September 04 2011 11:05AM
Nikolai Khabibulin is from all reports a helluva guy and for a long time he was a quality NHL goalie. Can he make a comeback at age 38?
A long, long time ago (well 2 years ago) when the Oilers signed Nikolai Khabibulin I was generally positive. NK was a veteran goaltender coming off a solid year and I suggested that the goalie was a good choice but the term and dollars were not agreeable.
As it turned out, the signing did not work for the Oilers and midway through a 35+ 4 year deal the organization is still relying on him for W's. We know this because of their summer activity, signing only Yann Danis for the Martin Gerber role and David LeNeveu to be the new JDD.
HATERS GONNA HATE
I've always been a fan of the big Russian, going back to the olden days of the Winnipeg Jets. Who knows why we like or don't like specific goalies (what I don't know about goaltending is a lot) but he always seemed to give his team a chance to win and NK also thwarted Calgary in the Stanley run of 2004 which makes him a God among men.
This is Victoria Azarenka. Her story and how the Khabibulin's are involved is here. It's a wonderful item and just one of many stories one hears about Khabibulin. This is a terrific fellow, and teammates shout his praises from the mountain tops. Having never met him, I would have to conclude that despite news stories in the last year or so, NK is a quality human being on several levels.
HATERS GONNA HATE!
In the item I wrote on Friday night (re: Jay Feaster) a couple of ON posters suggested I should get over my hatred of Khabibulin. Allow me to deny my hatred (the last time I hated anyone it was a not-to-be-named classmate in high school who Isabel Donovan liked more than me. Still hate him) and to state my case in regard to Khabibulin one last time.
Nikolai Khabibulin has been an effective NHL goaltender over a long period of time. He has made over 20,000 NHL saves, won a Stanley by posting a .933SP spring 2004 (take that, KIPRUSOFF) and had he been more consistent over a longer period (and played on better teams) would certainly get some HOF attention upon retirement.
But we're talking the here and now, and through that lens counting on Nikolai Khabibulin is dangerous. This isn't something I've pulled out of my hat (careful) here, most Oiler fans are a little uneasy about the idea of heading to war with a soon to be 39 year old guy whose tires have seen a lot of blacktop.
I was going to post facts from Tyler Dellow's outstanding July 1, 2009 post on the signing, but a few items have changed since then (namely Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas) so we'll re-run the fun. In the long history of the NHL, exactly 15 goalies played at age 39 (NK's age for this season using hockey-reference as a guide). In the group, there are 12 goaltenders who played an extended portion of the season with their teams and by my count 8 who would have played more minutes than the backup in that season. The list is here.
That doesn't factor in NK's recent medical history or his injury of a year ago. It doesn't tell us about the miles and miles and miles and miles of wear and tear on his body and it doesn't tell us when or even if NK will be on the 40-year old list as his contract with the Oilers runs out.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
It means this is not a question of "if" but "when" Nikolai Khabibulin's skill level and health have him below the line where NHL teams must send their veterans away. We're blessed with the brains that God gave us, and logic and reason tell us that relying on a veteran like 38-year old Nikolai Khabibulin and a youngster like Devan Dubnyk is unwise.
No hatred. None. I wish him well and will cheer for a strong comeback season, even as history tells me feet of clay do exist and mortals can reach for the sky only for a little while.