Do we have to wait until the end of the regular season, or can we award Oiler MVP honors to goaltender Mathieu Garon right now?
The 30-year-old netminder was a second round draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1996 and after a highly decorated junior career bounced from the AHL to Montreal to Los Angeles before signing as an unrestricted free agent last summer to back up 2006 playoff hero Dwayne Roloson.
Garon recorded 31 wins with the Kings in 2005-06, but also had a 3.22 goals-against average and .894 save percentage; not exactly the caliber of stats you expect from a No. 1 goalie.
Despite improved numbers last season, the Kings opted to let Garon test free agency. He did and perhaps has saved the Oilers from a truly excruciating season in the process.
For starters, Garon is 9-0 in the shootout, by far the best mark in the league as the Oilers have gone 13-3 in the tie-breaking format this season. (Put another way, Edmonton is 16-30-2 in games that didn't make it to the shootout this year.)
While Roloson began 2007-08 as the undisputed No. 1, the veteran started slowly and coach Craig MacTavish began rotating his goalies by the end of October.
By the end of November, Garon had taken over and, for the first time in his NHL career, hasn't looked back.
Garon has taken the ball and run with it, establishing his No. 1 credentials while gently pushing aside the 38-year-old Roloson.
Edmonton has struggled this season, but Garon has been a rock. In his past 12 starts, he has surrendered more than three goals only once (while facing close to 35 shots per game). His 2.51 GAA isn't stellar, but considering the young, injury-ravaged blueline in front of him, it isn't half-bad. And his .918 save percentage is among the top 10 in the league, a true accomplishment.
All that for $1.2 million this season and Garon is under contract for $1 million in 2008-09.
If only GM Kevin Lowe could get that kind of bang for the buck from the rest of the Oilers – or even some of them – they'd be steaming towards another Stanley Cup final instead of another April-and-out.
This column also appears in Edmonton's Metro newspaper.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.