Cross Checks: Craig MacTavish

Oilers' goalie competition heating up

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
10:47
AM ET
The Edmonton Oilers signing goalie Ilya Bryzgalov 10 days ago seems to have spurred on Devan Dubnyk's best stretch of the season.

Coincidence?

"We've talked about it," Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish told ESPN.com Monday. "Could it have a psychological impact? Could it have a motivational impact? Is it just pure coincidence? I'm coming down on the side of pure coincidence."

Dubnyk is slated to get the start again Tuesday night at home versus Columbus, coming off a 4-2 win Saturday at Calgary, but Bryzgalov will be sitting on the bench wearing an Edmonton uniform for the first time after his AHL call-up.

The goalie battle is now officially on in Edmonton.

[+] EnlargeDevan Dubnyk
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDevan Dubnyk has risen to the challenge -- real or imagined -- presented by the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov.
"Devan certainly had enough on the line going into the year that motivation wasn't going to be a problem," MacTavish continued, when asked about Bryzgalov's impact on Dubnyk. "If the signing did have some impetus to improve his play, how?

"Greater motivation? Afraid to lose the net? There was all of that, in spades, already. He's in the last year of a contract. There's plenty to motivate him. I really feel it's coincidence."

Still, having that battle in net, pushing each other -- that's precisely the point. It's why the Oilers tried to trade for Cory Schneider last June, to have another potential starter push Dubnyk. Now they have one in Bryzgalov.

"Yes, they can inspire one another and create that healthy competitiveness," MacTavish said.

Bryzgalov did make at least one Oilers debut Monday, with the Edmonton media, and he didn't disappoint. And it was certainly not without much deliberation that the Oilers' brass went ahead and signed Bryzgalov.

"It was a lengthy process because he was somewhat intriguing as early as the draft [last June]," MacTavish said.

In fact, both MacTavish and head coach Dallas Eakins spoke with Bryzgalov by phone right after he was bought out by the Flyers last summer. And in the weeks before his signing, there were lots of conversations before a decision was made.

"We did homework in terms of the character," MacTavish said. "You hear both ends of the spectrum. You heard people say, 'He's a good guy, he's not a problem, he's going to be very easy to work with.' Then you also heard, 'He's a terrible guy.' I've never seen this varied an opinion on a guy. Normally people focus in on the same conclusion. But this was quite different."

My TSN colleague Ryan Rishaug also reported Monday that Eakins reached out to Leafs coach Randy Carlyle to get a further read on Bryzgalov, with Carlyle having coached him in Anaheim. In the end, the Oilers were comforted by what they heard from the man himself.

"He gave me the right answers to some of the harder questions we asked him," MacTavish said of Bryzgalov.

The day before Edmonton's afternoon game at Philadelphia, Eakins and Oilers executive Scott Howson visited with Bryzgalov and his family at his home in the Philly area. Hours later, the verbal agreement was announced by the Oilers.

And really, what is there to lose for Edmonton? It's only a one-year deal, so if things go off the rails, Bryzgalov is out the door June 30. Also, has anyone looked at the standings lately? The Oilers are just 5-15-2 on the season, dead last in the Pacific Division.

There are still issues with the Oilers' roster, no question. The blue line needs help and MacTavish will undoubtedly continue to scour the trade market looking for upgrades there. Frankly, you can make the argument that defense has been a bigger problem than goaltending.

But as far as Bryzgalov, it made sense.

"These are the 'yes' factors: He's going to be highly motivated, he's got a history of having a high-level game and he's on a short-term contract," MacTavish said. "Plus, it didn't cost us anything but the contract to get him, we didn't have to spend the assets to trade for a goalie. The downside was not much at this point."

If all goes well, it's a neat script.

"Everybody likes an underdog story, and he can quickly get into that position here," MacTavish said. "He's a colorful character. If he plays well, he's got a chance to really resurrect his image and his game. There's a lot on the line. It probably won't be seamless, but he's got a chance."

The Senators have issues

Blanked at home by Philadelphia, a stirring comeback win over Boston, followed by a clunker Sunday against Columbus.

Will the real Ottawa Senators please stand up?

The inconsistencies that have plagued the team since the beginning of the season continue.

"We can't start games, to begin with," Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Monday. "We don't move the puck nearly as well as I thought we did last year. We're not playing with the same energy. We played hard every night last year. We've kind of lost that identity right now."

The Senators have given up the opening goal in 14 of their 20 games heading into Tuesday night's game at Philadelphia. It's tough enough to win in this league without having to play from behind all the time.

Would a trade help cure things?

"I've talked to a few teams, and a few teams have called me, but there's nothing [imminent]," Murray said.

The GM says mostly what's being offered are contracts with heftier salaries than what's wanted in return. So the money doesn't work. But all things being equal, the Sens would be interested in a puck-moving defenseman.

In the meantime, the answers have to come from within.

"I think we have a good enough team to be competitive," Murray said. "I don’t know that we're world champions or anything like that but we've got a good team, we've got a core of young guys, we've got pretty good depth in the minors if we have to go there."

The Flames' plan

Nobody expected the Calgary Flames to vie for a playoff spot this season, but the internal expectation is at least to compete night in and night out as the rebuild continues.

So the recent free fall, a 3-11-1 stretch before Monday night's shootout win at Winnipeg, isn't acceptable to management. The question is, what's the plan moving forward this season?

First, the Flames have massive cap space with the 27th-ranked payroll, and unlike most of the few other teams with cap space, Calgary has the financial muscle to use it.

So the hope with the Flames is that at some point, cap-strung contenders are going to come calling with an offer to help alleviate their issues. That's when the Flames want to jump at their chance. Can they glean a first-round pick or a top prospect in exchange for helping to fix another team's cap issues via picking up an anchor contract?

That's the hope for the Flames between now and the March 5 trade deadline: Use their financial maneuvering room to gain future assets.

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