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.
- Tom Renney: “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.