In Nikolai Khabibulin, He Trusts

Jonathan Willis
April 12 2012 12:49PM

Aside from the comments on Yakupov, the most interesting comments to me in Steve Tambellini’s last press conference were the ones on the Oilers’ goaltending situation. Tambellini confirmed that Nikolai Khabibulin would be back, and praised his veteran goaltender.

Asked by Bob Stauffer whether or not Devan Dubnyk was a starter, Tambellini answered this way:

Only to the point, Bob, where maybe he hasn’t done it long enough. In peoples’ minds, they see the potential. I know he wants it, I know he wants it badly. I’ve always said to both him and Khabby, ‘I don’t care who it is, just somebody take the net.’ If I’m saying that to a young guy, and if I’m a young player and my manager has told me, he’s given me the green light that if you’re playing that well it’s your net, go take it, I’m pretty excited. I like what I saw the last third of the season, I liked his poise. I liked the way he handled, you know playing once a week or every two games here and then sitting five games is much different from managing your energy, confidence levels, expectations from the rest of the team that ‘we need someone to be in a post that can help us win every night, give us a chance to win every night.’ So there were good signs.

The first sentence of that quote is the one that jumps out at me. Dubnyk’s career save percentage in the NHL is 0.910, which is right around the league average and compares favourably to guys like Marc-Andre Fleury (0.912) and Martin Brodeur (0.910) in the same span.

On Khabibulin, Tambellini was definitive, saying “We’ll have Nik back.” Asked what role Khabibulin would return in, he expanded on that statement:

You know, when I talked to Nik in his post season exit meetings, he told me he wants to play another four or five years. I said ‘You feel that good Nik?’ and he said ‘Well why not?’ So, by him saying that to me, he’s still feeling the compete and the challenge. I think guys like Nik Khabibulin need to be, or like to be, challenged or motivated, they’re not afraid of it. So Devan’s poised right now to take games from him and I love the fact his plan is to get the net back.

Khabibulin and Dubnyk both started playing for the Oilers in 2009-10. Here’s the list of active NHL goalies (minimum 50 GP) and their save percentages since that season, with Khabibulin and Dubnyk bolded:

Rk Player GP W L T/O SV%
1 Cory Schneider 60 36 13 3 0.932
2 Tuukka Rask 97 44 34 10 0.927
3 Tim Thomas 159 87 48 18 0.926
4 Henrik Lundqvist 203 110 72 20 0.924
5 Pekka Rinne 195 108 56 22 0.922
6 Tomas Vokoun 168 70 73 18 0.922
7 Ryan Miller 196 106 61 23 0.921
8 Jaroslav Halak 148 79 46 19 0.920
9 Roberto Luongo 183 109 51 19 0.920
10 Evgeni Nabokov 113 63 34 13 0.919
11 Ilya Bryzgalov 196 111 56 23 0.918
12 Carey Price 178 77 76 22 0.918
13 Jonathan Quick 202 109 67 23 0.918
14 Cam Ward 189 85 72 28 0.918
15 Jonas Hiller 181 85 69 19 0.917
16 Jimmy Howard 183 109 49 19 0.917
17 Kari Lehtonen 140 72 50 15 0.917
18 Miikka Kiprusoff 214 107 74 27 0.916
19 Jason LaBarbera 53 18 20 7 0.916
20 Antti Niemi 167 95 47 19 0.916
21 Mike Smith 131 64 42 18 0.916
22 Craig Anderson 185 95 67 17 0.915
23 Johan Hedberg 108 53 35 10 0.915
24 Semyon Varlamov 106 52 37 14 0.915
25 Jose Theodore 132 67 34 21 0.914
26 Niklas Backstrom 157 67 64 20 0.912
27 Scott Clemmensen 84 31 25 15 0.912
28 Marc-Andre Fleury 199 115 58 15 0.912
29 Josh Harding 59 22 24 4 0.912
30 James Reimer 71 34 24 9 0.911
31 Martin Brodeur 192 99 72 13 0.910
32 Corey Crawford 115 63 36 13 0.910
33 Devan Dubnyk 101 36 43 13 0.910
34 Brian Elliott 148 67 55 17 0.910
35 Michal Neuvirth 103 49 29 9 0.910
36 Sergei Bobrovsky 83 42 23 10 0.909
37 Jean-Sebastien Giguere 100 36 37 14 0.909
38 Ondrej Pavelec 168 64 69 25 0.909
39 Brent Johnson 62 29 18 6 0.907
40 Andrew Raycroft 50 19 18 1 0.907
41 Ray Emery 73 38 22 5 0.906
42 Martin Biron 67 29 26 6 0.905
43 Chris Mason 114 51 42 12 0.905
44 Al Montoya 51 18 16 10 0.905
45 Antero Niittymaki 73 33 25 8 0.905
46 Marty Turco 87 35 33 14 0.905
47 Brian Boucher 77 28 34 8 0.904
48 Dan Ellis 85 37 28 8 0.904
49 Dwayne Roloson 144 60 59 15 0.904
50 Peter Budaj 77 25 33 11 0.903
51 Mathieu Garon 119 45 39 16 0.902
52 Jeff Deslauriers 52 19 29 4 0.901
53 Nikolai Khabibulin 105 29 61 13 0.901
54 Curtis McElhinney 50 18 18 3 0.901
55 Ty Conklin 66 23 24 7 0.900
56 Jonas Gustavsson 107 39 45 15 0.900
57 Steve Mason 158 60 73 19 0.899
58 Alex Auld 54 17 13 7 0.898

Devan Dubnyk ranks 33rd on the list. Omitting his cameo at the end of 2009-10, and he moves to 22nd among NHL goalies, tied with Craig Anderson. He’s young, and even if he’s reached his plateau he’s still a very respectable 1A/1B-style goalie.

Nikolai Khabibulin ranks 53rd on that list, tied with Jeff Deslauriers and Curtis McElhinney. Only four guys with a minimum of 50 games have posted a worse save percentage. Omit his strong part-season in 2009-10 with the Oilers (18GP, 0.909 SV%) and his save percentage drops to 0.899, ahead of only Alex Auld and just behind Ty Conklin and Jonas Gustavsson.

The numbers are clear, and in this case tell truth. The decision to stick with Devan Dubnyk is a good one. The decision to stick with Nikolai Khabibulin is indefensible for a team actively trying to win.

Khabibulin’s late season collapses the last two years have been pivotal to landing consecutive first overall draft picks. Post-Christmas, the last two years, Khabibulin’s record has been a mind-blowing 3-33-6, with a 0.880 SV%. Overall, his record has been 22-53-11, as opposed to Dubnyk’s 32-32-11 mark.

A team actively looking to move out of the basement would look at what Khabibulin has done the last few years, decide that he’s not up to the job, and find another option. Even the Oilers’ third-stringer this season – Yann Danis, the AHL’s goalie of the year – is a better option for the NHL roster than Nik Khabibulin.

It’s a bad choice for the Oilers, but this isn’t new. They’ve been making bad choices with Khabibulin since the day they signed him.

Today at the Nation Network

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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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#51 DieHard
April 12 2012, 04:21PM
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pessemist wrote:

some clown who calls himself die hard called me out for being critical of tambo. if this khabibulin endorsement isn't proof of his incompetence, i don't know what is.

who you talkin 'bout

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#52 Pucker
April 12 2012, 04:22PM
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gcw_rocks wrote:

Start your engines folks. Tambelini is looking to set a professional sports frachise record with 4 straight number 1 picks. Its the only logical explanation for keeping Khabby around.

Pick your slogan here:

"Flail on for MacKinnon"

"Losing On for MacKinnon"

"Sinking for MacKinnon"

"We’re back for Mac"

"Disgracin’ for Nathan"

"Not winnin for MacKinnon"

"Screw Winnin’ get MacKinnon!"

Seconded. We're back for Mac.

That's gotta be the winner.

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#53 DieHard
April 12 2012, 04:32PM
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Tambelini and the Oiler Org is in rebuild mode. Proof that they have been successful is 3 1OV in a row. Whatever else he says about whoever is irrelevant, they will not be here when we celebrate the cup.

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#54 mlcselli
April 12 2012, 04:43PM
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Tambellini watches the same game we do. He's fully aware that NK is not confident in net and the fans have no confidence seeing him starting in any game. He was only repeating to the media what he was told by Habby. If we're stuck with him for another season, I'm sure he's the back up. I thought Tambie was trying to exercise diplomacy and tact when he talked about Renney, Habby and Smyth. He confirmed that Smyth has a contract to consider and expected to hear from the Smyth camp by now, and that #94 is holding the cards on his future as an Oiler. Like everyone else, I don't want to see NK back between the pipes either, but I'm sure we are all going to have to.

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#55 smiliegirl15
April 12 2012, 05:03PM
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This damning statement is grounds for Tambellini's dismissal if nothing else is. Added all together, why is Mr. Dithers still here!!!? Even the hockey gods can't help this team much if Tambellini is still in charge.

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#56 oildawg99
April 12 2012, 05:21PM
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I realize that bashing Khabby is the new flavour of the week amongst Oiler fans. Probably rightfully so. But if he comes to camp competes and earns a back-up role I do not have a problem having a veteran motivated back-up. It wouldn't be bad having an old-fart back up who has the ability to steal a play-off series if we happen to squeak in.

The important thing he has to earn it. I don't really know want people wanted Tambo to say. That Nik is old and washed up? That he is useless and should look elsewhere. Wouldn't that look good across the league when other players decide if they want to play with this organization.

Besides there are a couple old goalies that have shown lately that they can go on a run. They were considered washed up once too.

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#57 admiralmark
April 12 2012, 06:57PM
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I don't feel the panic. Give Dubey 60 games and Khabby 20. Try to deal him at the trade deadline... If not we will have better feel for what Dubey looks like as a starter and we can make our move 1 year from now. I think with the rest of the team improving.. we can make the jump to 8-10th in the West and that would be a huge success and 1 more step in the right direction.

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#58 Kevin
April 12 2012, 07:56PM
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Tambillini must be on a leather diet for all the boot he sticks in his mouth. This is the kind of leadership we are stuck with to guide us out of toilet bowl contention year after year. Can't make a decision on coaching ? what is this all about ? he needs more time to think about a 29 place finish. That said this whole gong show is really not about coaching. It goes higher up the food chain than that ! How about start with Kevin Lowe first off, Tambellini second, both these clowns are equally accountable to this prolonged debauckle. Asking/telling Renney to take a couple weeks off and we'll talk in a couple weeks is a joke and displays zero respect and no leadership at all. Laying this blame on the coach is really just deflecting the foo foo from the real problem here. How can a GM who him self does not even have a contract make such decisions ? The organization obviously have a behind the doors deal for a Tambellini extention, but not yet made public ? What is up with this ? This management is a complete JOKE ! There is way to much reward for zero results ! I have no problem with Renny coaching this team my issue is the cards he's dealt.

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#59 justDOit
April 12 2012, 08:36PM
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I'm going to file this under the same category as ST's comments before July 1 of last year: mediaspeak. He said he didn't expect to be busy on that day, but he made a bunch of signings.

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jordan wrote:

Did anyone ever stop and think that ST is just saying this in order to be classy and not throw another veteran player under the bus? just because he says this in april doesn't mean he won't be actively looking for an upgrade or that he's contemplating an extension. let's not call this a mistake before anything has actually happened

Exactly. Why would anyone, GM, coach, player, trainer, criticize anyone in the organization publicly? It's absolutely stupid, see Sheldon Souray. It usually leaves you with one and only one option.

Wether ST believes Khabbi is still a good goalie or not, he's still gonna pump his tires in the media.

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#61 common sense
April 13 2012, 12:15AM
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@The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

I disagree. ST has got to be honest and recognize that the Khabbi signing was an stupid knee jerk move after Roli signed on the Island. No need to pump up a flat degraded tire...just get new tires....

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#62 sean lecomber
April 13 2012, 01:32AM
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Starting spring training next year we'll be entering the 4th season of Tambellini pretending Khabibulin was a good signing. Luckily it will be the last. With regards to his handling of Renney, if he makes Renney sit and wait at home for several weeks and then announces Tom's been fired it would be totally classless. You've watched him lead the team for two years and you need two more weeks with no games being played by your team to make a final decision? Wow.

First overall pick? Don't over think this thing. Take Yakupov. If it's even plausible (which it is) that Yakupov could be as good as RNH or Taylor Hall then you owe it to the Oilers long suffering fan base to take the kid and let him play. Tambellini isn't going to outsmart any GM.

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#63 Walter Sobchak
April 13 2012, 06:26AM
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The good thing about the draft day is Stu MacGregor will be there, if Tambellini decides he's going to think for himself at the draft table I'm sure Stu will stop that most rikki tikki!

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#64 BD
April 13 2012, 08:21AM
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I'm a glass half full kind of a guy. I see Khabby, and I see a Russian on the last year of his contract looking for a new one. He needs to play lights out to get that new contract that he will want....Well at least that's what I hope happens if he is still here come October.

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#65 dawgbone
April 13 2012, 08:24AM
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Oilcan wrote:

Buying out Khabi is not an option unless its the amnesty clause, buying him out does nothing because his cap hit sticks this year so it serves no purpose, the cap has no issue this year as we aren't a cap team, it sucks having him still but at least after this year he is gone along with the cap hit and the Oilers free up a good chunk of cap.

So again even using the amnesty clause on Khabi is not smart management. In the end the Oilers may have to bite the bullet on Horcoff and use it on him, it would be a tough move for the organization but from a financial and cap standpoint its a no brainer.

What would be ideal if the new CBA comes into the place and then the NHL limits 2nd contracts and then we can buy out Horcoff using the amnesty clause in the summer of next year because his 5.5 cap hit doesn't effect the Oilers this year.

It does serve a purpose. It saves $1.25 mil in cash, which could be used on another goaltender who can stop the puck.

The Oilers will not be a cap spending team next year, so that cap hit isn't really an issue.

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#66 Lochenzo
April 13 2012, 09:11AM
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The focus should be on getting Dubnyk to the next level in 2012/2013. Can he play 60 to 65 games a year and deliver steady or even spectacular goaltending throughout?

When he's planted to the bench for so many games, the backup has two duties. 1, always be ready. 2, be a real good cheerleader. My understanding is that Khabibulin has been very good with Dubnyk (Remember that meltdown in Leafsnation when two mid-20's relatively in-experienced goalies collapsed and the rest of the team with them?) So if it helps Dubnyk progess, let's keep Khabibulin. He doesn't complain about the lack of games and he understands if Dubnyk gets the ball. Complaining about his contract is moot at this point.

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#67 Evilas
April 13 2012, 10:28AM
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If Khabbi stays, it will be to play 20 games and mentor DD and Yakupov, hopefully. At the trade deadline I would expect him to be traded, if he has not met expectations. He has definitely performed poorly, but so has the AHL D that has been in front of him.

He has been injured every year, so now is the time to manage his time properly and give the reins to double dee.

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common sense wrote:

I disagree. ST has got to be honest and recognize that the Khabbi signing was an stupid knee jerk move after Roli signed on the Island. No need to pump up a flat degraded tire...just get new tires....

Be honest to who???

If I got a flat degraded tire and I wanna try and sell it, the first thing I do is pump it up.

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#69 Oilers Coffey
April 13 2012, 12:31PM
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Ohhh thats kinda scary considering the goalies who are now here, and who have been part of the Oilers organization.

33 - Dubnyk 49 - Roloson 51 - Garon 52 - Deslauriers 53 - Khabibulin 55 - Conklin

thats a whole lot of suck for a long time.

The goalie scouting staff, has gotta be out to lunch most of the time, or no one has any idea when scouting goalies.

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