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.


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.


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.

  • Chris.

    More regarding the MacTavish comparison:

    1) MacTavish (like a man) plead guilty to his crime and didn’t make weinerish constitutional arguments in an attemp to avoid criminal responsibility.

    2) MacTavish was released by his club (Boston) and found his “second chance” with an entirely different organization…

  • I agree with all of the comments RB made in this article. I think it’s important that Khabibulin accept responsibility for his actions, to not make excuses, to accept his punishment and to learn from his mistakes.

    If he’s honest, remorseful and willing to change and to help educate others and have them learn from his mistakes, in time, he can be forgiven, but he really needs to make that conscious step to seek help if he requires it and to admit guilt.

  • Khabibulin return date Feb 4, 2011…

    The Oilers have a light schedule at the end of January. (no more trips to Phoenix)

    Khabibulin could play in 15 of 32 remaining games to support the young guys who will have faced more rubber than Lady Gaga.

    A private commitment to sobriety with management wouldn’t hurt either.

    • Rogue

      More rubber than Lady Gaga!! Props.

      Great article, Sir Robin Hood! I agree with everything you say, but…… I would see what could be done with Old Saint Nik’s contract.

      Just sayin!

  • well jbo wasn’t penalized because his legal problems didn’t interfer with him playing hockey. that and he was a young star that florida wanted.

    Bulin on the other hand is someone that the oil might not want and he could end up missing substantial games.

    I’m not sure why some cant see the difference with this being bulin and not hemsky. This is a new era an era where if you can get out of a bad contract then you look at your options when you have a chance.

    I’m not saying get out of the contract, but a good gm at least looks into his options.

    • I understand the sentiment, I just don’t don’t come to the same conclusion when I think things through.

      The other part of this, and I didn’t want to go too heavy on it because I find the “Ugly Edmonton” inferiority complex tired, is going after Khabibulin’s contract could and likely would be perceived as another strike against the organization in terms of player relations.

      Until the organization ices a contending team, which is the surest way to be appealing to free agents etc., I’m not sure there’s anything positive to be gained by going after Khabibulin’s livelihood after he’s served his sentence.

      • I dont quite buy the argument that voiding the contract will affect the ability to acquire Players because the PA is a schizophrenic society of people with only short term memory function.

        I would take the gamble that the team’s ability to win would be increased with the extra money in pocket to spend on a younger less injury prone goalie.

        Who knows though, he might only serve 10 days in prison, Lohan style, and be ready for camp.

  • gr8one

    Yup, great read RB.

    When talking about moral high ground here, and the fantastic point you made about the franchise giving MacT a second chance, we also can’t forget the summer of Heatley and how management wasted over a month groveling and begging him to come here.

    Using a “morals clause to get out of this contract would be epicly hypocritical.

  • I’m on the fence on this. I actually have a tough time not questioning my motives when I think that it would be nice for the Oil to tear his contract up. But I have asked the question of others, what would you do if it were Ales Hemsksy in his shoes, and to my surprise they said they would still be harsh on him and even recommend tearing his contract up (and I believe these people to be honest in what they say).

    Some people have stronger morals when it comes to drunk drivers. I personally would probably want to see Hemsky (or whomever) in a rehabilitation program of some sort though while continuing on as an Oiler. But I do believe that there lots of people out there with a strong enough hate towards drunk drivers that they’d treat Hemsky the same way if he were in Khabi’s place (i.e. want his contract ripped up).

    Anyways, I say I’m on the fence with this because I’m the type of person that your intro applies to. I want out of the Khabi contract because I hate the Khabi contract, and I can fully admit that (although I do like Khabi.. just do not like the term/salary). However, the “human being” in me doesn’t feel sorry for Khabi, but would like to see Khabi treated properly, and I have a tough time believing too that the motives are completely honest if done for this one mistake (albeit a huge mistake). Get him help if he needs it (i.e. if he is an alcoholic) and get him to help rebuild his reputation and use this situation for good by speaking to the community about the perils of drunk driving, as suggested in the article. I do like that.

    But anyways, my original point was just that I know there are lots of people that feel strongly enough about drunk drivers that they’d treat Hemsky all the same.

  • Lofty

    Well said.

    I think management needs to ask themselves if they think the Oilers are better off with Khabi or without. If the conclusion they come to is without and the Oil have a legal way to get out then I think Tambo has to reference his job description and act in a way that satisfies the mandate that Katz gave him.

    The organization has to decide if its going to act with compassion and heart or make a purely business decision and let Khabi fall for his mistake.

    Khabi got himself into this mess and its nobody’s fault but his own.

  • Chris.

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    MacTavish was very young and still had signifigant hockey upside when he was given his second chance. (Yes I went there)

    On a more personal note; (insert tone of fake moral outrage); Khabibulin is about my age… and only a very very few people still make these kind of boneheaded decisions into their late thirties. They’re called losers.

  • Ender

    Oh, I hate the Khabi contract. And I would dance a happy little dance late into each and every night for a month if he weren’t an Oiler any more.


    But voiding his contract over this isn’t the way to do it. I hate it, but it’s like kicking someone when they’re down. It’s running a sword through an unarmed opponent. It wins, true, but that doesn’t make it right.

    As much as it sucks (and it kills me to say this), the Oilers should not void Khabi’s contract. While I may personally believe that Khabi deserves (a lot) more than 10 days in jail and counselling, I’m not prepared to say that every first-time offender should be stripped of their livelihood. Khabi shouldn’t get special treatment, but he can’t get worse than average either. Getting punted from the Oilers would pretty much signal the end of his career. Would I do that to my friend next door if he drove drunk? After he got out of jail, insist that his company fire him at the cost of having to take up a new profession? It has to be the same all the way around.

    Ideally, I’d like to see Khabi get a year or two in jail to think about responsibility. For that to be fair, though, our justice system would have to feel that appropriate for everyone. It seems to think 30 days (20 suspended) is appropriate in some cases. Then, I have issue with the justice system. Walking away too easily is not Khabi’s fault.

    Whatever the time served, I recognize that Khabi and everyone else deserves to go back to work after they’ve paid the penalty demanded by justice. I wish it were longer, but it’s not up to the Oilers to subsidize his punishment.

    I hate it, but Khabi should stay an Oiler. An old, injured, overpayed, and hopefully reformed, Oiler.

  • Action Jackson

    You are right about absolutely everything RB, but your take does not do much for the summer sports slump. Bored Oiler fan would love ST to void the contract, sign niemmi and kovalchuk, and announce that Edmonton is going to be the class of the West. Unfortunately being a GM is often like golf or poker in that the most patient competitor will take home the prize.

    Listen to RB Tambo and lets collect our draft picks and watch this year with potential in mind, not results.

  • Lofty

    Do you agree that the Oilers and the NHL should impose a very stiff puishment? Setting the tone for any other player that decides he might get behind a wheel after drinking or commiting any crime on society.

    I think the NFL handles these type of situations much better than the NHL.

    Not to mention, that Boulin was supposed to be nursing a bad back. Where is his commitment to fixing the injury? Getting drunk and climbing into a Ferrari…

    Not my idea of a healthy recovery plan.

    I think the NHL needs to make a huge example here. Anyone who has read Fluery’s book will know that the NHL would rather brush this aside rather than deal with it square in the face.

    • Disagree. J-Bo almost hit a police officer while DUI and the NHL nor the Florida Panthers did a damn thing. Why should Khabbi severely punished when J-Bo didn’t get anything? J-Bo even admitted he knew he was drunk but the NHL didn’t suspend him and the Panthers didn’t discipline him.

        • J-Bo almost hit a police officer and wasn’t suspended by the NHL or disciplined by the Panthers. Why should Khabbi be suspended? If Khabbi gets the book thrown at him by the NHL, I will have lost all respect for the NHL. I’s a double standard. What J-Bo did was a lot worse than what Khabbi did. J-Bo could have hit that police officer and injured him badly, yet the NHL didn’t suspend him. No one could have been injured in the Khabbi incident, yet he’s being bashed big time. Why can J-Bo almost hit a police officer and not be bashed? Is there so much Oilers hatrrede that people want the worst for the team? I believe so.

          • That’s a pretty shallow argument. For one, I would be questioning why the NHL didn’t do anything to Bouwmeester, at the time, not why they did something to Khabibulin. Also, as Ross mentioned, why can’t the NHL change their policy? It’s been a few years now since that incident. If it happened a month ago, I could understand the argument.

            Also, Khabibulin’s BAC was over 2x the limit and he was also speeding over 30mph over the speed limit. I think these things factor in as well too.

            Also how can you say no one could have been injured in the Khabi incident… pardon me, but are you effing nuts? No one can be injured by a guy who’s got twice the legal limit of alcohol in him and speeding? Was he driving down some sort of nerf vehicle?

          • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

            1) where in j-bows charges does it indicate any violence or near miss with an officer? was he charged with anything close to that? nope. are you suggesting there was an EPS cover up because j-bow was an nhl star, or are you stretching the truth to try and fit your “reasoning”?

            2) j-bow was given a $1000 fine and a $150 victims charge, along with having his license suspended. ‘bulins is a tad more severe dont you think?

            and no one could have been injured in the ‘bulin incident? are you serious? a guy DOUBLE the legal limit SPEEDING EXCESSIVELY? no one could have been injured?

            how about you look up mark bell. look at his charges, and look what he got.

            yes, j-bow could have hit a cop. and, if he did, he would have been punished for it. it isnt oilers hatred, it is common sense. try it sometime, you might like it.

          • So the NHL is NEVER allowed to change their policy? Seems kinda silly… after all, if your philosophy applied to everyday real-life, then we’d still be getting a $25 fine for drinking & driving. Right?