After this past season, the Oilers have plenty of reasons to be less than thrilled with last summer’s acquisition of Nikolai Khabibulin.
After all, in training camp the team discovered that Khabibulin has dehydration issues, issues which had come up in the past but which they were unaware of.
After playing 18 games at a reasonable level (Khabibulin was neither brilliant nor brutal, and his 0.909 SV% was a fair bit better than Jeff Deslauriers’ 0.901) Khabibulin suffered a back injury which required surgery, ending his season. Khabibulin had missed an average of about 20 games per season since the lockout, a number he tripled this season.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. In February, Khabibulin was arrested after being pulled over, allegedly for going 70 MPH in a 45 MPH zone, after which he couldn’t provide proof of insurance and failed a sobriety test. He’s since been charged with “extreme” DUI for having a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit and if convicted will face a minimum prison sentence with no eligibility for probation or suspension.
Fortunately for Khabibulin, none of that appears to have affected Steve Tambellini’s view of the veteran goaltender. Tambellini praised Khabibulin as “a good teammate” and said that the Oilers needed the kind of leadership he could provide. Two excerpts from Tambellini’s end of season press conference:
“The player that was going to be our MVP, Nikolai Khabibulin…”
“With Nik, Nik is a person that when you do the research on him he has a great reputation. I talked to Jason Strudwick in the year end meetings, and he talked about sitting next to Nik, and recognizing what a great teammate he is, just as a person. He’s won a Stanley Cup, we need people that have that type of experience. He has a reputation when you talk to the Manitoba Moose of what Nik was like with the young goaltenders, and how he helped them, and tutored them, and gave them confidence. He’s not one of those goaltenders that will push the other people away from his net, to make sure they don’t get the net. He’s a good teammate; we need that type of leadership. If we’re going to be a little bit younger in the next couple of years, we want someone like that, that gives them a chance to develop, that gives the team a chance to have some confidence that there’s some stability back there.”
There’s a lot of uncertainty about the Oilers going forward, but if Tambellini is to be believed, Khabibulin isn’t one of the question marks. He’ll be retained to provide veteran leadership and a stabilizing presence in net, and the Oilers will just take their chances that he’s healthy.