We’re familiar with the negative side of the Nikolai Khabibulin contract. I’ve beaten it to death, and I’m not the only one, although there’s still a paucity of criticism of the deal in the printed press. That said, the odds are the Oilers will be far better off with him in 2010-11.
I stand by my initial thoughts on the Khabibulin contract, but the reality is that missing the vast majority of the season was an unlikely outcome at the start of the year. It was a risk worth considering, and health is going to remain a risk worth considering for the remainder of the contract.
However, Khabibulin’s injury history suggests (assuming he’s completely recovered from his difficulties this season) that he’ll miss closer to 20 games than 61 games. Prior to last season, Khabibulin had averaged 17 games missed per season since the lockout, and including this last season he averages 25 games per season missed since the lockout.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that Khabibulin misses 20 games next season to injury, rather than 60. Let’s further assume that he plays seven out of every eight games, meaning that instead of the 18 games he played in 2009-10 we project him to play 54 games in 2010-11.
How much of an impact would that have on the Edmonton Oilers?
We’re going to make a few assumptions and see where that leaves us.
First, we’re going to assume that nothing else changes on the Oilers – meaning that the team faces 2178 even-strength shots, 478 shots from the opposition power play, and face 54 shots short-handed. We’re going to distribute those shots evenly over the 82 games.
Secondly, we’re going to isolate Khabibulin’s impact by slapping the results of Deslauriers and Dubnyk together and pretending that their performance remains the same – we don’t care about their potential for improvement right now; all we’re trying to do is see how much better Khabibulin makes the Oilers by playing 54 games instead of 18.
Finally, we’re going to look at Khabibulin’s results since 2006-07, divided by game state, and call that his ‘true talent’. We don’t know what Khabibulin’s performance is going to be, but odds are it will be close to that level. Here are his numbers, by game state:
- Even-strength: 0.9204
- Short-handed: 0.8675
- Power play: 0.9249
And here are the same numbers for our 2009-10 Dubnyk/Deslauriers hybrid:
- Even-strength: 0.9043
- Short-handed: 0.8636
- Power play: 0.9286
It’s not overly surprising to see how similar the special teams numbers are, but the key difference here is at even-strength, where Khabibulin was far better. How does that impact the Oilers goals against? Using the numbers above, we get the following:
- 2008-09: 271 goals scored on the Oilers’ goalies.
- 2009-10: 253 projected goals scored against Oilers’ goalies.
18 goals against is a significant improvement due to the Khabibulin effect alone; it’s a number that probably translates into three more wins for the team or six standings points.
P.S. I’ve been through it twice, but please feel free to check my math.