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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#1 oilguyry
July 10 2009, 10:35PM
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I'm still happy with the signing when I first heard about it I thought they better not have given him 5 mil but at 3.75 I think its a bargin still he was probably the #1 goalie on the market this year

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#2 Librarian Mike
July 10 2009, 10:41PM
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I see what you're saying Jonathan, but personally I'm okay about the Khabibulin deal. I have a feeling Tambellini was feeling some pressure to get something/anything done to mitigate the .... well, you know.

I would feel better about it if we had a backup who could be trusted to keep an even keel for 25 games. Well, I guess we still have a ways to go before the season starts.

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#3 Dustin Penner's 2nd Chin
July 10 2009, 10:48PM
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Jonathan's point is that the Oilers took an unnecessary risk with Khabibulin.

The "risk" part is that his play drops off (again) or that he retires or is injured (again). All scenarios lead to the Oilers having $3.75 of deadweight against their cap.

The "unnecessary" part is that the Oilers were in a position of strength when it came to negotiating, because of the unusual demand-supply-inbalance of goalies this summer.

I tend to agree with Jonathan.

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#4 ryan
July 10 2009, 11:13PM
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We got the Berlin Wall! Biron have done nothing. I personally am tired of the Oil going after potential. He is a proven starting tender. Biron is not

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#5 Chris
July 10 2009, 11:14PM
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@ Dustin Penner's 2nd Chin:

On the flip side, play hardball, and you might miss out on the player you're targeting...

If there is one spot NOT to make compromises: it's in net IMO. Khabibulin took a paycut from his previous contract despite coming off a terrific season; undoubtable he read the marketplace also.

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#6 Jim Roepcke
July 10 2009, 11:16PM
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It wasn't a strong bargaining position. They were trying to get Heatley to waive his NMC before the $4M deadline and the Oilers were asking him to come to a team without a starting goalie. They needed a good goalie, immediately.

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#7 Chris
July 10 2009, 11:16PM
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undoubtedly

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#8 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:24PM
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Jim Roepcke wrote:

They were trying to get Heatley to waive his NMC before the $4M deadline and the Oilers were asking him to come to a team without a starting goalie. They needed a good goalie, immediately.

How's that worked for them so far?

You don't let Heatley make you sign Khabibulin to that term. I don't have any particular beef with the money, but there was no need to give this guy four years.

Besides, we've seen no indication yet that signing Khabibulin will bring Heatley in.

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#9 RobInALab
July 10 2009, 11:25PM
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What happens if you factor in save percentage against the northwest though? If Khabibulin is as good against the Flames as people around here say he is, then this was a no-brainer.

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#10 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:27PM
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ryan wrote:

He is a proven starting tender. Biron is not

Actually, Biron is. It's been 8 years since he's played less than 35 games, and he's played more than fifty in six of those eight years.

During those eight years, Biron's lowest save percentage on a season was .903. Khabibulin's been below .903 twice in the past four season.

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#11 BigE57
July 10 2009, 11:29PM
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As fans and bloggers it's our job to second guess management decisions....but this one is splitting hairs. Out of all the goalies on the market, Bulin, Biron and Rollie were the most experienced. Bulin with a Stanley Cup ring in is pocket is arguably the most successful.

Maybe the Oilers made an offer to Biron and he laughed it off. In any event the Oil got an experienced number 1 who hopefully can play till he's 40 or at the very least play the role of an expensive back-up in 2 years.

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#12 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:31PM
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RobInALab wrote:

What happens if you factor in save percentage against the northwest though? If Khabibulin is as good against the Flames as people around here say he is, then this was a no-brainer.

Khabibulin vs. the Northwest this year:

Calgary - .941 SV% On the Season - .919 SV% Colorado - .911 SV% Minnesota - .880 SV% Vancouver - .800 SV%

Yes, he's been good against Calgary. Unfortunately, the Oilers play the Wild, Vancouver and Colorado just as frequently.

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#13 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:32PM
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And just for the record:

- I like Khabibulin. - I'm OK with 3.75 million dollars a year - I'm scared to death of four years for a 36 year old goaltender

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#14 Sandra
July 10 2009, 11:38PM
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Wasn't one of the reason why Hossa said he didn't want to come to Edmonton last year was they had no real goal tender? what about the Hawks now?

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#15 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:38PM
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More on Khabibulin against the Northwest. I don't put much faith in this stuff, but I know there are those who do, so here are his career numbers against northwest division teams:

Calgary: .931 SV% Minnesota: .904 SV% Colorado: .900 SV% Vancouver: .887 SV%

I really don't think the Oilers were looking at these numbers when they signed him.

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#16 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:40PM
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Also, please don't take my negativity as hoping for Khabibulin to fail - because I don't; I hope he's very successful as an Oiler.

I just don't see this as a wise decision.

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#17 Sandra
July 10 2009, 11:43PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Also, please don’t take my negativity as hoping for Khabibulin to fail - because I don’t; I hope he’s very successful as an Oiler. I just don’t see this as a wise decision.

I agree even though I am not a Roli fan, 2 years with him while Dubnyk and Desjarlais develop would have left us in good hands. MacT should have played Desjarlais more, Tambo wasted a 2nd round pick in a deep draft for Kotalik even though the Oilers weren't going to make the playoffs. Not that the scouts would have known what to do with it.

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#18 Victoria
July 10 2009, 11:44PM
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I was under the impression that we only play Calgary 6 times in a season. Why does 'Bulin record against the matter so much?

Personally, I'd rather sign a guy who wont most likely retire before his contract is up.

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#19 ryan
July 10 2009, 11:45PM
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He was rhe best option for the Oil at the time. Steve can only get who what's to come here. I think the tender change and coaching we get us in the playoffs. With a trade or two at tjhe dead line we will be ok.

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#20 Victoria
July 10 2009, 11:45PM
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Sandra wrote:

Wasn’t one of the reason why Hossa said he didn’t want to come to Edmonton last year was they had no real goal tender? what about the Hawks now?

I'd take Huet over Garon any day of the week.

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#21 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:46PM
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Meanwhile, Martin Biron's career numbers vs. the Northwest:

Minnesota: .924 SV% Colorado: .913 SV% Calgary: .910 SV% Vancouver: .900 SV%

Again, I don't really buy this stuff, but he's ahead of Khabibulin against three of four teams - but maybe that isn't surprising, it's just a reflection of Biron's better career numbers (.911 SV% vs. .908 SV%)

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#22 Big Dave
July 10 2009, 11:46PM
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I think that Khabibulin is an upgrade over Roloson and I would rather pay him 3.75 over 4 years as opposed to paying Roloson 5 over 2 years.

If it gets down to it, they might even wait for Biron to get desperate and low ball him for a year and try to send JDD to Springfield to back-up Dubnyk. At this point, with so many goaltenders still unsigned, I can`t see too many teams chomping at the bit to snatch JDD off of waivers.

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#23 Chris
July 10 2009, 11:48PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I think management is gambling that Dubnyuk will be ready to split duty on an entry level contract should Khabibulin falter in the back half of this contract.

My fear, is that Oiler fans will turn on Khabibulin during one of his cold streaks. My bigger fear is that JDD won't look like a cabable backup should this happen.

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#24 Big Dave
July 10 2009, 11:49PM
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Big Dave wrote:

I think that Khabibulin is an upgrade over Roloson and I would rather pay him 3.75 over 4 years as opposed to paying Roloson 5 over 2 years.

Oops, that should read 3.75 a year for 4 years and 5 over 2 years...

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#25 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:49PM
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ryan wrote:

Steve can only get who what’s to come here.

I don't think any of the remaining goaltenders are in a position to be picky. Biron - as noted in the article above - is looking at a steep pay cut and no starting job.

Now, maybe Biron has an irrational hatred of Edmonton, but I think his options suck.

And it wasn't like Tambellini really tried to negotiate with Khabibulin - at least according to Khabibulin himself:

We had some one-year offers. But when I had such a long commitment from the Oilers, it was a pretty easy decision to make.
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#26 Jonathan Willis
July 10 2009, 11:51PM
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Chris wrote:

My fear, is that Oiler fans will turn on Khabibulin during one of his cold streaks. My bigger fear is that JDD won’t look like a cabable backup should this happen.

My biggest fear is that Khabibulin will go into one of those two year cold streaks - like he did last time he signed a free agent contract.

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#27 Victoria
July 10 2009, 11:54PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

ryan wrote: Steve can only get who what’s to come here. I don’t think any of the remaining goaltenders are in a position to be picky. Biron - as noted in the article above - is looking at a steep pay cut and no starting job. Now, maybe Biron has an irrational hatred of Edmonton, but I think his options suck. And it wasn’t like Tambellini really tried to negotiate with Khabibulin - at least according to Khabibulin himself: We had some one-year offers. But when I had such a long commitment from the Oilers, it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Wow, that just makes us look like idiots.

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#28 Chris
July 10 2009, 11:55PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Maybe long term stability in net was a priority. If this notion changes; I'd bet two years from now it wouldn't be too hard to move Khabibulin at the trade deadline....

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#29 Sandra
July 10 2009, 11:56PM
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Victoria wrote:

Sandra wrote: Wasn’t one of the reason why Hossa said he didn’t want to come to Edmonton last year was they had no real goal tender? what about the Hawks now? I’d take Huet over Garon any day of the week.

We'll see the stats this year, when Mason is in his softmore jinks and Huet on waivers

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#30 Chris
July 11 2009, 12:00AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I'm nervous about Kahbibulin too. I'd also be nervous signing Roli to a multi-year deal... or nervous to bring in Biron... I mean Philly replaced him with EMERY... Good save percentage or no; why would they do that?

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#31 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 12:06AM
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@ Chris:

Philly seems like they've decided to run with Ken Holland's strategy - cheap out on a pair of goalies, spend the money elsewhere, and hope for the best.

Frankly, I'm still confused as to why Emery's considered such a shoe-in for a starting gig. Here are his numbers from Russia last season, along with his goaltending partner:

Emery: 36GP, 2.12 GAA, .926 SV%, 2 SO Kolesnik: 30GP, 1.59 GAA, .945 SV%, 5 SO

Kolesnik, btw, had one middling run in North America with Colorado before returning to Russia.

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#32 Sandra
July 11 2009, 12:07AM
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I thought Harding was on the radar the way Fred was talking about him, I guess he is not that "in" unless he gets a text.

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#33 Victoria
July 11 2009, 12:08AM
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@ Sandra:

Lol! Alright.

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#34 ScubaSteve
July 11 2009, 12:08AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

If Khabi were to retire in, say, the 3rd year of the contract, wouldn't the Oil just buy out his contract first, and wouldn't that take it off the cap?

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#35 Sandra
July 11 2009, 12:09AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Speaking of Holland, It doesn't look like they are contenders for next year. Lots of stuff going on.

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#36 Sandra
July 11 2009, 12:11AM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: If Khabi were to retire in, say, the 3rd year of the contract, wouldn’t the Oil just buy out his contract first, and wouldn’t that take it off the cap?

I think because of his age it doesn't matter, still a cap hit.

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#37 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 12:11AM
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Sandra wrote:

Speaking of Holland, It doesn’t look like they are contenders for next year. Lots of stuff going on.

We'll see, but they do like they're going to take a step back.

Then again, they've been aging for at least a decade now, and somehow they always pull through. The real drop-off should be when Lidstrom retires.

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#38 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 12:12AM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

If Khabi were to retire in, say, the 3rd year of the contract, wouldn’t the Oil just buy out his contract first, and wouldn’t that take it off the cap?

Because Khabibulin was over 35, even retirement won't remove the cap hit.

That's why it's such a big deal.

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#39 ScubaSteve
July 11 2009, 12:13AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

ScubaSteve wrote: If Khabi were to retire in, say, the 3rd year of the contract, wouldn’t the Oil just buy out his contract first, and wouldn’t that take it off the cap? Because Khabibulin was over 35, even retirement won’t remove the cap hit. That’s why it’s such a big deal.

But does buying out a contract remove it from the cap?

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#40 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 12:15AM
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Here's the common understanding, from Puck Prospectus (h/t mc79):

Over 35 Signings: If a player who, as of June 30 of the upcoming season, is over the age of 35 signs a multi-year deal, the signing team will take a cap hit for each year on the contract, regardless of if the player retires. For example, if Chris Chelios signs a 3-year deal worth $2 million per year, and retires after the first year, the signing team still takes a $2 million cap hit for the remaining years on the contract. However, since Markus Naslund’s 35th birthday was after June 30, he was 34 as of June 30, thus his retirement removes his cap hit.
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#41 ryan
July 11 2009, 12:16AM
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I don't knoe the answer but a change was needed. So I'm happy for now. We need to think about centers not the tender

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#42 ScubaSteve
July 11 2009, 12:16AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Yeah, I get that retirement doesn't take it off the books. My question is:

Does buying out a contract take it off the books?

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#43 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 12:16AM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

But does buying out a contract remove it from the cap?

Hang on a second - I'll look. I believe that buyouts function normally; with only a percentage of the money counting against the cap, but I could be wrong.

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#44 Hemmertime
July 11 2009, 12:17AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

During those eight years, Biron’s lowest save percentage on a season was .903. Khabibulin’s been below .903 twice in the past four season.

Didnt you also show the quality of shots on Khabibulin in Chi when he was under .900 and it was horrible D, not Bulin that caused that. I believe that was you, if not, let me dig up that there article somewhere.

And IMO Khabi was #1 UFA goalie, happy we landed him. Biron would have been my #2.

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#45 Victoria
July 11 2009, 12:18AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

ScubaSteve wrote: If Khabi were to retire in, say, the 3rd year of the contract, wouldn’t the Oil just buy out his contract first, and wouldn’t that take it off the cap? Because Khabibulin was over 35, even retirement won’t remove the cap hit. That’s why it’s such a big deal.

You know, thinking about that, i start to wonder if Roli for 2 years (I'm willing to bet we could've signed him for $2mil per) would've been better then Khabibulin's current contract.

I know that the general impression is that Khabibulin is a better goalie, but with both guys aging it's a lot easier to deal with the consequences of a 2 year 4-5 mil contract then a 4 year 15 mil one.

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#46 David S
July 11 2009, 12:18AM
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Jim Roepcke wrote:

It wasn’t a strong bargaining position. They were trying to get Heatley to waive his NMC before the $4M deadline and the Oilers were asking him to come to a team without a starting goalie. They needed a good goalie, immediately.

Jonathan Willis wrote:

How’s that worked for them so far?

Hindsight is wonderful isn't it? I think Jim has a point.

At the time, we needed a goalie - a good one. Who's to say that the 4 year contract wasn't Khabi's line in the sand, or the he was the BPA (to us)? The Oilers figured the Heatley deal was imminent, as supported by Gregor's "110% positive" source. Gregor isn't stupid. He wouldn't have posted a trade rumor of that magnitude without being fairly certain of his source. All that taken into consideration, Jim makes alot of sense.

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#47 Hemmertime
July 11 2009, 12:18AM
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Also, what happens if at 39-40, we waive, send to the minors and then Khabi retires? Instead of Eating the salary in the minors he just retires then.

I wonder if that loophole would work

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#48 Victoria
July 11 2009, 12:20AM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: Yeah, I get that retirement doesn’t take it off the books. My question is: Does buying out a contract take it off the books?

It counts 100%.

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#49 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 12:26AM
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Hemmertime wrote:

Also, what happens if at 39-40, we waive, send to the minors and then Khabi retires? Instead of Eating the salary in the minors he just retires then. I wonder if that loophole would work

Nope. It counts 100% against the cap.

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#50 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 12:27AM
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As far as buyouts go - as far as I can tell, and I'm not an expert - players over 35 cannot be bought out under any circumstances.

The Oilers will have a 3.75 million dollar cap hit on the books for the next four years no matter what Khabibulin does from this point forward.

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