As The Dust Clears

Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009 10:22PM

Flyers Canadiens Hockey

It's been better than a week now since free agency opened, and some things have become readily apparent.  Among them: there were more goalies on the market than there were spots for goalies.

Jim Matheson's article in the Journal today does a nice job looking at the few high-end players left on the free agent, and he gets a few nice quotes in on the predicament facing the man pictured above.  First, Matheson's take on the situation:

Goalies are under the biggest gun. There are only 30 NHL starters. Biron is faced with that sobering reality of doors slamming on him the longer he goes without a new deal. He may have to sign a greatly reduced contract off last year’s $3.5 million, and he might only get work as a backup.

Matheson also talked to player agent Steve Bartlett, who had this to say about the goaltending market:

“Biron’s a good goalie. I’m surprised he’s still there ... but obviously there is a limit to the number of jobs for goalies. There’s six or seven goalies still looking for work (Manny Fernandez, Martin Gerber, Kevin Weekes, Brent Johnson, Marc Denis, Joey McDonald).  Thank God I don’t have any goalies, and I can sleep well at night."

The implications of the above paragraphs to the Oilers are obvious.  There was mixed reaction when the Oilers signed 36-year old Nikolai Khabibulin to a four year contract for 3.75 MM per season - money that will remain marked against the Oilers' salary cap for the next four years, even if Khabibulin were to retire next season.  On the one hand, Khabibulin has won a Stanley Cup as a starter and is certainly a top-15 NHL goaltender when he's on his game.  On the other hand, his performance has been erratic since the NHL lockout - even prompting the Chicago Blackhawks to go out and sign Cristobal Huet last season.

Khabibulin isn't clearly ahead of the 31-year old Biron either, even at this point.  He's posted a .909 SV% and .919 SV% over the past two seasons, while Biron has put up .918 SV% and .915 SV% in Philadelphia.  In two, three, or four years, the picture is likely to be even muddier.

None of this is to say that Khabibulin won't be a quality starter with the Oilers; he had a good season last year, and I'd guess he delivers decent goaltending for at least the first half of his contract.  Compared to other goaltenders in his peer group, the dollar figure on Khabibulin's contract isn't even all that bad.

But given the market this summer, it would have been nice to see the Oilers try a little harder for a bargain, or at the very least not commit themselves to Khabibulin for so long a term - because if Khabibulin's play drops off, the Oilers are going to be over a barrel.  The Oilers certainly failed to take advantage of a (relatively rare) strong bargaining position - a position which has been evident for at least a month.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 roadrunner
July 11 2009, 05:55PM
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I was never sold on Roli. Him wandering behind the net all the time made me nervous. Defenseman right there to gather the puck and Roli has to handle it because he could. And that stupid baseball swing was too blatantly arrogant for a guy who got a chance to be a starter after being a career backup.

As for Khabi I repeat, he's got a Stanley Cup thats the only stat that needs pointing out. Sure he had a few bad years in Chicago after signing his big contract, but look at the team he had in front of him. He's a good signing for the money. Penners contract should be the one people are concerned about. The guy plays like he's 5 foot 3 and his contract is bigger than Khabis and he's done nothing since he was with the Ducks.

None of the other options out there for legit number one goalies can boast hoisting Lord Stanley.

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#102 Victoria
July 11 2009, 11:46PM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

@ Victoria: I’m not sure you’ll ever sell me on Roloson, I just don’t think he has the skills to be a starter, which I why you saw him sign as a back-up to Depietro, and not a starter in Col, Edm, or LA. Contracts aside (and btw I agree that the term is too long) I still think Khabi is a better tender than Roli. We’ll see if his performance supports my argument.

Oh I too think the best situation for Roli is the one in New York. I'm sure he's capable of playing a lot if needed. My only problem is that I don't know that Khabibulin will be any better. For the Oilers sake, I hope he is. I just can't get past the four year contract; it was definitely a mistake on Tambi's part.

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#103 godot10
July 12 2009, 08:23AM
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The goaltender decision is all about the coaching decision. Quinn, for better or worse, needed a goaltender he can have confidence in, and for Quinn, that means a track record.

Giving Roloson the second year would have been less risky than giving Khabibulin four, but we would all be criticizing the Oilers for giving Roloson the second year if that had happened.

A coach has to have confidence in his goaltender. No way that Quinn was going to have confidence in Craig Anderson the first time he let in a bad goal. Biron was still asking for big money over multiple years, and has no playoff series victories. Tambellini couldn't wait for Biron to find out he had no choices but to dramatically reduce what he was asking for.

With Arniel or Dineen as coach, one could have gone with Anderson. With Quinn, going with somebody who hadn't done before was a non-starter.

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#104 Jonathan Willis
July 12 2009, 11:11AM
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roadrunner wrote:

As for Khabi I repeat, he’s got a Stanley Cup thats the only stat that needs pointing out.

Much like Manny Legace and Mathieu Garon... or more fairly, Chris Osgood.

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#105 Alon
July 13 2009, 08:46AM
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I don't know why people are so worried about this whole 4-year-contract-OMG-Bulin-might-retire-still-have-cap-hit thing. Bulin came out and said he intends to play past his contract. We should (barring career ending injuryy) have Bulin for the next 4 years.

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