Oilers' race for backup goalie job up in the air with Khabibulin back

GYI0060076660-deslauriers-petersen-getty.jpgWith the reemergence of Nikolai Khabibulin in Edmonton, much in part thanks to him filing an appeal on his drunk driving conviction, the future of Jeff Deslauriers or Devan Dubnyk hangs in the balance. The role to be the backup goalie to Khabibulin is up for grabs and while both Deslauriers and Dubnyk did what they could last season while Khabibulin was out with a back injury, neither showed that they were ready to be “the man” as the interim starter.

Now it’s between those two again in the preseason and neither player has shown that they’ve got the edge on the job. Not even the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson could get Oilers coach Tom Renney to tip his hand.

Do the Oilers want a goalie who can be a solid backup to Khabibulin, who might only play 55 games? Or do they want a player who can be a No. 1, in time, because by the time the team gets really good as their young players develop, Khabibulin probably won’t be here?

“I think if you’ve got both (platforms) it’s best, but you do need a goalie who’s going to grow into the No. 1 role. Khabibulin won’t play forever,” said Renney. “I do believe we have some other goalie prospects (Olivier Roy) in the system. That said, whoever emerges, should be capable of taking the reins and running with it.”

Renney said he hasn’t tried to form an opinion, coming into camp, on which guy he likes best. But when you play as little as Deslauriers and Dubnyk are going to play in just six exhibition games this fall, the coach has to have some idea whom he likes best, doesn’t he?

“I’m trying not to do that. Look at the year we had last season. Is it fair to evaluate anybody under those circumstances? Especially a goalie. I think a lot of people were exposed.

“I’m trying to operate with a blank page,” said Renney.

Whoever loses the job will likely get sent to Oklahoma City in the AHL but they’ll have to go through waivers first. Matheson believes that Dubnyk is the favorite to win the job only because Deslauriers is more marketable to other teams to be traded. Sending him through waivers could lead to the Oilers just losing him without compensation.

What’s making one of these two all the more expendable is Martin Gerber’s presence in the system. With Gerber returning to the NHL/AHL this year, keeping both Dubnyk and Deslauriers makes no sense. After all, you don’t want to spend an extra roster spot at the NHL level for a third goalie and having two NHL-experienced goalies in the AHL crushes the team’s development of younger players.

Gerber makes for an instantly solid call-up from the AHL if Khabibulin gets re-injured or if his appeal is heard mid-season sending him to jail for a month. Gerber is more experienced and provides a bit more consistency than the younger pair fighting for a job now. That’s a lot of presumption there on my part, but like with the Oilers, they too know they’ve got to be ready for anything this season.

(Photo: Christian Petersen – Getty Images)

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    Fisher also contacted by Canada for Olympics along with Doan, Iginla

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    Add Mike Fisher to the list of veteran free agents who’ve at least been contacted to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

    Hockey Canada VP of hockey operations Scott Salmond revealed as much to TSN 1040 on Thursday while also noting their interest in Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

    “As Hockey Canada we have tremendous respect for all of those players,” Salmond said. “There’s no question that their leadership and their experience could be invaluable to our team.”

    (Read more about Canada contacting Doan and Iginla specifically in this post.)

    Fisher, 37, shares certain similarities with Doan and Iginla. All three players have captained NHL teams, each brings a mixture of scoring ability and grit to the table, and they all obviously have plenty of experience.

    Pending talks with Nashville

    On the other hand, there are a few potential differences that make Fisher’s case interesting.

    For one thing, Fisher hasn’t decided – or hasn’t shared his decision – regarding a return to the Nashville Predators just yet. That choice is expected to come sometime next week.

    The thing is, Fisher at least has some say in that matter, as he might make the choice not to come back. In the cases of Doan and Iginla, they might struggle to find suitors in free agency (or at least find suitors willing to give them the specific deals they seek).

    A first for Fisher?

    While that might hurt Canada’s chances, there’s another wrinkle: Fisher hasn’t really gotten “the call” quite like Doan or Iginla have. Fisher hasn’t ever suited up for Canada in the Olympics and, according to Hockey Reference, hasn’t suited up for Canada since the 2009 World Championships.

    Perhaps that rare opportunity might trump playing another season in the NHL? A few weeks of international hockey wouldn’t represent the same wear-and-tear as playing through an 82-game season.

    (There’s also at least the concept of playing in the Olympics and then trying to find a deal with the Predators, however unlikely that might be.)

    While Doan and especially Iginla stand as bigger names, you could make a very reasonable argument that Fisher actually has more left in the tank. He’s also a center, which Canada might deem a lacking position heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

    For all we know, none of these three forwards will bite at the opportunity. This seems like one of those creative ideas that might not work out.

    It’s easy to see why Canada’s reps would at least get the conversation going, and Fisher might just be the best target to aim for.

    Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

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    The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

    The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

    Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

    2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
    2016-17: seven points in 36 games

    He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

    Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

    Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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    Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

    However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

    Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

    “On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

    Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

    Related

    Markov, Habs officially part ways.

    Markov is headed to the KHL.

    Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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    The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

    The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

    Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

    He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

    Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.