Perhaps the biggest gamble made by Edmonton brass this fall came in net. Veteran Nikolai Khabibulin was naturally the No. 1 goaltender in the organization, but the 37-year-old was battling the physical toll of a life in hockey and was coming off a 2009-10 season that saw him limited to 18 appearances due to back surgery.
In his absence, rookies Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk were handed the keys and promptly spent their first year in the NHL getting shelled. It’s a wonder, then, that the Oilers went with the exact same strategy this season.
There is one minor twist, of course. Veteran Martin Gerber was signed in the off-season, but instead of making him Khabibulin’s backup — a role Gerber would be excellently suited for — the Swiss netminder was sent to the American League to backstop the fledgling Oklahoma City Barons. Dubnyk handled duties behind Khabibulin with the big club, but with the veteran down with a groin injury, the sophomore now ascends to No. 1, with Gerber as backup.
Now granted, Dubnyk did get his first win of the season against Anaheim on the weekend, withstanding a barrage of Ducks shots early on, but I’m not sure what good it does him or the franchise to once again have him thrust into the spotlight on a team that plays less than steady defence.
When Gerber was signed in August, it all made sense to me: Dubnyk and Deslauriers can get their confidence back in the AHL, while also challenging each other for time — a very healthy situation. But having Dubnyk up all season, playing in just six of the team’s first 19 games, doesn’t seem like an ideal learning environment. Gerber, on the other hand, has experience on bad teams — his last NHL foray (he played in Russia last season) came at the end of Toronto’s dismal 2008-09 campaign and he posted a winning record for those Maple Leafs.
Dubnyk is a project goaltender with intriguing size (he’s six-foot-five) and skill. Developing on the fly didn’t work last year and I’m not sure why it would this time around either.