Robin Brownlee posted something at OilersNation a little while ago that caught my attention, although I didn’t get around to writing anything about it at the time. The offending passages:
I don’t know about you, but from where I sit Jeff Deslauriers has pretty much shoved it up the backsides of his critics once and for all as to his ability to be a competent NHL starter during the 10 straight games he’s played since Nik Khabibulin’s back gave out because of wallet strain.
I’m not saying JDD is the second-coming of Martin Brodeur or has even done enough, yet, to indicate he can be a top-tier NHL starter, but he’s damn sure better than people who were citing his lack of pedigree and so-so minor pro numbers were projecting him as.
Hindsight being what it is, I’m guessing GM Steve Tambellini wouldn’t have handed Khabibulin his fat four-year retirement package had Deslauriers put together this kind of impressive streak last season. He didn’t of course, in large part because Craig MacTavish left him to rot behind Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon.
Again, clarity often only comes with time.
I don’t know how Brownlee determines that enough time has passed to form a conclusion – hilariously, shortly before that, he had a piece talking (quite rightly) about how players are perceived in wildly different fashions at various points in time and (less rightly) implying that whatever conclusions are drawn now are somehow the truth. His most recent piece on OilersNation is accompanied by a picture of a burning Christmas tree and seems to indicate his view that all is lost. It is, apparently, time to crack open each other’s heads and feast on the goo inside.
I was reminded of this whilst (I’ve been reading a lot of British stuff lately) reading a story about Steve Mason (not from the British press). The gist of it is this:
Before practice yesterday, coach Ken Hitchcock informed the club that Steve Mason no longer is the club’s undisputed No. 1 goaltender.
Mathieu Garon will start at 9 tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes. If he plays well, Garon will keep playing, too, not resort to the backup role he’s held up to this point.
“Win and you’re in,” Hitchcock said. “That’s just where we’re at now. If a guy wins, he gets to keep going.
This is not entirely surprising to me. In a particularly scattered post last summer, I made the following comment:
Even less tangentially related to this topic: Steve Mason posted a .939 save percentage through his first 23 games and .899 thereafter. I know he had mononucleiosis and such but that number should concern Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock. I wonder what kind of odds I could get on “Steve Mason plays at least 10 games in the AHL in 2009-10″.
In addition to the point that he’d kind of sucked after his first 23 games last year, I was taken with the fact that Mason didn’t really seem to have a spectacular pedigree and he was incredibly young – he set the record for games played by a twenty year old goaltender. He was a third round draft pick despite having a major junior career that consisted of twelve games to that point.
He went on to have a good year the following season, finishing sixth in the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage, right behind Oilers prospect Andrew Perugini (Jonathan Willis has a good piece on Perugini here. He followed that up with a fourth place finish in 2007-08, again right behind Perugini. The highlight of the season for him was probably winning gold with Team Canada at the WJC, which is certainly a noteworthy accomplishment for a goaltending prospect but no guarantee of future stardom.
It was only a fluke that saw Mason end up on the Jackets last year – Pascal Leclaire got injured, Mason came up and played well (at the beginning) and the Jackets ran with him. Mason ended up winning the Calder Trophy. As I mentioned above though, that was based on a nice little run at the beginning of his season. Over the past 69 games of his career, he’s been an .897 goaltender.
That does not necessarily mean that Mason isn’t cut out to be an NHL goaltender. He’s 21 years old; the expectations of 21 year old goalies in the NHL is historically that they will be fodder. The fact that he’s even close to being a replacement level goaltender in the NHL at the age of 21 is an accomplishment. What it does show is that because the difference between an elite goalie and a replacement level one is so fine – two extra saves on every hundred shots against – that it’s foolish to rely on small segments of performance in evaluating them.
Mason’s history indicated that he was a fine prospect, if not a prospect for the ages like Roberto Luongo. Young goaltenders virtually never experience success at the NHL level; in looking at his performance, the appropriate thing to do was to ask whether his track record supported the conclusion that that his play represented his true talent level at this point and, if not, take the appropriate steps to protect against the risk that it wasn’t. The Jackets, I would argue, did this by signing one of the better backup goaltenders available.
Brownlee’s suggestion that JDD “…has pretty much shoved it up the backsides of his critics once and for all as to his ability to be a competent NHL starter” on the basis of ten games is an absurd one. Unsurprisingly, since Brownlee wrote that piece, JDD has gone 1-3 with an .872 save percentage. Clarity might only come with time but you’re not going to get a lot clarity when you arrive at conclusions on the basis of the tiniest piece of the evidence possible. He may well be right that Tambellini wouldn’t have given Nikolai Khabibulin a four year deal if Deslauriers had played a respectable ten game streak in 2008-09 but it’s hardly reassuring to know that the Oilers GM most likely suffers from the same problems in assessing performance that Brownlee does.