Since arriving from Los Angeles, Ben Scrivens has captured the heart of hockey in Edmonton and he’s provided the Oilers with some long lost stability between the pipes.
The Spruce Grove, Alberta native went undrafted in his draft year and has risen from the Junior ranks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) to become the starting goalie of his hometown Edmonton Oilers. Scrivens, 27, has become a symbolic entity in an Albertan culture of honest hard work and perseverance, a spirit that has been embraced and has cheered up his entry onto the ice each game at Rexall Place.
— TheAJHL (@TheAJHL) April 2, 2014
Since Fuhr & Ranford
Since the glory days of the 1980′s when the Oilers won five Stanley Cups in 7 seasons with Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford providing a strong net presence, the Oilers have struggled to find a long-term goaltending solution – especially after Ranford was traded on January 11, 1996 for Sean Brown, Mariusz Czerkawski and a 1st round draft pick that then-General Manager Glen Sather would turn into Matthieu Descoteaux.
Sure Ranford was made expendable after the rise of Curtis Joesph, but Joesph left the Oilers as a free agent signing in Toronto upon the conclusion of the 1998 season. Joseph was Edmonton’s last superstar goaltender and in the prime of his career led the Oilers in first round upsets of the late 90′s powerhouse teams in Dallas and Colorado.
With Joesph gone, the Oilers acquired a young Swede playing for the New York Islanders named Tommy Salo for forward Mats Lindgren and an eighth round selection that the Islanders would turn into defenseman Radek Martinek. Salo rose to the occasion and was a strong regular season goaltender but struggled in the playoffs as the talented Oilers teams of the late 1990′s featuring Doug Weight, Ryan Smyth, Bill Guerin and Mike Grier never made it past the first round – seemingly losing to the Dallas Stars every year.
After Salo was traded at the 2004 trade deadline for defenseman Tom Gilbert, the Oilers bounced between Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen before another trade deadline deal that brought in Dwayne Roloson. Roloson would go on to capture the heart of Edmonton as the 36-year-old would lead the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup final in over 16 years. After an unfortunate incident involving Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrew Ladd and then-Oilers defender Marc-Andre Bergeron, Roloson would exit Game 1 of the 2006 finals with the game tied. Conklin would relieve Roloson but not before a miscue behind the Oiler net allowed Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour to score on an open net. The Oilers would ultimately give the net to the third string Jussi Markkanen who after stumbling in a 5-0 loss in game 2, would capture the spirits of Oil Country as his heroics got the Oilers within one win of hockey’s ultimate prize.
Roloson would return in goal for the next four seasons but never quite captured the magic of his 2006 run as the Oilers crumbled around him. Gone were the playoff heroics of Chris Pronger who demanded a trade out of Edmonton as was the supporting cast of misfits. Finally Roloson, undeserving of being shelled in the Edmonton goal, moved on as a free agent in the summer of 2009 when he signed with the Islanders. Roloson would go on to capture lightning in a bottle once again with the Tampa Bay Lightning (no pun intended) at the ripe old age of 42 but fall short in game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. The last high of a journeyman career.
Life after Roloson
With Roloson gone the Oilers moved on to a battle between their top goaltending prospects at the time – Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk – with Deslauriers originally winning the goaltending battle between the two prospects, albeit momentarily. With Nikolai Khabibulin arriving on scene with a new $15M 4 year deal, Deslauriers would win the backup job in his training camp battle, but with Khabibulin being shut down for the season with a back injury, Deslauriers would become the Oilers defacto starter and struggled in 48 games posting only 16 wins in 2009-10 with a 3.34 GAA 0.901 SV% stat line.
Dubnyk would finally get the better of Deslauriers the following year in training camp as Martin Gerber was also brought in to compete for the Oilers backup position. Deslauriers was originally projected to be an Oilers starting goalie when he was drafted 31st overall in 2002, but would struggle to adjust to the pro level. He would eventually leave the organization to little fan fair in 2011 as a free agent when he signed with the Anaheim Ducks. Dubnyk would go on to battle Khabibulin for playing time after most of Khabibulin’s time with the Oilers was spent injured.
The former 14th overall selection in 2004, Dubnyk posted solid numbers in his first three seasons competing with Khabibulin for the starting postion. From 2011-2013, Dubnyk would post a 2.65GAA and a .916SV% in 120 games in the Oilers net. With Khabibulin on his way out, Dubnyk was promptly signed to a market value bridge contract. Tuukka Rask was used as a bridge example and Dubnyk re-signed for $3.5M per season on a two-year deal. As history would go on, although the numbers were promising, Dubnyk would struggle out of the gate in 2013-14 and fall well out of the playoff race in year they were supposed to make their first serious run at a spot since the rebuild.
Craig MacTavish would bring in Ilya Bryzgalov as a last ditch effort in saving the season to no avail. By December the Oilers season was no longer salvageable.
— TSN Radio (@TSN1050Radio) November 11, 2013
Although being 6-foot-6 and posting solid numbers on paper, Dubnyk struggled with consistency and never quite used his big frame – managing to look smaller in the net at times giving shooters plenty of space to score. Dubnyk’s fundamental game never developed as the scouting report projected it would be and the Oilers would again fail to develop another top goaltending prospect. Dubnyk would eventually be traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for forward Matt Hendricks who has been a boon for Oilers faithful. Dubnyk is now trying to restart his career in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Dubnyk gets the start tonight for the ‘Dogs. Beskorowany gets the nod for the @IceCaps.
— Hamilton Bulldogs (@BulldogsAHL) April 8, 2014
The Arrival of Scrivens
Then came the light on the dark skies of Edmonton on January 15th as the Oilers acquired Scrivens from the Los Angeles Kings for a 2014 3rd round pick. The once Cornell University standout had emerged onto the NHL scene originally as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marlies organization. It was with the Marlies that Scrivens would gain the respects of then-Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins.
A “Eakins Guy”, Scrivens has risen to the challenge this season with the Kings and now the Oilers. In late January, Scrivens would go on to record an NHL record 59 save shutout against the San Jose Sharks. With the Oilers he has recorded a 2.83 GAA along with a .923SV% in 16 games and is primed to take the reigns and run with them. Viktor Fasth was also brought in to be Scrivens counterpart with the obvious intention for the goaltenders to work in a platoon. Fasth has struggled in his time with the Oilers recording a 2.77 GAA and .899SV% in 4 starts.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Scrivens said. “Now the real work begins… It’s great to be here in Edmonton playing at home.” – Scrivens
The long term projection of where goaltender Ben Scrivens fits into the Oiler scene is still up in the air. As much as that is said, Scrivens has, at least in the short-term, provided the Oilers with a competent goaltender with a fiery spirit as seen by his actions after Edmonton’s latest jersey throwing incident.
Scrivens stood up to the media after his wife Jennifer was falsely and undeservedly lambasted for not being up for life in Edmonton, and has been the definition of character and perseverance.
With a new $4.6M 2-year deal starting in 2014-15, Scrivens could possibly double that number if he continues his play and be signed to a long-term deal in 2016 when Scrivens becomes a unrestricted free agent. Time will tell if Scrivens sticks with the Oilers, but after a small sample size the ball lies in his court.
So does the heart of Oil Country.