When it comes to goaltenders, the Oilers have not seen true stability at the position since Curtis Joseph left for Toronto in the 1998 offseason. Since then, Edmonton’s goaltenders have ranged from good (Dwayne Roloson) to passable (Tommy Salo) to terrible (Nikolai Khabibulin). Despite being part of the organization for nearly a decade, Devan Dubnyk’s position on this scale still seems to be up in the air.
The mere mention of Dubnyk’s name has led to an argument on many a forum thread. On the positive side, Devan has worked his way from ECHL goaltender to AHL regular to NHL backup to NHL starter, and has handled a tremendous amount of adversity on the way. It’s difficult for any player to spend years in a losing organization, let alone a goaltender, so the very fact that Dubnyk has managed to elevate his play over the past few seasons speaks volumes about his character. In the past four seasons, he has moved from a .889 save percentage as a backup to a .920 percentage as a starter, despite playing behind a woefully bad defense. Further, he exhibits excellent reflexes along with good net coverage, and his 6’5” frame is ideal for a goaltender in today’s NHL.
Yet Dubnyk has drawn much criticism for several other reasons. Most significantly, he seems to lack the mental toughness that truly great goaltenders need to succeed. Devan lets in far too many weak goals, and can break down at the most inopportune of times. Goaltending analysts such as Darren Pang have also targeted his lack of lateral mobility, arguing that other young goaltenders offer more upside.
Statistically, Dubnyk probably deserves neither gushing praise nor unrelenting criticism for his play. His even strength save percentage this season was .922, 19th among starting goaltenders. His statistics this year seem to be inflated by an unsustainably high penalty kill save percentage, so it would be inappropriate to suggest that Dubnyk has cemented himself as a reliable starter. Yet Dubnyk has managed to survive in front of several dreadful Oiler teams, so he may improve as the rest of his team does.
At this stage, Dubnyk is probably nothing better or worse than an average goaltender. The Oilers certainly have more pressing problems with their roster than the goaltending, so it is likely that MacTavish will wait to see if Dubnyk’s performance improves or regresses before making any drastic moves. While this continuous goaltending controversy is tiresome, it could be worse: we could be the Canucks.