James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Devan Dubnyk's Big Break

Thursday, January 16, 2014

If you asked me to list the unluckiest goalies of the 2013-14 season before Jan. 15, I’d bet that Devan Dubnyk, Ben Scrivens and Pekka Rinne would figure into the top five. That list would look a little different after Wednesday’s whirlwind,* however, especially for the man I occasionally call DD.


Things are, in fact, different enough that I will postpone my division-by-division outlooks for at least a day.**


Let’s take a look at the goalies and teams who were affected by yesterday’s round of goalie musical chairs. Before I do that, let me throw out the most urgent bit of advice in case you’re in a league with other Dose readers but you’re also the early bird: add Devan Dubnyk now. Just do it.


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In a vacuum, Nashville Predators GM David Poile hit a home run by trading Matt Hendricks’ baffling contract (which he handed out not that long ago) for Devan Dubnyk. The fact that he was able to swindle the Edmonton Oilers into covering a big chunk of DD’s salary only makes a lopsided trade look hilarious. It also shows the gap between the absolutely, positively putrid (the Oilers and their management) and the questionable but at least fairly competent (the Predators and their management).


Context makes this situation a little more frustrating, though, as this deal gets downgraded from “moon shot” to “base hit” because it happened in January 2014 instead of, say, November 2013.


It makes me think back to a funny and under-reported/insufficiently mocked comment Poile made about Bobby Ryan, as the American GM compared the perennial 30-goal scorer to the hare in the old tortoise and the hare fable. There’s no doubt in my mind that Poile believes himself and his Predators to be that hare; I bet he’d get a tattoo of such if he was the tattoo-sporting type.


Well, here’s the problem: the Western Conference is a much different race and Poile has been caught sleeping for far too long. Sports Club Stats gives the Predators a 2.1 percent chance of making the playoffs as of today and as much as Poile would like to act like a victim of circumstance with Rinne’s troubling hip issues, it’s not as if Rinne suffered that issue in-season. When a $7 million player gets offseason surgery, and he’s one of two guys who can fill that position (and the only one during game action) … maybe you should buy a little insurance, shouldn’t you?


Instead, Poile basically decided to buy goaltending lottery tickets, which doesn’t seem like a very “tortoise” thing to do.




Specifically, Poile stuck with two inexperienced goalies and suffered the predictably bad results, but here’s the wrinkle that should perk your ears up: this could all make Devan Dubnyk look like gold. Heck, he even has an inch in height on Rinne, so you know he’ll meet the Predators’ obviously urgent “Must be tall enough to be a small forward in the NBA” goalie requirement.


This Dose contains the longer version of my defense of Devan Dubnyk, but in a nutshell, he occasionally put up the kind of numbers that made him a potential diamond in the rough in Edmonton. Considering the fact that he’s fighting for his career as an unrestricted free agent and the Predators are obviously desperate to make a surge toward the playoffs, I think Dubnyk could pay off for fantasy owners even more than he might for the Predators.


Think of it as this formula: goalie who could be better than we think + traditionally strong defensive team + serious motivation from everyone to win = profit.


He’s only owned in 37 percent of Yahoo leagues, so there’s a good chance you can drop your dead weight (aka your Matt Hendricks***) for Dubnyk. So do it. (Forces your hand to the mouse, gets kind of weird about it.)




While Dubnyk is the fantasy equivalent of Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places,” Ben Scrivens’ luck is a little more grounded in the harsh realities of the business. I mean, even his wife isn’t happy.


As much as I feel bad for Dubnyk, he at least received ample opportunities to prove himself. Scrivens went from playing for Toronto on Jan. 19, 2013 to playing triumphantly for Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles only to be out-triumphed by Martin Jones to being traded to a very tough situation in Edmonton. I’m not sure he ever really got a fair shake.


My guess is that the Oilers aren’t happy with Ilya Bryzgalov, so the top job may, in fact, be Scrivens’ to win. If nothing else, their already-embattled head coach Dallas Eakins saw him excel for the Toronto Marlies. That’s positive stuff, but it doesn’t change the fact that Scrivens now has to play behind a poor defense in a franchise that is deeply dysfunctional.


All the sneaky-good work he’s done (.917 save percentage for his career in the NHL, very strong work in the AHL) could be greatly hindered thanks to issues that have very little to do with him. That’s a tough break, too, because Scrivens is battling for a free agent contract just like Dubnyk.




The hare in this story isn’t Bobby Ryan, it’s Oilers GM Craig MacTavish. While I like a lot of the things the helmet-hating executive has done (I thought he fleeced the St. Louis Blues for David Perron, but that’s worked out even better than expected,) he’s shown how antsy and reckless NHL teams can get with goalies.


Instead of grabbing Scrivens for that third-rounder and merely burying Dubnyk in the minors, he took on a bad contract and paid to give DD away. Weird.


The worst part is that he didn’t get a defenseman from Nashville to do so. Ryan Ellis wouldn’t save the universe there, but Edmonton could use him far more than a grinder. *** Remember when the Maple Leafs grabbed a nice asset in Cody Franson to take on Nashville’s bad contract (Matthew Lombardi) of that time? MacTavish failed to duplicate those results.


I wouldn’t add Scrivens unless you’re in a really deep league and are desperate for any warm body in net, but I’m pulling for the guy. At minimum, he’s proven that he can be a strong backup in the NHL, yet he’s been thrown around like he’s a replacement-level journeyman. Sadly, the Oilers might doom him to the life of such a goalie.


If you don’t believe in the impact of a goalie’s supporting cast, consider this: I would have been hugely pro-Scrivens if he was in Dubnyk shoes in Nashville.


After the jump: Mr. Jones counts Scrivens’ crows and Tom Sestito’s rage.


* I call it a whirlwind relative to the disappointing lack of trade activity so far this season. I’ve seen more swaps in leagues full of people who hate and/or distrust each other.


** - I provided that “unless something big happens” caveat on Tuesday thanks to the experience that comes from three seasons of writing those Dose in which it’s never wise to type anything up until the games are all over and the narratives have time to cement.


*** - For the record, Hendricks seems like a great dude. He’s just overpaid and inessential in the scheme of the NHL.


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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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