Let’s get past goofy talk about the Edmonton Oilers trying to void the contract of goaltender and convicted drunk driver Nikolai Khabibulin now and discuss what should happen next — aside from the shame-faced stopper going to jail for at least 30 days.
While some fans see this conviction as a loophole that might allow the Oilers to duck out of the lousy contract they signed Khabibulin to, that talk is opportunism at its lowest. Likewise, those mounting a convenient moral high horse are talking out their backsides.
Would fans in the weasel-out-of-the-deal camp be looking for the Oilers to dump the contracts of, say, Ales Hemsky or Taylor Hall, based on exactly the same circumstances and convictions?
Not a chance.
Saying so with a straight face in a town where others have been given second chances after more serious legal difficulties is as bogus as the "Pity Poor Nikolai" item apologist Peter Adler inked at The Cult of Hockey on The Journal website. Poor Nikolai? Hardly. Then again, feigning moral outrage to duck out of a bad contract is just as weak.
I’m guessing GM Steve Tambellini and team owner Daryl Katz are too savvy to take that route when Khabibulin’s sentence is dispensed in Arizona on Tuesday.
THE WAY TO GO
Khabibulin has a price to pay for getting behind the wheel of his car while intoxicated and he’ll have to pay it. Given the circumstances, extreme DUI with speed being involved, I’d guess Khabibulin is facing a jail sentence of 60-90 days.
I don’t feel the least bit sorry Khabibulin is facing jail time. I don’t lament that he’s been publicly embarrassed or that his crime garnered him more ink than an average Joe because of who he is and what he does for a living.
That’s part of the deal.
That said, I don’t believe the Oilers, a franchise that gave Craig MacTavish a second chance — one he made good on — need muster some contrived moral outrage to cloak going after a bad contract.
If Tambellini, who’ll address the media Tuesday, and the Oilers want to get out in front of this, they should handle Khabibulin along the same tactful lines as they did in the incident in which Edmonton Capitals manager Brent Bowers spewed venom at gay umpire Bill Vanraaphorst.
A PRICE TO PAY
The obvious start is for Tambellini to condemn, without qualification, the actions of Khabibulin once sentencing is imposed.
The team should also insist Khabibulin publicly take responsibility for his actions when he first faces the media. An apology to fans and his teammates is also probably in order. That’s the easy part.
The way I see it, the next step for the Oilers is to find out if Khabibulin wants or needs help, be it counselling or any other form of treatment, for a drinking problem. Is Khabibulin an alcoholic? I don’t know, but if he is, he needs help. And he must be willing to get it.
Those who have lived with alcoholism, whether it involved the crime of drunk driving or not, understand how damaging it can be. My father was an alcoholic. His failure to get help cost him his marriage, his family, his job and, eventually, his life. When I was 14, my father fell down some stairs in a drunken stupor. He died from a blood clot on the brain.
If Khabibulin has no such demons, if this was a one-off in which he showed terrible judgment by getting behind the wheel after drinking, then that’s one less hurdle for him to clear. That, we don’t know.
If I was the Oilers, the next step would be to approach Khabibulin and see if he’d be willing to make amends beyond his jail sentence and show remorse, perhaps by speaking out against drunk driving.
That could be by making appearances on behalf of MADD or simply by taking on speaking engagements with fans or school-aged youngsters in the community. Like it or not, the actions, be they good or bad, of NHL players like Khabibulin carry a lot of weight with fans.
I can’t say I know Khabibulin well and if he’d be comfortable with taking on something like that, but something along those lines would certainly be a way of mending fences — like the Oilers did by having Vanraaphorst tell his story in Edmonton.
Offering the option, to my way of thinking, would be a better approach. Handling it this way would send a better message to fans, not to mention players here and around the NHL, than huffing and puffing and trying to undo a deal Khabibulin and the Oilers agreed to.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.