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

Sep 29, 2010, 12:01 AM EDT

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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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