Edmonton Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini announced today that the Oilers have signed goaltender Martin Gerber to a one-year deal.
Sounds like a small deal, correct? It may seem that way at first, but this "small" deal makes an already complicated goaltending system in Edmonton even more confusing.
Gerber is coming to a team that now has four goaltenders who have NHL experience. Also playing for the Oilers are veteran keeper Nikolai Khabibulin and youngsters Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk. If you ask me, that is one crowded goal crease.
Change is on the horizon. Common sense would tell you that the Oilers will have to eliminate at least one goalie from this wild competition. It probably won't be Gerber, seeing as he was just signed, but a sign-and-trade is always an option. Let's look at the pros and cons of the other three.
Pros: Khabibulin is a goaltender with a load of experience and is a solid veteran presence in the locker room. Also, he is a solid mentor for the Oiler's young goaltenders. Khabibulin also has a playoff experience, owning a Stanley Cup ring from his time in Tampa Bay.
Cons: Khabibulin is 37 years old and has a contract that would keep him an Oiler for the next three years until he is 40. Edmonton also owes him $3,750,000 every year until then. He also is an injury concern. In January of 2010, he announced that he would be having surgery on a herniated disk in his back. That could be an ongoing problem that might trouble him for the rest of his career.
Also, "The Bulin Wall" could be facing jail time after being arrested and charged for a DUI incident in February 2010. His court appearance is continually being postponed, so depending on when it happens, he could miss at least 30 days of the NHL season. And that's not including possible suspensions.
Pros: Deslauriers, 26, is still young with a very bright future. He and Dubnyk split the work as starting goaltender last year after Khabibulin went down with an injury. For a season where he was unexpectedly thrust into work with almost no experience and the league's worst team playing in front of him, he actually did pretty well.
At times last season he showed great promise, but at times he also looked like a mediocre backup. This season will be a make or break year for him.
Cons: The young keeper still doesn't have very much NHL experience. He has only played 58 career NHL games, but that doesn't really matter if he would be playing backup to Gerber. On the other hand, what's to say that Gerber will be the starting goalie? He does have a two-way contract, something none of the other Oiler goalies have.
Some argue that the reason the Oilers were so bad last year was because of unstable goaltending. If that really is the case, then Deslauriers has nobody to blame but himself for his 16-28-7 record. He will have to improve this season if he wants to challenge for the No. 1 position.
Pros: Similar to Deslauriers, Dubnyk is also young with a bright future, but is two years younger than Deslauriers. He is signed for the next two years at just $800,000 per year. At 6'6", his size should help him thrive in his NHL career.
Cons: Dubnyk is a bit of a wild card. He was a little shaky last year, which resulted in Deslauriers getting more playing time. He has very little NHL experience, which makes it unlikely that he becomes the starting goalie for the Oilers in 2010-11. Also, his contract is one-way, so sending him to the AHL would make him available to other teams via waivers.
Now, what does all of this mean?
Khabibulin looks like the prime target to be bought out or traded. He is aging quickly and probably will not be able to help the team very much because of his injury concerns and possible jail time. Even if he doesn't miss NHL time, being in the slammer would mean he would miss valuable training and rehab for his back.
Dubnyk would look like a suspect to spend some more time in the minors, but the contract he recently signed is one-way. Would Edmonton be willing to take the risk of losing him on waivers for nothing? If he stays with the big club, Gerber would be a great mentor for him. He is more likely to be demoted than fellow youngster Jeff Deslauriers, simply because of his age and lack of NHL experience.
Deslauriers will probably stay with the Oilers for next year. He too would benefit from having the veteran presence of Martin Gerber around. JDD showed plenty of promise last year and I can't see how Oiler management wouldn't like that. Of course, that promise could also make him good trade bait. At just over a million dollars per year, he could be a steal.
Interestingly enough, Gerber's contract is two-way. Although he enjoyed success in Russia, he could spend his year in the minors.
Another intriguing name is Antti Niemi. The signing of Gerber almost douses any thought of Neimi signing with the Oilers, but you never know. Surely they don't need to deal with having five goalies under contract.
That's all the speculation I can make for today. The road to the 2010-11 NHL season should be an interesting one for the goaltenders of the Edmonton Oilers. Hold on, because this should be a wild ride.
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