Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why the Oilers Don't Need Bryzgalov

The Edmonton Oilers didn't need to sign Ilya Bryzgalov, because goaltending isn't going to be make the slightest bit of difference for them this season.  And that's even assuming he is an upgrade on what the team currently has on the roster.

It is true that the Oilers have an abysmal team rate of .881 so far this season, with both incumbent starter Devan Dubnyk (.881) and backup Jason LaBarbera (.858) off to horrific starts.  As a result, goaltending has been the scapegoat in some corners for the team's early struggles.  While it is obvious that getting more saves would have led to more points in the standings, the reality is that the Oilers are a terrible team in a stacked division that probably wouldn't make the playoffs if they had prime Dominik Hasek tending the twine.

The bad news is that Edmonton currently has a a 44.9% score-tied Fenwick, indicating that they are being routinely dominated by their opposition.  The even worse news is that so far the team has played the majority of its schedule against the inferior Eastern Conference, going just 0-5-1 so far in games against Western Conference opponents.  The top five teams in the Pacific Division currently all have records of .600 or better, and are a combined 40-14-7 against the rest of the league.  If Metropolitan Division teams can run the Oilers off the ice, then it's going to be no contest against the heavyweights of the West.

Even though it is early, and some teams records are skewed based on their number of inter vs. intra-conference games, the wheat seems to already be separating out from the chaff in the Western Conference.  Unless you're a big believer in Winnipeg or Dallas, it looks like nine teams will probably be challenging for the eight spots, and the current 8th place team in points percentage is Los Angeles at .639 (and while the Kings just lost Jon Quick for a while, they have played a tough schedule made up of primarily Western Conference opponents).

For the Oilers to be in contention for a spot, they'd probably have to have a goal differential of something approaching the Kings' +8, a difficult proposition considering Edmonton ranks second-last in the Western Conference at 2.35 goals per game.  That implies a team save percentage of .930+, and that's not even taking into account the fact that the Oilers' shot ratio is skewed because they have spent so much time trailing (if their goaltending held them in games longer, the other team would be pouring even more rubber on net and pushing the required break-even save percentage even higher).

Look at Dallas and Montreal, two teams that have very similar offensive results to the Oilers so far, while also possessing above 50% score-tied Fenwick scores and elite goalies off to outstanding starts (Lehtonen .932, Price .933).  Despite all that, both teams currently sit 5th in their divisions, with Montreal slightly better off because they are currently in position to grab the wild card crossover spot.

Ilya Bryzgalov's career high seasonal save percentage is .921.  That came three years ago, when he was 30.  Bryzgalov does not seem like the type of the goalie who would age well, given that he relies more on a blocking style and does not have top-drawer athleticism and lateral movement.  He was shredded in the KHL during the lockout, put up a .905 over the past two seasons under the microscope in Philly, and will likely take a bit to play himself into game shape after spending most of this season waiting for the phone to ring.  In short, the best case scenario for what Bryzgalov can offer the Oilers isn't even remotely close to the elite range that they're going to need to turn things around, and even if Bryzgalov could hypothetically put up .930 goaltending the team is still sunk because of their slow start and tough division and questionable backup goaltending (although I do expect Dubnyk to re-discover his game as the season goes on).

Edmonton's season is already lost, and it's because their team is awful in all areas, not just goaltending.  Giving a declining goalie a look-see won't save anything, and if the goal is to look to the future I don't think a bad stretch of 14 games changes the fact that the 27-year old Dubnyk would seem to be a much better bet than the 33-year old Bryzgalov.  I don't see the urgency that prompted the move.  If the Oilers really wanted to solve their long-term goalie problems they should have either taken a run at one of the elite goalies who might be available through trade (someone like Ryan Miller) or waited until July to try to sign somebody.  Signing Bryzgalov is too little too late, and it would be better for Edmonton to get more information on Devan Dubnyk and give him a chance to re-prove himself than to hopefully lose slightly less often with another goalie who likely won't figure into the future of the franchise anyway.

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