Yesterday, the Predators off-loaded Matt Hendricks — one of the worst possession forwards on the team and a 32-year-old fourth-liner in the first year of a four year deal — to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for 27-year-old goalie Devan Dubnyk.
Dubnyk's numbers this year are, to put it gently, paltry: the former first-round pick has a .894 save percentage and a 3.36 goals against average while playing behind a bad Oilers team. The organization had soured on their starter and was clearly looking to make a change when Dubnyk hit free agency this summer.
But is Dubnyk better than this season's numbers suggest?
Tyler Dellow — whose work we've visited before — has blogged extensively about Dubnyk. He points to this table at Hockey Reference — goalies who started at least 100 games between 2011 and 2013, ranked by save percentage. In that period, Dubnyk posted a .917, right in the mushy middle of the pack. Not Pekka Rinne, sure, but, certainly "good." And that's playing behind, again, an Edmonton team that has been defensively woeful for some time.
See where Devan Dubnyk is? Right in the middle? Three years on a brutal team with people who seemed to be actively trying to light defensive zone fires and he’s right in the middle. Does he let in some goals that look bad at times? Absolutely. Here’s the thing though: as a guy who’s been doing this stats stuff for a decade or so, I’ve learned a few things. Here’s two of them: 1) All goals count the same on the scoreboard. Picassos or that guy who paints pictures of Jesus out of poop, it doesn’t matter. 2) Two games tells you nothing about a goalie.
Let me say this clearly: if you think Dubnyk’s a crappy goaltender based on the last three years, you are wrong. He stops pucks at a pretty league average rate for starting goalies. That is the job – it’s nothing to do with style points. He’s done that behind a poor defensive team – I’m not a believer in big score effects but I do believe they can be worth a few points of save percentage either way. He hasn’t had one of the league’s easy jobs.
Here's quick Q&A with Dellow in the aftermath of the trade:
NP: Some folks might look at this trade and say "A guy with a .894 save percentage and a 3.36 GAA sounds terrible and not much of an upgrade over Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec," but you've written it's your belief Dubnyk is probably league-average. Is there some evidence that this year is anomalous (and that he truly is league-average)?
Dellow: Goaltending's a bit of a funny position, in that an average player can stop pucks like he's Dominik Hasek or Hardy Astrom for 40 games. I expect Predator fans will remember Chris Mason posting a .925 and an .898 in consecutive years, followed by a .916 in St. Louis. As the position is so critical, there's a tendency to judge goalies on the basis of their most recent results. It's not a very good idea to do so.
In Dubnyk's case, he had three seasons before this one that suggested that he was a league average starting goaltender in the NHL. I'm inclined to take the fact that he was pretty good at stopping the puck before this season into account and assume that he didn't somehow forget how to do this over the summer.
NP: What accounts for his struggles this year? Is it bad luck? Is it bad play in front of him such that he might improve with better defencemen? Is this a situation where a chance elsewhere might bring him back to where he was?
Dellow: It's probably a mix of things. He hasn't played as well as he has in the past. He's had some miserable luck. And, while I'm generally skeptical of claims relating to shot quality, the Oilers seem to give up an extraordinary number of high quality chances. He's going to be an interesting data point in that debate - if he goes to Nashville and posts numbers that are much more like his past three seasons, it's probably a data point in support of that.
As far as softer issues go, it was pretty clear from about May of 2012 that the Oilers weren't sold on Dubnyk. It may be that that weighed on him a bit. He is also the tallest you can be without getting some exemptions from the NHL's rules on equipment size. There was some suspicion early in the season that the new equipment was making it harder for him.
NP: And finally, about the guy going the other way — even if the Oilers weren't going to re-sign Dubnyk, isn't taking on a 32-year-old fourth liner n the first year of a four year deal a big price to pay to get rid of him?
Dellow: Yep. To borrow a line from a friend, someone has to replace Ben Eager, I guess.