Goaltending hasn't been kind to the Edmonton Oilers recently.
Over the past two seasons, they've had six different goalies take part in games. Make it seven with the acquisition of Ben Scrivens from the Los Angeles Kings.
Success or failure for Edmonton's latest spin of goaltender roulette won't be clear for a long time. At 20 points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, this season is a lost cause, and with Scrivens set to be an unrestricted free agent, the moves to get him and send Devan Dubnyk to the Nashville Predators represent another major gamble.
"They're in a state of flux right now with their goaltending system," said goalie analyst Justin Goldman, who contributes to NHL.com. "I think there's a ton of question marks not only currently what's going to happen moving forward, but what is their plan for next season? What's their plan for the next three or four years?"
That remains an unknown. For now, general manager Craig MacTavish plans to spend much of the final 30-plus games of the season evaluating Scrivens' chances of being part of the long-term plan.
"He's got a shot to come in here and really establish himself in the National Hockey League," MacTavish said Wednesday.
After the Oilers gave up a third-round pick for this test run, Scrivens figures to have the inside track on being in the mix in 2014-15. The free-agent market could strong if goalies like Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak and Jonas Hiller test the waters, and a trade is an option, but that could cost Edmonton either significantly more money or another asset.
Internal options aren't really available, unless Ilya Bryzgalov—also a free agent this summer—experiences something of a renaissance in concert or competition with Scrivens or Richard Bachman plays far beyond his current NHL experience.
Goldman pointed to Laurent Brossoit, whom the Oilers got from the Calgary Flames as part of the Ladislav Smid trade, as the one potential future No. 1 goaltender in the pipeline.
"I think he's a tremendous prospect," Goldman said. "He's not ready. In a couple of years, yeah, he absolutely could be, and he's got a proven track record in terms of the stats that he's posted in the WHL and some of the accolades that he's been able to notch in his belt there."
With the 20-year-old Brossoit still a ways away, the immediate spotlight is on Scrivens, who, in MacTavish's words, "caught everybody's attention" with strong play for the Kings in the absence of Jonathan Quick. Scrivens went 7-5-4 with a 1.97-goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 19 appearances.
But Scrivens is going from a Kings team with the best goals-against average in the league at 1.98 a game to an Oilers team with the worst at 3.51. Some of that can be blamed on Dubnyk, Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera, but team defence has been a problem in Edmonton.
"I think it's really tough to play behind that Oilers team," Goldman said. "Going from L.A. to Edmonton is drastic, drastic adjustment. It's going to be a big change, and it's really going to test him physically speaking and mentally speaking, as well."
Scrivens shied away from addressing the concern about playing for a team that has given up an NHL-worst 174 goals already this season.
"My concern isn't to analyze what guys are doing or what guys have done in the past," Scrivens told Edmonton radio station AM 630. "My job's to come in and try and stop as many pucks as I can."
Perhaps Scrivens' experience with the Toronto Maple Leafs will help. In 16 starts last season, Scrivens faced 32 or more shots nine times.
"The fact that he did go through that in Toronto does prepare him for what he may see in Edmonton," Goldman said. "But every organization brings different obstacles and different chemistry."
Goldman credited goaltending coach Frederic Chabot and assistant Sylvain Rodrigue for making the most out of some limited talent. He expects them to stress patience with Scrivens and preach containment so he can make more post-to-post saves and stop scoring chances down low.
If that works, Scrivens could be looking at a sizable raise from the US$550,000 he's making this season and potentially a long-term deal. The 27-year-old said he'll leave that up to management and his agent to worry about and control what he can in practice and games.
No doubt it is a worry, though, especially considering the Oilers' track record.
"They've just had so many different guys kind of come and go in the last three or four years," Goldman said. "They're obviously trying to find a solution."
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