Iron In His Words

Where–exactly–does Nikolai Khabibulin stand with the Edmonton Oilers? The answer could have an enormous impact on the Oilers 11-12 season. Tom Renney has already told us.

Back in April, Jonathan Willis wrote an article about the goaltending and quoted a Joanne Ireland article from the EJ. I would quote the article directly but it is no longer available. Jonathan via Joanne Ireland and a quote from the coach.

  • “To me, at least, as we wrap this season up, Khabby deserves the opportunity to come out of the gate and nail it down. I do think Dubby should look forward to playing at least as much next year as he did this year. And I don’t mind if there’s a battle for starts. That’s a healthy situation.

It’s an extremely interesting quote on many levels. First, he suggests Nikolai Khabibulin deserves the chance to nail down the starting job. No surprise there, NHL coaching staffs almost always go with the veteran hand if all things are equal. However, he also suggests in the quote that Devan Dubnyk should see at least 33 games (the number of starts he received this past season). The final portion of the quote is Renney saying everything but "it’s a wide open battle for the starting job" and that’s interesting too.

The quote suggests to me that a 50-50 split in game starts is probable, but the veteran hand will get a chance to establish himself. Is that fair?

Later in the summer, coach Renney was interviewed by Bob Stauffer and asked about the goaltending and Khabibulin specifically.

  • Coach Renney when asked if Khabibulin can rebound: "He better. No one knows that better than Khabbi does. My exit interview with him was very poignant. He knows what is in front of him and should he not be able to seize that then the dynamic changes and he’s well aware of that."

The original quote comes from this post. It gives another side to Tom Renney’s viewpoint on the matter. I expect he’s been quite forthright with both Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk: the time has come for you to grab the Edmonton Oilers goaltending job. His message to Dubnyk might have had a "Nik will come in as starter but you need to be ready" coda but generally speaking one would think the coach wants someone–anyone–to grab this job and run.

What Renney has probably been staring at all summer is the enormous gap between Nikolai Khabibulin and NHL average goaltending. The Puck Stops Here has the latest nail and it’s as damning as our eyes told us during the 10-11 season. The Oilers have clearly decided that Khabibulin will be given every chance to rebound, but "he better"  has some iron and coach Renney is a survivor. He’s either going to find a starter on this roster or he’s going to tell the GM to find someone who can do the job.

For Oiler fans, those quotes are positive signs.

What does it all mean? 

For Oiler fans, it means the leash is short and the coach is (quoting Howard Beale) "as mad as hell and (I’m) not going to take it anymore!" It means fewer goals against or else. It means, and this is a big one, the Edmonton Oilers will contend for W’s in 2011-12 and address need as required. There’s iron in Tom Renney’s words and it gives us much hope for the coming season.

  • I think you’re bang on here.

    The Oilers don’t need to make the playoffs to move along in the rebuild, not that it would hurt, but they cannot be expected to make progress if competing and getting results that are somewhat reflective of that progress are constantly sent sideways by brutal goaltending.

  • YFC Prez

    I glad to see a shorter leash on Khabi, but that leash has already been stretched pretty far. Im curious to know what the options will be if Khabi faulters enough for Renney to pull the plug. I wish this was taken care of July 1. oh well sounds promising anyway.

  • YFC Prez

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they go with Dubnyk more often this year than Khabibulin if he’s better by as much as the stats say he was last season. But if the Oilers were THAT concerned about the goaltending, why wouldn’t they have gone after a UFA this summer?

    My guess is they are happy to go with whoever is better between the two, but I’m less sure than you they’ll go looking for a replacement if neither looks like a true #1 starter. I would think they’d be looking at a 50 Dubnyk/32 Khabibulin split if they both stay healthy and perform like last year, but that’s just a guess.

    It could be that they think Khabi will recover, it could be that they think he’s done, but hope he gets off to a hot start and they can move him. Tough to guess.

  • Mitch


    What Renney has probably be staring at all summer is the enormous gap between Nikolai Khabibulin and NHL average goaltending


    What Renny has probably BEEN staring at all summer…

  • book¡e

    I think the GM wants more wins and will adjust to ensure (try to ensure) that happens, but I suspect that he will be satisfied with enough wins to finish somewhere between 22nd and 26th overall. I think that goaltending has been left as a ‘wait and see what Khabi brings’ simply because there is not too much concern around if Khabi costs them 5-10 games before they decide to replace him.

  • Mitch

    This draft is so deep there is no reason why the Oilers don’t want to make playoffs. Not saying they purposely bombed last year, but they certainly didn’t try to improve the team.

    A quality defensemen will be there, no worries about needing to lock down a top 5 pick again. The Oilers best make a decision on goaltending quick.

  • Dan the Man

    In a rebuilding year a veteran goalie doesn’t necessarily have to be the reason that you win your games but he better not be the reason that you lose your games.

  • Mitch

    A trade for an NHL roster goal will occur if Habbi gets sent to the minors in a month or two. Not totally impossible if the Nug makes the team.

    Goalies do move during the season and I think the Oilers have thought about this

  • book¡e

    They have to give Khabibulin a chance. He’s got 2 years left on an expensive contract so it’s too early to buy him out. Renney has no choice and that’s probably what has driven his stern tone.

    I think the focus of discussion regarding this year and the future should be on Dubnyk. His development has been managed very conservatively by the Oilers, which fortunately coincides with building a contender for 2012-13 and beyond. If he turns into a serviceable starter, then the goaltending situation is resolved and Tambo can focus on building a defence next offseason. But if he flops, then the team will have to use up even more cap space signing another vet to stabilize the goaltending situation.

    IMHO, I don’t think there’s any other single player on the roster whose progress will impact this year and the long-term rebuild more than Dubnyk. We’re relying on him to fill a large gap at a key position, and there’s no one else moving up the system that represents an immediate plan B.

  • Dan the Man

    You would have to think that the fire in the belly to compete will be Khabbi’s downfall in the end. He will try his best, but at 38 unfortunately not good enough, the fire will be extinguished and voila in steps DD and the coach says vaya condidos to the former #1

  • knee deep in it

    realistically, who is going to be available after training camp – leighton, Schnieder, one of the King goalies, Emery, lalime, Turco, Toivanen???

    maybe we should be signing one of the ufa to a tryout contract just in case.

  • What’s with that picture of the mouse?

    Why is it unfair that the BLACK mouse gets all the cheese? What’s it tryin’ to say? That a BLACK mouse can’t have all the cheese? That it’s more fair that the WHITE mouse gets the cheese? They always have the cheddar!

  • Mitch


    The whole roster is full of question marks. Upfront can the young guys produce with the added toughness and Smyth back and some healthy players. On the backend can Whitney be health how much of a impact can Barker have, will Gilbert still suck can Smid bounce back after a good 09 season. Goaltending well they dont have any, a goalie can win a game on his own or at least give a team confidence. This is a rebuild they better find out if Dubnyk is a capable starter.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It must to be easy to point the finger at the goaltenders when all else around them were depleted like they were last season.

    When the GM’s goal at the start of the last 3 seasons was just to furnish Stu with a lottery pick, why even go there?

    If a GM’s goal is as Tambellinis has been the last three seasons, the players must surely be laughing under their breath when Renney states in his opening speech that the goal is nothing short of winning the Stanley Cup. Only in a unique market such as Edmonton will a General Manager be rewarded with an extension when he should’ve been fired long ago when losing became his best option.

  • Even during the re-build the Oil have played some amazing hockey when the goaltenders make solid saves and don’t ‘let in that next goal’. Goaltending is the foundation to good team play. The ‘D’ and everybody forward feeds off of the confidence of the ‘tenders.

    Tne Knabby signing was Tammy’s screw-up in the first place. I hope he has a plan to acquire another ‘tender if Dube/Khabby can’t get it done. I believe this may be the season that fans start getting pissed off if they have another dismal effort after the New Year. At some point this has to cost someone employment.

    • D-Man

      I think you’re bang on.. If (god forbid) Hockey News is right and we’re destined for another first overall draft pick, Tambo needs to be fired… Although I do think he’s done an average – above average job (excluding the brutal Khabby signing) with bringing in some stop gaps, the Oil needs to finish no worst than 24th-25th overall in order for him to keep his job… This year is crucial for the Oil to start showing results and show that the rebuild is working…

      My prediction is that we finish 25th overall meaning we’ll win somewhere in the ball park of 30 to 33 games… Considering Lowe’s track record on firing, I think that would be enough for Tambo to keep his job… IF we finish worst than that and DO NOT make the playoffs in 2012-2013 – there will be no excuses…

  • paul wodehouse

    “…Only in a unique market such as Edmonton will a General Manager be rewarded with an extension when he should’ve been fired long ago when losing became his best option…”

    …our GM’s contract’s been extended? Really? When?

    • Quicksilver ballet

      You’re correct PG. He hasn’t signed one yet, but i have to think an extension/severance amount is imminant, his work here is almost done. It would make sense for Katz to let him walk at years end without another dime but this is just the way they take care of their own in NHL circles.

  • paul wodehouse

    uh, Chris Rock and Wanyes Bastard Child, those little rodents are actually guinea pigs. And guinea pigs are not really that small.

    sheesh all the hockey talk going on the Natioins’s website today and you have to comment on the rodents…has it been a long summer?

  • Lowetide

    Umm, LT… According to the movie, and Faye Dunaway’s newspaper, Beale got fired after drawing his line in the sand.

    Is this your prediction for the goaltending situation and Renney?

  • D-Man

    Since years of fans crying for obvious help have largely been ignored (it took how many years to replace Marty Reasoner? Really? It was Reasoner, a 4th lince C who could win a draw, how hard could that have been?) PERHAPS the knowledge that they have a few special players (Hall in particular) who chafe like hell at losing may bring about the changes we all want for fear of losing their young stars.

    • D-Man

      You think Lowe who has five Stanley Cup rings like losing?? Tambo has years of experience with Hockey Canada – you think that organization enjoys losing??

      I do agree that senior management has ignored the fan base – they should… For all we know, they were trying to fulfill those needs and couldn’t find the right fit (can you say Manny Malholtra)… I think last year was essentially the final year of ‘assessment’… They took time to decide with the future of those players and possibly more… They’ve cut ties with Cogs and tried to deal Brule…

      Right now, there isn’t any fear of losing young stars for losing… Management has made moves to at least show there is a desire to win this year.

      As I’ve said before – if we don’t finish better than 25th overall – Tambo needs to be replaced… This rebuild requires patience.

      • D-Man

        I agree the rebuild (which they more or less fell into accidentally) requires patience. However, you can be patient and address glaring needs at the same time. Signing competent NHL players so that your draft picks have the opportunity to develop their skills in the AHL surrounded by good veterans is an application of patience. They are doing it this year, finally.

        If they really wanted Manny last year and didn’t get him, where was plan B, or C? Otherwise it’s a nice sound bite on Oil Spills to let fans think they tried, while in fact they were content to wreck the sheets for another year. One single NHL decent veteran on D would have helped a ton – let’s hope the Nuge is that much better than the rest of the top 6/7. Or else what was the point?