In an alternative hockey universe, the Edmonton Oilers, led by the standout performance of their goaltender Devan Dubnyk, made a sizeable stride towards the playoffs in 2014-15 after 8 seasons of bottom of the league hockey... and of course, in this universe, the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Connor McDavid lottery.
However, the Edmonton Oilers had anything but a Dubnyk-like performance in net this season as they finished with a .888 save percentage. And as a result ended up finishing 28th overall, winning the draft lottery to secure their fourth 1st overall pick in six years.
If this was the NHL of the late 80's/early 90's, the Oilers goaltending had an average performance. But the NHL and goaltenders have evolved greatly into a much tighter and more efficient league than when the Oilers were raising Stanley Cup banners.
In fact, the Oilers goaltenders were so far from a Dubnyk-like performance that the team actually put up one of the worst performances in the last 24 seasons. While the Oilers .888 save percentage isn't the worst in the last 24 seasons - that record is held by the inaugural season ('92-'93) of the Ottawa Senators (.852) - it was the 7th worst when we adjust for the league-wide change in save percentages.
As you can see from the chart above, there has been a steady rise in save percentages in the NHL from .884 in 1990-91 to .911 this season.
If we overlay the Oilers save percentage we can get a better sense of how drastic the teams performance was compared to league average goaltending.
The difference between the two for the 2014-15 season puts the Oilers 0.023 below the average. While this may seem like a small amount, if the Oilers had league average goaltending their goal differential on the season would've been -26 compared to the -83, which is a difference of 57 goals on the season - a difference that would have likely put the Oilers lottery chances out of reach.
Here is a list of the 10 worst relative save percentage performances since 1990:
Interestingly, two of the teams worse that the Oilers in the above list occurred during those two teams inaugural NHL seasons (1992 Senators and 1999 Thrashers).
How much of the burden can be pinned on the goalies themselves vs. the team in front of the goaltender? This is a more difficult question to answer but the Oilers did themselves a solid this season by cutting down their shot attempts against per game (their fewest (30.05) since 2006-07), which is mainly in the control of the team in front of the goalie.
It's worth investigating further to see if we can better narrow down why there was a big drop in the performance of Ben Scrivens and Victor Fasth but regardless, the magnitude of the poor save percentage performance by these goalies can't be readily explained away by team in front, which has been consistent in front of goalies for the past 8 seasons (consistently bad).
But on the plus side, the Oilers have landed themselves a generational player in Connor McDavid. And now the search is on for a goalie who can provide much better numbers next season, which will do wonders along with Connor McDavid in turning the fortunes of the Oilers around.