The Edmonton Oilers might be in even more trouble than we thought once the NHL lockout finally ends. The reason: Presumed starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk hasn’t caught on with another team in the meantime. While his plight is not unique (22 out of 30 presumed starting goalies are currently without a team to play for, according to the Edmonton Journal), this brings into stark focus the fact that unless something changes pretty quick here, Dubnyk will have to catch up on the fly once the next season starts, and that could be ugly to watch.
But if so many of the league’s goaltenders are without teams, why does this matter so much? In addition to the fact that a rusty goaltender is likely to be an ineffective goaltender, Edmonton’s blue line continues to be among the thinnest in the league. Outside of the rock solid Ladislav Smid, there are a number of question marks.
Jeff Petry improved by leaps and bounds last season and played beyond the organization’s wildest dreams for him, but can he continue this upward trajectory or was last season an aberration?
Justin Schultz? Boy howdy is he tearing things up in the AHL right now, leading the entire league with 18 points in 13 games, but he’s still working out the kinks as an actual defender, which is an area the Oilers need to improve in immediately.
Ryan Whitney? God knows the Oilers love him when he’s healthy, but how often will that be the case?
Nick Schultz is serviceable and was more than a good enough return in the Tom Gilbert trade with the Minnesota Wild last year, but he’s not going to strike much fear into the hearts of opponents’ forwards.
Corey Potter? Nice story last year and a help on the power play, but he might have hit his ceiling already and it’s pretty low to begin with. And again, not much of a defensive force.
Andy Sutton? He might as well be a pylon when he’s not serving out suspensions.
Taylor Fedun? This guy was coming out of nowhere to earn a spot on the 2011-2012 roster until the Wild’s Eric Nystrom broke Fedun’s right femur during the preseason, but he has yet to be promoted to Edmonton and it remains to be seen if he can progress beyond the AHL after coming back from such a devastating injury.
Theo Peckham? Colton Teubert? Cam Barker? Alex Plante? Are you seeing a trend here?
Despite these issues, though, there is good news for Oilers fans on two fronts. First, they have a completely unfair amount of offensive talent. The hope is that the time that Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and even Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen are spending together will results in gobs of goals being scored once the NHL starts playing again. Lord knows the Oilers will need all the scoring they can get.
But the second reason Oilers fans can be happy is that, as previously mentioned, more than two-thirds of the league’s netminders should be rusty too, so this might even the playing field a bit as Dubnyk tries to get back up to speed. An abbreviated and compressed season will likely favor younger netminders as well (Dubnyk is only 26), so this could play to his advantage once he has gotten into game shape.
If the 2012-2013 season ever happens, it will be interesting on a number of fronts, but for the Oilers it could be a return to high-scoring ‘80s-style Oilers hockey. Are you ready for defense-optional hockey, everyone?