By The Numbers - #35 Nikolai Khabibulin

About a month ago, I looked down the roster of the Edmonton Oilers, knowing full well that Nikolai Khabibulin’s number 35 was at least a month away in our By The Numbers series.

Today, it’s here.  Everybody take a deep breath, we’ll get through this one together.

Khabibulin - Photo courtesy cbc.ca

NAME:  Nikolai Ivanovich Khabibulin

DOB: 13 JAN 1973 (38)

POSITION:  Goaltender

NUMBERS:  10-32-4, 3.40 GAA, .890 SV% in 47 GP, 2 SO

2010-11 SALARY/CONTRACT – $3,750,000/year (signed in 2009), will be UFA July 1st 2013

THE SKINNY

There’s so much wrong with this situation, it hurts.

Rewind the tape fifteen years – the Winnipeg Jets were fighting for their franchise lives in 1995-96.  Teemu Selanne was jettisoned to Anaheim, Craig Muni was brought in from Buffalo.  If Winnipeg could just eek into the playoffs, it might just hold off the inevitable for a little while longer.  They got in, and they took the Detroit Red Wings to six games on the back of a hot ‘tender named Nikolai Khabibulin.  What fun it was rooting for that squad.

In the year 2011, we’ve got that goaltender starting the majority of our games.  And, unlike fine wine, age is usually not a professional athlete’s best friend.  Such is the case with Khabibulin.

I’m not going to try to spin it too much more than what it is already – Nikolai Khabibulin is a bad contract.  I’ve been on the buyout bandwagon for at least a year now.  Watching 24 year old Devan Dubnyk somehow get more wins than Khabibulin in a dozen less games is all I really need to see in order to make my decision on who should be starting in 2011-12. Never mind the 3.40 GAA, and certainly never mind the .890 SV%.

Khabibulin’s play has become erratic at best, and absolutely dreadful at worst.  The fact that a 36 year old goaltender who played adequately enough in Tampa Bay (and even less adequately in Chicago) was able to snag a four year contract that would pay him nearly four million dollars a season is absolutely mind numbing.  Add together the fact that Khabibulin missed most of 2009-10 (and parts of 2010-11) with a back injury, and this contract really starts to stink.  Want more mind numbing tidbits?

  • Even more mind numbing is the fact that Khabibulin’s deal is a 35+ contract.  The only way that Edmonton can get out of paying Khabibulin is to find a suitable (read:  high) trade partner, or by buying him out.  In the latter circumstance, the Oilers would end up paying 2/3 of his salary over four years (as well as absorbing his cap hit for the next two), but his contract would be up.  Applause.
  • Even more mind numbing is the fact that Edmonton could’ve had Dwayne Roloson for two years at around 1M per season at the end of 2008-2009.  Remember Dwayne Roloson?  Yeah, me too.  I heard he had a job in Tampa Bay this past year.

Oh.  I remember now.  Does he still want to play?

To add fuel to the fire, there’s that pesky DUI conviction that still hangs over his head in Arizona.  Convicted last summer, Khabibulin was sentenced to 30 days.  His attorney filed an appeal, and now here we stand.  What happens in a month?  Anything?

It’s bad all around.  And, up until at least April, Khabibulin was still the number one goaltender.  Will he be in October?  So long as he’s on the team and not incarcerated, I’d put the likelihood of that event occurring at well over 50%.   Management has invested a tonne of dough into this guy.  Unless he can’t be propped up by some broken chopsticks and a memory foam pillow, they’re going to ride with him.

IT’S NOT ALL KHABIBULIN’S FAULT

Saying the demise of the Oilers is all Khabiublin’s fault would be incorrect.  He’s been placed in a spot that’s tailor-made to fail.  Fail on.

There’s a huge gaffe on management’s part here – a terrible overpayment on a guaranteed contract for a guy that’s been injury prone for a significant portion of his career.  Add to the fact that he was 36 at the signing, and you’re just rolling for trouble.  There’s no getting out of the contract, and there’s an all but certain chance that the team will suffer when this guy’s in the net. 

Edmonton’s defence was certainly not the strongest in the league when the season began.  It certainly wasn’t any better once Ryan Whitney went down.  Anytime a guy like Whitney or Ladislav Smid misses a game, it’s Taylor Chorney who’s pulled up, or Strudwick is forced to eat more clock.  Things can get out of hand pretty quickly.  Lots of nights, they did.

WHAT COULD BE

I’m not going to speculate that any other squad would want to invest in the services of Nikolai Khabibulin at this point.  After discussing a potential buyout with some smart people on the Internets, I doubt he’ll be bought out at this point either.  Relax.  It’s only going to hurt for two more years.

44 GP, 12-25-5

3.47 GAA

.898 SV%

1 SO

Take a deep breath – we made it.

Next player – #40 Devan Dubnyk

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