As The Dust Clears

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.

  • Hippy

    I think Nik was brought in because he has proven numbers, BUT he appears to be a better mentor for our draft pick goalies too. From his own comments I get the feeling that the role of mentor was discussed behind the scenes. He seemed to like it, and I thi8nk he may be better at it than any of the other names mentioned.

  • Hippy

    The Oil are grid-locked by Lowe's bonehead signings which appears to have been orchestrated with little in the way of sound planning. They are in effect, screwed in terms of making moves to improve the team. I could see the team in this predicament for 2-3 years and in my opinion that is a 'best case' scenario.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Khabibulin’s been below league-average two of the last four season.
    Khabibulin’s been league average one of the past four seasons.
    Khabibulin’s been above league average once in the past four seasons.
    Thus my guess that he’ll be at least decent for half the time he’s under contract; although admittedly he was four years younger when he started his last one.

    Thank you.

    The problem with a lot of fans is they think a big name means everything. If you take away the names of the two guys and just look at their performance from the lockout, Khabibulin ends up actually looking worse then Roloson. So if people weren't happy with Roli's time here, where's the proof that Khabibulin will be better?

    And ScubaSteve, don't throw that 'Roli lovers' name calling crap in here. Using Roloson's previous contract is simply easy to compare with, but this is about Khabibulin. I think the people who are love stoned are the one's thinking that Khabibulin will suddenly outperform his previous four years now that he's on a crappier team, just because he's a big name.

  • Hippy

    I actually think the Oilers did the right thing in signing Khabibulin. They get a proven starting goaltender with one glaring impressive stat on his resume, a Stanley Cup. Sure they're going to be on the hook for his salary should he retire, but to get a number 1 goaltender at just under 4 million per season in todays NHL is a steal.

    If the Oilers utilize Khabibulin properly and he stays relatively healthy, he could play 60-65 games while bringing along JDD. Financially it makes sense. They're alot more solid in the net and they can further asses Deslouriers development and see if he's the go to guy in the future.

    Now comparing Khabibulin to Biron is a bit of a stretch. Yes Biron has better stats but he has a history of disappearing in the big games when most needed. He was awful in the playoffs last year. Biron was given the proverbial reigns in Philly after he knew he wasn't going to be the man in Buffalo and he's done nothing except pad his pockets.

    Sure Biron is a few years younger, but as I stated earlier, there's a glaring difference which is the Stanley Cup ring. That's the most important stat at the end of any season ayway.

  • Hippy

    @ Victoria:

    It's a pretty classic pattern, I think:

    July – September: relentlessly optimistic
    October – December: upset, demanding change
    January – May: fatalistic
    June: angry

    At least, that's what it's seemed like since the Cup run.

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:

    Lol! No kidding.

    I promised myself after last season I wouldn't needlessly get my hopes up – but then, considering how free-agency went, that's not a difficult promise to uphold.

  • Hippy

    Victoria wrote:

    I think the people who are love stoned are the one’s thinking that Khabibulin will suddenly outperform his previous four years now that he’s on a crappier team, just because he’s a big name.

    I could care less about the guy's name, what I care about is his ability, and his ability is better than Roli's. Roloson was a career back-up who looked good with the Oil, (2 out of 4 years), why wouldn't a bonafide starter do just as well?

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    We can be optimistic about moves that make our team stronger, and the goalie move (IMHO) makes our team stronger. It doesn't mean I think that Khabi will win the Vezina, but I think he's worth 5-6 more wins this season. We might even see "gasp" a shutout! Our goals against is one of our weakest points, shoring up that positions is call for a positive reaction.

  • Hippy

    Two out of four years? Roli was great in the playoffs, he was good in 06/07 (look at his stats, if those were under the name Khabibulin you guys would consider those good), he was slightly below average in 07/08 and he was good this past season. Lowballing Roloson's performance these past three years isn't a legitimate argument, the stat comparison between the two since the lockout proves otherwise.

    And yes it is about the name. No one has actually explained why he'll be able to live up to his contract. All I've been reading is 'he's a Cup winner', 'he's a proven winner'. The reality, he hasn't been since the lockout. That's not to say he'll suck, we're just saying nothing he has done in the last four years can justify the contract the Oilers threw at him.

  • Hippy

    @ 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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.