I had a conversation with my 16 year old self the other day.
Jesse 2013: Hey.
Jesse 2004: Hey!
’13: Hey, so um, I’m not sure how to break this to you, but we’re definitely not on the same page.
’04: What do you mean?
’13: Well… this is about Tommy Salo.
’04: Oh! Yeah. Yeah of course, Tommy Salo, our favorite player ever. One of the best. Great guy. Humble, calm, doesn’t get shaken. Great goalie.
’13: Well… yeah I dunno man. I don’t know.
’04: Wait a second. You’re siding with the media aren’t you? You’re souring his reputation, just like all of them! It was just one goal man. There’s no way that you should lose to Belarus by one goal if you’re a country with a team like the one that Sweden had. How can you blame a guy–
’13: Here. Here. Hey. Here, let me show you something.
’13: In 2003-04, the average Even Strength Save % for goalies with a minimum of 10 GP was .920. Salo’s was .913, which was 42nd amongst goalies in that range. That’s a slightly above average backup goalie who was making $3.9 million, and whose play was declining year over year.
’04: He was one of the classiest players the Oilers have ever had, helping out in the community, never speaking poorly of poor teammates, and never speaking out against the media despite their dragging his name through the mud.
’13: Great guy. Just not great in the last few years of his time as an Oiler. They were right to trade him.
’04: How dare you.
’13: It’s true.
’04: I don’t want to live in a world where I become you.
’13: I’m sorry.
’04: I’m going to go cry while listening to Third Eye Blind.
I was a sensitive child. As a teenage hockey fan, I think it’s fair to say that I did not have the most objective opinion on the Oilers. I did not, however, take everything as it was given to me by the local media — I could tell that much and my distrust of the columnists of the sports section in the newspaper is the one thing that I feel as though I can be proud of about myself as a hockey fan at that age. The rest was largely based on anectodal perception on a game by game basis (or, as I’ve learned what prominent Oiler bloggers call “seen him good” evaluation). I’m coming to realize that there are more efficient, accurate ways to evaluate goaltender performance, namely Even Strength Save % (EV SV%). It weeds out the Shorthanded Save % (PK SV%) which is known to fluctuate wildly up and down with little predictability that might skew the overall SV% numbers. I like it.
The Oilers this year are set up quite nicely in goal. It is my personal belief that Devan Dubnyk is as good a goalie as you need to be successful in the league. His EV SV% this past year was .922, which is 22nd amongst goalies who played at least 20 games. His overall SV% was bouyed by an unsustainably high PK SV% (.907), but only two goalies in the entire league had a higher SV% while facing more shots than Dubnyk did (Lundqvist and Niemi). He’s certainly not elite, but he’s a soild starting goalie that is getting better every year.
The area that the Oilers made leaps and bounds this year is in their backup position. Securing Jason Labarbera at 1×1 is a great move. Labarbera has a .925 EV SV% in 15 GP last year, which is great, but which must be taken in its proper context. 15 GP is a small sample size (Nik Khabibulin has a .934 EV SV% in 12 GP), and has consistently proven himself to be a reliable backup. Khabibulin on the other hand, in 42 post-Christmas starts with the Oilers over 10-11 and 11-12 had an .880 SV% (thanks to Copper & Blue for that: http://www.coppernblue.com/2012/4/12/2943770/oilers-will-stick-with-nikolai-khabibulin-devan-dubnyk-in-2012-13).
Another important distinction is that Jason Labarbera is 33 years old while Nik played junior hockey with Clint Benedict.
Finally, the Oilers added third string goaltender Richard Bachman who is a solid fit for their starting position in OKC, and could fill in in a backup role in Edmonton should something happen.
Which brings me to my main point. Last year, the Oilers were one Devan Dubnyk groin pull away from having 40 year old Nik Khabibulin as their starter, with Yann Danis as a backup. Not every team can have a solid platoon approach where you’re doing fine even if you have one goalie go down. But for crying out loud, that is as risky as it gets as an NHL franchise. What a foolish way to run a hockey club. As it stands now, of course you wouldn’t want Dubnyk go down as your starter with an injury, but Labarbera could play a 10-15 game stretch with Bachman spotting in once or twice without the entire season going down the elevator shaft.
Slowly but surely, Craig MacTavish seems to be shoring up some depth on the roster. It doesn’t happen overnight, but he’s done well to get depth on defence and goal, as well as tinkering with the OKC lineup, providing the big league roster with some serviceable callups.
The last segment of this maiden voyage of a blog post is to basically outline what I’d like to do with this blog. I love hockey, I love the Oilers, and I’m developing an ever growing affection for some of the newer metrics that are coming to the forefront of the alternative, online hockey community. I am in no way an expert on “advanced” stats, nor was I ever very good at math, but I’m very interested in this sort of thing. This blog is sort of going to chronicle my ever-growing understanding of these possession and game-state percentage metrics. I’m 100% open to critique, discussion, and reasonable and civil argument, and in fact I would invite it in hopes of refining what understanding I do have of this stuff. The end goal, I guess, is to gain as accurate of a reading as possible of what is happening on the ice. Hope you enjoy reading.