When the Edmonton Oilers return to the ice Thursday for their final 22 games of the season, there will be more questions than answers surrounding their roster.
The Oilers have nine unrestricted free agents to deal with, including four defencemen and both goaltenders. Three other defencemen, including Justin Schultz, are restricted free agents.
Probably the most delicate situation involves goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Ilya Bryzgalov, neither of whom were with the team to start the season. At age 34, Bryzgalov would not appear to be the goalie of the future. That means the coaching staff will likely be taking a hard look over the final six weeks of the season at 27-year-old Scrivens, obtained from the Los Angeles Kings five weeks ago.
Head coach Dallas Eakins said Wednesday both have played well, both get along well and for him it’s a great situation.
“You have two goalies who are going to be looking for contracts, I believe they both like the situation and the opportunity that is here and you want that competition,” said Eakins. “You want them to push each other and that’s how your team gets better.”
And it isn’t just about Scrivens, he said.
“Both guys are unrestricted free agents,” he said. “We’re looking for goalies. Maybe both of them are going to be part of the solution but it’s important for both to go out and play well.
“Bryzgalov has been a No. 1 in the past and I think he still has the potential to do that. Ben’s numbers line up. He’s a confident kid. He wants to show the National Hockey League he’s ready to be a No. 1.”
General manager Craig MacTavish said he was impressed with the play of both goalies in the weeks before the Olympic break and the “simple assumption” is that Scrivens will continue to improve.
“You analyze where Ben is at this time, what his age is, what his skill level is and what his level opportunity has been,” MacTavish said. “There wasn’t a lot of downside to bringing in a guy like Ben and giving him an opportunity he wasn’t going to get in LA. He’s done an incredibly good job in the six games he’s played so far.”
Before offering him a long-term contract, however, MacTavish wants to see more of Scrivens who has played only 57 NHL games so far and sports impressive statistics — 1.98 GAA and .937 save percentage.
The Oilers thought Devan Dubnyk was their goalie of the future after three years as backup but when handed the starting job this season he didn’t come through. His save percentage fell from .920 last season to .894 and his GAA went from 2.57 to 3.36 in 32 games this year before being dealt to Nashville.
For his part, Scrivens, 3-3-0 with the Oilers with a 2.01 GAA and .948 save percentage, isn’t getting too concerned about the situation.
“It’s kind of in the back of my head but it’s out of my control so I just want to play,” he said. “I like it here. Everyone wants to play in their hometown for sure but it’s about what’s best for me and my family.
“I guess it comes to the point where you’re the best option for the team, where you get an asterisk beside your name” as the No. 1 goalie.
The Oilers have struggled with goaltending since the 2005-06 season when Dwayne Roloson was picked up and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup final. Since then, they’re missed the playoffs every year and will do so again this season.