Saint Nik

Nikolai Khabibulin is from all reports a helluva guy and for a long time he was a quality NHL goalie. Can he make a comeback at age 38?

A long, long time ago (well 2 years ago) when the Oilers signed Nikolai Khabibulin I was generally positive. NK was a veteran goaltender coming off a solid year and I suggested that the goalie was a good choice but the term and dollars were not agreeable.

As it turned out, the signing did not work for the Oilers and midway through a 35+ 4 year deal the organization is still relying on him for W’s. We know this because of their summer activity, signing only Yann Danis for the Martin Gerber role and David LeNeveu to be the new JDD.


I’ve always been a fan of the big Russian, going back to the olden days of the Winnipeg Jets. Who knows why we like or don’t like specific goalies (what I don’t know about goaltending is a lot) but he always seemed to give his team a chance to win and NK also thwarted Calgary in the Stanley run of 2004 which makes him a God among men.


This is Victoria Azarenka. Her story and how the Khabibulin’s are involved is here. It’s a wonderful item and just one of many stories one hears about Khabibulin. This is a terrific fellow, and teammates shout his praises from the mountain tops. Having never met him, I would have to conclude that despite news stories in the last year or so, NK is a quality human being on several levels.


In the item I wrote on Friday night (re: Jay Feaster) a couple of ON posters suggested I should get over my hatred of Khabibulin. Allow me to deny my hatred (the last time I hated anyone it was a not-to-be-named classmate in high school who Isabel Donovan liked more than me. Still hate him) and to state my case in regard to Khabibulin one last time.

Nikolai Khabibulin has been an effective NHL goaltender over a long period of time. He has made over 20,000 NHL saves, won a Stanley by posting a .933SP spring 2004 (take that, KIPRUSOFF) and had he been more consistent over a longer period (and played on better teams) would certainly get some HOF attention upon retirement.

But we’re talking the here and now, and through that lens counting on Nikolai Khabibulin is dangerous. This isn’t something I’ve pulled out of my hat (careful) here, most Oiler fans are a little uneasy about the idea of heading to war with a soon to be 39 year old guy whose tires have seen a lot of blacktop.

I was going to post facts from Tyler Dellow’s outstanding July 1, 2009 post on the signing, but a few items have changed since then (namely Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas) so we’ll re-run the fun. In the long history of the NHL, exactly 15 goalies played at age 39 (NK’s age for this season using hockey-reference as a guide). In the group, there are 12 goaltenders who played an extended portion of the season with their teams and by my count 8 who would have played more minutes than the backup in that season. The list is here.

That doesn’t factor in NK’s recent medical history or his injury of a year ago. It doesn’t tell us about the miles and miles and miles and miles of wear and tear on his body and it doesn’t tell us when or even if NK will be on the 40-year old list as his contract with the Oilers runs out.


It means this is not a question of "if" but "when" Nikolai Khabibulin’s skill level and health have him below the line where NHL teams must send their veterans away. We’re blessed with the brains that God gave us, and logic and reason tell us that relying on a veteran like 38-year old Nikolai Khabibulin and a youngster like Devan Dubnyk is unwise.

No hatred. None. I wish him well and will cheer for a strong comeback season, even as history tells me feet of clay do exist and mortals can reach for the sky only for a little while.

  • Greg MC

    I also have always liked Khabby, hes always come off as a solid teammate, never bitches about anything..
    I didnt think he was THAT bad last year..I mean had a horrible start but when Renney decided to get away from that Diamond Defence he did much better..I wonder what his numbers were from that point on..likely just over .900
    I for one think he will have a much much better season this year.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    I can’t speak for everyone, but there are a lot of us out there who don’t hate Khabibulin at all. We’re all pulling for him to turn things around. What we hate is this organization’s stubborn commitment to keep him as the starter over Dubynk. This cost the team several points last season, and it will cost the team both points in the standings and development experience for DD this season. Renney talks tough about goaltending this year, but I will have to see it (DD getting the games he deserves) to believe it.

    I certainly don’t agree with other posters’ idea that we should overpay for yet another veteran goalie to stabilize the situation. Chicago (with Khabi under contract) did that with Huet and it just created more cap problems for them. Turco (another Chicago flop) is washed up and Emery is a lockerroom cancer. I’d have more confidence in Danis.

    For this season, let Dubnyk prove that he is the long-term solution, and hey if Khabibulin is such a great guy then he can serve as a highly paid mentor to DD as the season rolls along.

  • BArmstrong

    Reality check. The guy was rehabing a bad back when he got for d+d.I am certain that he would take that back in a minute. I wish we could take back the 4 year contract and the piss poor performance he gave us last year. No wrong. I’ll keep his piss poor performance because it got us RNH. Whats the excuse going to be this year. When your contract is more than I’ll make in my lifetime I sure as hell am going to hold him to a higher standard. Whether thats on the ice or off the ice. Bulin needs to step his game up and be a leader on and off the ice.The Oilers have a long history of winning and of losing. What part of that history does Bulin want to remembered for when his career is done?

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Khabibulin is

    jolly ol’ Saint Nicholas?

    I really HOPE not

    Edit: If he brings me that Blonde for Christmas, well then all is forgiven….Jolly ol’ Saint Nik indeed 😉

  • BArmstrong

    If Tambo’s plan was to have NK start the first year or two of his contract, share the starts with the young up-and-comer (DD beat out JDD) for the next year or two, and then back-up the kid for the next year or two, then I get it. NK’s contract is still bad, but I get it. Vet nurtures rookie – passes the torch – retires as a stand-up-guy.

    The back injury and DD charge threw a wrench in things, but I say the bigger problem is, does Tambo have a plan?

    This year will suck if…
    DD plays poorly.
    DD plays well, but NK plays better and gets more starts.
    DD plays well, but NK is the chosen starter and $hits the bed.

    ~There’s hardly any pressure on young Devon at all.

  • Not defending Khabby because I watched all the games last year, but I can’t help but wonder if having an actual NHL D corps in front of him would have made a difference. Maybe not a huge one, but enough that perhaps we’d be seeing him in a different light. Yes? No? I dunno.

      • Spartacus

        Withdrawal is makin us all a little edgy. Need some preseason games to start to take some of the edge away. Startin to see shadows written behind every word and statement written about the Oilers. Need an Oiler fix and I mean soon. How long until the camp in Penticton starts? If I don’t get something soon I am going to go Daily Doug on everyone.

  • Spartacus

    Khabibulin being Saint Nik. I know there’s a joke in there somewhere…

    Ya, he’s Saint Nik, alright. Every year he’s finished by Christmas Eve.

    I dunno, something like that.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    With the legal issues behind him, hopefully he can regroup and put together at least a solid 40 games for us. If Dubnyk continues to progress nicely as a goaltender then it might take some heat off of Khabi and help keep him fresh both mentally and physically.

  • paul wodehouse

    …i guess we’ll all see if what Renney referenced as his exit talk with our goalie pans out…he did say that he’d [nk] be [gone] if our goalie didn’t perform up to his [renneys’] standards…

    give him the first every other twenty starts with DD getting the other every other twenty starts and see where he lines up to get on the plane to OKC…this isn’t hating on our goalie it’s just the way the reality of his declining career is heading…he’s close to being done imo…

    then who backs up DD?