Busy Friday for the Oilers, with more possibly to come. I’m going to talk about the Ilya Bryzgalov signing first. It’s likely to be a one year deal at reasonable bucks so it’s hard to get too worked up about it from that perspective. As it so happens, I’d been reading some of the caterwauling about Devan Dubnyk today and I happened to have put together a graph.
The graph shows the rolling ten game save percentages of the twenty goalies who played at least 100 games between 2010-13 with an overall save percentage of between .910 and .920. Those are basically your league average starting goalies right there. Dubnyk’s the big orange line and Bryzgalov’s the big blue line.
There’s a link to a larger version here. There’s not really anything you can draw from this except that league average goalies go through ten game streaks where they look elite and ten game streaks where they look like AHLers. That’s hockey.
My basic belief is that nobody can pick when a guy’s going to be good or bad or predict when a good or bad streak will end. It’s entirely possible I’m wrong but the NHL has historically been littered with goalies who were acquired for nothing and played great (Bryzgalov in Phoenix) or acquired for a lot and played awful (Bryzgalov in Philadelphia). If you assume that NHL types try to behave rationally, the only conclusion you can draw with respect to goalies is that they pay for differences that aren’t there or that they can’t consistently identify with any accuracy.
In the abstract, I don’t dislike this move. I’m fine with quirky people and if Dubnyk and Bryzgalov are the duo going forward, the Oilers have better goaltending than with a due of Jason Labarbera and Dubnyk. That being said, it’s hard not to conclude that the Oilers are reacting to a ten game stretch and, as much as I think they’ve got a smart group running things, I don’t believe that they, or anyone, have the capacity to tell too much based on ten games of goaltending.
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The trading of Ladislav Smid is a more difficult thing for me to suss out. The Oilers included Olivier Roy in the deal and got back Roman Horak and Laurent Brossoit. Horak’s a 22 year old centre who can’t make the Calgary Flames and Brossoit’s a goalie in the ECHL. I don’t read too much into the ECHL thing – the Flames needed to give Brossoit some starts and it makes sense to have a legitimate prospect getting starts, even if they’re in the ECHL. This is a sort of common thing in soccer – Joe Hart, currently England’s number one, spent time with Blackpool when they were in England’s third division – and I wholeheartedly approve of it. That being said, the guy was a sixth round draft pick and, well, goalies.
So it doesn’t really seem like a heck of a lot coming back to the Oilers for Ladislav Smid. You have to sort of feel for Smid a little bit because he’s yet another guy who’s learned an uncomfortable truth: taking a hometown discount and not getting an NTC is not a very savvy move. If Smid had been able to pick his team last summer, I doubt that he’d have picked Calgary and now he gets the pleasure of participating in their rebuild, which is about four years behind Edmonton’s, without the corresponding compensation of having received absolute top dollar for it.
On a certain level, I get this move. The Oilers have four defencemen who they probably rate in front of Smid: Anton Belov, Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference and Jeff Petry. Smid’s signed for four years. They wanted to make their goaltending better. They have more defencemen coming. It’s pretty easy to see how they conclude that Smid’s their 5D at the moment and that his spot on the depth chart doesn’t look likely to improve. If Smid’s on their third pairing, then they’re spending too much on him. That’d be the thinking, I suspect.
Of course, Smid’s probably a better bet to be a top four defenceman three or four years from now than Andrew Ference is. And if you’re under the salary cap, it really doesn’t matter what you’re spending on a specific position, until you want to re-allocate that money.
Two points of some interest, I think. First, there’s an interesting lesson in here about how salary dictates player value under this CBA. Surely, Smid could have returned a second round draft pick at last year’s trade deadline and quite possibly a first round pick. What the Oilers got is less than that.
A new contract, even a new contract that pays him less than he would have got as a UFA and his value shrinks dramatically. It’s not just a matter of finding someone who likes Smid, it’s a matter of finding someone with the salary cap room who sees him in their top four. It’s not enough that he’s a better defenceman than many; the price wipes him of any value.
There’s a soccer book called Soccernomics that talks about the cost of management churn. Part of the cost relates to a new manager coming in and wanting to get rid of some players and buy some new ones. The previous regime’s guys are sold at a loss and the cycle starts again. With Smid, the Oilers sold him now for less than they could have under the old regime.
The second point is really what this is all about. It’s a reallocation of resources. The Oilers made themselves thinner on defence in order to re-allocate some resources to goaltender. I’m skeptical that it makes sense – there will be injuries to the Oilers defence and I don’t think you can reasonably expect Bryzgalov to be any better than Dubnyk. You can probably reasonably expect him to be a bit of an upgrade on Labarbera and that’s nice but it’s a small difference.
Does any of this make the Oilers any better? I doubt it. Smid’s a housecleaning move, in that they don’t really see him in the long term plans, and the gain in the goaltending is small. Hopefully the additional roster spot and cap space is used well in 2014-17.
A final note on Smid: he took a lot of grief early in his career for reasons that probably weren’t fair – it wasn’t his fault that he was the less awful tangible part of the Pronger return in 2006-07 or that he was forced into a situation that he wasn’t prepared for. He became a decent defenceman, even if not what was envisioned. Over the years in Edmonton, he fought and blocked shots and (very occasionally) contributed some offence. Hopefully the Flames turn him into something else that doesn’t help their rebuild and he enjoys some team success in the future.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org