We all keep waiting for Nikolai Khabibulin to say something to convince us he’ll be ready to start the season in goal for the Edmonton Oilers, but as of today I still haven’t heard it.
Khabibulin talked to reporters at Rexall Place again today about the status of his 37-year-old surgically repaired back, but what he said, and how he said it — which I understand doesn’t translate well to the written word — did little to inspire confidence in me he’ll be ready Oct. 7.
"As far as practice is going, I still would like to improve a few things here and there," he said. "Physically, I feel pretty good. With quantity, I think, eventually it’ll come into quality, you know? I’m staying patient and waiting for, you know, kind of for that."
TICK, TICK, TICK . . .
If Khabibulin doesn’t see action against the Vancouver Canucks Sunday, that’ll leave just three pre-season games for him to knock off the rust of 11 months of inactivity. Roadside sobriety tests don’t qualify.
Khabibulin, who underwent surgery Jan. 13, hasn’t played a game since November 16. Is his back 100 per cent? Is it 90 per cent? Watching him stop some pucks in game action might shed some light, no?
"That’s the goal, for sure," Khabibulin said when asked by Joanne Ireland of The Journal if he’ll be ready for opening night.
"Like I said, I feel pretty good physically. I think it’s just a just a matter of seeing more shots and getting myself in a game situation and play a few games."
Until coach Tom Renney proves doubters wrong by putting Khabibulin between the pipes in pre-season and declaring him his starter against the Calgary Flames Oct. 7, I’ll have my doubts.
"I wouldn’t mind to play maybe three games," Khabibulin said. "You know, it’s always up to the coaches.
"Pre-season is obviously for them to see other players, too. Whatever it is, it is. If I end up playing less games, then I’ll just work a little bit more in practice on the technical stuff. It’s all good."
Is it, all good, Nik? Really?
It seems the suggestion Shawn Horcoff might be the best candidate to be the next captain of the Oilers is picking up some steam, even if that support comes grudgingly from some quarters — insert obligatory braying and sniffing about his salary here.
What does he think about the possibility of having the "C" stitched on his jersey this season? We asked him today.
"I don’t think anyone really cares about that," Horcoff said. "At the same point, it would be a huge honour.
"I’d be lying to you if I said it was something that, if it was ever brought to me, I wouldn’t be excited about having. I think you have to be. It’s the Edmonton Oilers. You look at the tradition they’ve had with the captaincy, it’s a huge honour.
"We’re in a city that lives and breathes hockey. It’s something that, if it ever happens, whoever it happens to, they’re going to be proud of that."
I asked Ryan Whitney about his interest in being captain. While it won’t happen because Whitney played just 19 games after coming over from Anaheim at the trade deadline, for my money, he’s the best candidate next to Horcoff.
"I’m proud about being a leader on this team," Whitney said. "In the end, it’s kind of up to the coach who is going to be the captain.
"Horc would be a pretty good pick for that. Not only is he a favourite with the team, he organizes things and he’s a leader in the locker room. He’s been to the Cup final. At the same time, I’m looking to be a leader here and the coach is going to make decisions on guys who will be wearing letters. I’d be honoured to have one."
I’M JUST SAYING . . .
— I had a chat with Magnus Paajarvi Thursday before he went out and torched Tampa Bay for three goals and I was dumbfounded by how calm and collected he was. No rookie butterflies.
"To be honest, I never got nervous that much," he said. "I’ve played in some huge games in Sweden, playoff games.
"I’ve always been able to handle it and play some of my best hockey when the big games come up. You want to make a good impression, but you focus and you get more intense." Paajarvi seems as unflappable as he is talented. That’s a combination, in concert with the three years he spent playing with Timra IK, poolies and prognosticators best keep in mind.
— Saying Linus Omark hasn’t done much to impress so far is a little bit like handcuffing somebody, throwing them into a lake and pointing out they don’t swim so well. Did you see his linemates against Tampa Bay?
I’m not convinced Omark is ready to earn a roster spot here, but if you’re going to take a look at him, then give him a fighting chance to win a job or send him packing to OKC and be done with it.
— Teemu Hartikainen might be a reliable grinder for the Oilers one day, but not now. The strapping Finn is a step behind. He has zero chance of full-time NHL employment until he gets quicker.
AND . . .
— My seven defencemen to start the season are Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid, Kurtis Foster, Jim Vandermeer, Shawn Belle and Jason Strudwick.
— If I was asked to pick two long shots who I think might get a longer look than anybody anticipated, forward Gregory Stewart, a former Montreal draft pick, and Richard Petiot get my vote today.
— Marc Pouliot or Zack Parise? Nevermind.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.