Has anybody had as bad a season as Devan Dubnyk?
Think about it. In October, Dubnyk was the No. 1 goalie for an Edmonton Oilers team that optimists believed was poised for a breakout. Maybe not necessarily as a playoff team and probably not as a home-ice advantage team in the playoffs. But under new coach Dallas Eakins the Oilers were at the very least expected to get out of the low-end of the draft lottery.
As a pending UFA, Dubnyk also had the opportunity to earn an extension with the Oilers and become a key piece of a young team stacked with potential. Why not? In 2012-13, Dubnyk posted a .920 save percentage that was ninth-best of all goalies who played in at least 30 of the 48 games. The year before he was at .914 and before that he was at .916. These performances are on par with good NHL starters.
But it immediately went wrong. Dubnyk lost his first five starts, allowing 22 goals in that span for a disastrous .854 save percentage. This is the very first goal he let in this year. It was a weak one and it was a bad omen.
It got so bad the Oilers had to bring Ilya Bryzgalov in to try and stop the bleeding. Ilya Bryzgalov, the guy the perpetually weak-in-net Flyers paid $23 million to go away.
And as the wheels of the Oilers season melted away, so too did Dubnyk’s future with the team – and possibly his future as an NHLer as well. On Jan. 15, he was traded to the Nashville Predators for grinder Matt Hendricks. The trade was consummated three days after Dubnyk’s last start as an Oiler, a 5-3 loss to Chicago. It was the seventh time this season Dubnyk had allowed at least five goals against. On the same day, the Oilers acquired backup Ben Scrivens from Los Angeles to replace Dubnyk on the depth chart.
So Dubnyk landed with the defense-first Predators, a team that you’d think any NHL-caliber starter would do well with. But Dubnyk only got two starts. He lost both of them and allowed a combined nine goals against.
Today, as Pekka Rinne prepares for his return from injury, Dubnyk was waived by the Predators. This demotion news came on the same day Dubnyk’s former team, the Oilers, extended Scrivens for two years with a $2.3 million cap hit.
What’s next for Dubnyk? At only 27 years old, he still has time to get his big league career on track if he reacts positively and commits himself to improvement. In fact, there are a few recent examples of left-for-dead goalies who were reclaimed as starters in the NHL.
Mike Smith, for one, was discarded by Tampa Bay after seasons with back-to-back save percentages of .900 and .899. He landed in Phoenix’s suffocating system, posted a .930 SP right away, and was named to Team Canada for the Sochi Olympics.
Brian Elliott didn’t stand out in Ottawa and took a terrible step back in Colorado, but he too found a home in a tight checking system with St. Louis. He may not have the complete confidence of a team that just traded for Ryan Miller, but his numbers have never been better than they have been the past three years.
It seems Dubnyk needs to fall into the perfect system, likely in a tandem role, if not as an outright backup, before he can even think about returning with the promise and potential he had as recently as October. Easier said than done.
In October, Dubnyk was in complete control of his NHL destiny. If all went according to plan, the Oilers would be in a playoff spot, Dubnyk would be a top-15 netminder by save percentage and he would earn a four or five year extension from the Oilers at good money.
But five months later, it’s all gone and Dubnyk’s future in the NHL has to be in doubt.
Has anybody had as bad a season as Dubnyk?
Given everything he’s lost in five months, the answer is a clear and very loud “no.” Barring a catastrophic injury, it can’t get much worse than this for a professional hockey player.