that Talbot has only started 53 NHL games up to this point, McLellan might just do the same thing with him, and hand a number of starts to whoever lands that backup position. The selected goalie will also impact the contract negotiations with Talbot, who's hoping to establish himself as the number one goalie in a very short time period. It's never a wise move to hand a heavy contract to a goalie, so having a capable backup can keep the contract demands in check and hopefully secure a team-friendly contract.