His 30-day sentence for charges related to drunk driving behind him, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin returned to the ice with his Edmonton Oilers teammates today.

Released from Maricopa County Jail in Arizona on Aug. 15 to finish his sentence under house arrest after abandoning an appeal of convictions on three charges dating back to February 2010, the 38-year-old puck stopper was back in the crease at Kinsmen Arenas.

With his time served and a forgettable 2010-11 season behind him, Khabibulin will report to Rexall Place for medicals and fitness testing with his teammates Friday in preparation for training camp.

Whether Khabibulin, who struggled mightily with the 30th-place Oilers amid a highly-publicized trial during a season in which he endured a 14-game losing streak, can regain his form has yet to be seen, but he looked and sounded like a man who’d had a weight lifted off his shoulders when we spoke today.


Khabibulin, entering the third-year of a four-year contract worth $15 million, spoke with Jim Matheson of The Journal, Dave Mitchell of CTV and I after his first workout back in Edmonton.

"I’m definitely happy about that, that it’s over with," he said. "I’m trying to put it behind. It wasn’t really easy to go through. It wasn’t easy for me or my family, and probably even harder for my family. Luckily, it’s done now and I can look ahead."

Khabibulin, who was pulled over for speeding in his black Ferrari on the way to his Arizona home, began serving his sentence in Tent City, the infamous portion of the Maricopa County Jail established by Sheriff Joe Arpaio On July 30.

That’s not a place anybody wants to be at the best of times, let alone in July when the searing heat in the Valley of the Sun is almost unbearable.

"I think in the first 48 hours I was there I lost like six or seven pounds just laying in the bed," said Khabibulin, who is a such a notorious sweater he has holes drilled in his skates to allow the perspiration to drain away.


"The water we could get," said Khabibulin, who was assigned to one of the 14 or 15 bunks in his tent. "They had some wetting machines, but the food was, uh, I tried it once and I didn’t want to try . . . "

Suffice to say, Sheriff Arpaio’s menu was not the type Khabibulin has grown accustomed to during his NHL career. Nor should it be, not when the taxpayers are footing the bill.

"The weekends are the worst because there’s nothing to do. All you can do is read a book or talk to other people," said Khabibulin, who read the DaVinci Code in Tent City. "I brought some Russian books. I talked to some guys there. Some good people there, too."

As an established NHL goaltender, and having spent three years as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, Khabibulin wasn’t exactly able to just blend in, especially with the publicity that came with his trial.

"I actually did," said Khabibulin, when we half-jokingly asked if he’d been asked to sign any autographs while in jail. "Pieces of paper. I got called up to the office a couple times. They wanted autographs, too, so, . . . the detention officers."


Talk to Khabibulin and his regrets are obvious. While remorse doesn’t change the fact he broke the law, I came away from the interview with the sense that, aside from the price he paid in terms of public ridicule beyond his time served, there’s nothing about the experience he didn’t fully understand.

"There’s a lot of people I’ve seen and talked to (in prison)," Khabibulin said. "Some are contractors, CEOs of companies, some are just regular people. We all talk about things that we’ve done.

"They’re all saying, ‘Well, if we could get it back, we would never do it.’ So, obviously, we learned a lesson. It’s not very easy stuff to deal with when you’re there, and especially when you’re in the media. It’s not easy."

Headlines aside, the impact of Khabibulin’s actions struck a lot closer to home than the public spectacle.

"My daughter is old enough now that she reads the internet and everything, you know? She was not very happy. She felt back for me, but I hope that what I’ve done, my mistake, I hope that she is going to learn from it as well.

"She wouldn’t give me a hard time. Like sometimes, she would say something funny to me, but, at the same time, I know for a fact that when I went there, she was crying for the first couple days, so that was hard to see that. I’m pretty sure she’s going to, because of what I’ve done, learn to . . . "


"It’s definitely nice to put it behind you," Khabibulin said. "I think that last year, as much as I tried not to think about it . . . if the season was better, I think it would have been easier to do it, but once we weren’t winning as many games, it’s always in the back of your mind.

"You constantly kind of think about it. I think in a way it’s more relaxed now for me. Again, it wasn’t fun. I learned my lesson. Going forward now, I think it will be a little more relaxed."

What fans want to know is if Khabibulin has enough game to give the Oilers the kind of goaltending they need to show marked improvement in the standings. Coming off a season in which Khabibulin was 10-32-4 with a 3.40 goals-against average and an .890 saves percentage, that’s going to be a tough sell.

"The only way for me is to go on the ice and prove that I can still play," Khabibulin said.

"There’s no other way. I can say what I want, or people can think what they want, but it will all come down to when the games start. If I do well, I’ll be happy. If not, then I guess not."

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • time will tell.

    typically i may not be the most forgiving sort but i would like to believe people can and will change.

    i wish him the best while really i’d like to see dubnyk take control.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Is there not a “personal code of conduct” clause in the NHL contracts? If not, well, there should be.

    There is no way that this “athlete” ( and other athletes who run afoul of the law….Sean DB Avery, M.Vick, Ray Lewis, Dino Ciccarelli et al ) should even be allowed to play after the embarrassment brought onto the parent club.

    Am I being a little harsh. No bloody way. I lost a wife and three kids to a drunk driver, and others I know, even others on this site, have lost loved ones to Impaired driving.

    Am I preaching? I don’t think so. Just sharing my opinion. Thats all.


    • Kodiak

      Where do you draw the line? Speeding drivers cause accidents that kill people too. So should someone doing 100 in an 80 zone lose his job? Putting lipstick on while driving has caused accidents that have killed people. Caught doing that and condemned for life like you suggest?

      I understand your anger after such a loss. I can’t even imagine going through that and I’m very sorry you had to. That being said, if you were to tell me you haven’t made mistakes in your life or used bad judgement in the past I’d have to call you a liar. Khabibulin made a mistake. He used poor judgement. He paid his debt to society and should be allowed to return to it with the shame and embarrassment he’s now carrying.

      • Peterborough

        Are you really comparing drunk driving to speeding or putting lipstick on? I don’t know anyone who has lost their life or killed anyone by putting lipstick on. I also don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost someone to drunk driving.

        Lets be real here sir.

        • positivebrontefan

          Anytime there is an accident, someone wasn’t paying attention, I don’t really care what they were doing in their vehicle. It’s poor judgement and that takes nothing away from the stupidity of drunk driving.
          Every day we go out there in 4000 pound missiles that we take for granted and when we lose respect for the damage we can cause when we lose focus we show a lack of respect for everyone else on the road who is paying attention.

          Everyone makes mistakes, it’s what we learn from them that makes us the people we are. Unfortunately sometimes our mistakes cause others great pain.

          Khabby made a mistake that didnt cost anyone but himself, Craig McTavish was not that fortunate, and he lives with that everyday, not to mention the family he changed.

    • Deep Oil

      Oilers G – your assumption that Sean Avery ran afoul of the law is slander….. idiot statement.

      If you want to throw the LA door incident in my face, it was dropped…… maybe you want to drop sean avery from your rant.

      Did sean avery use drugs or alcohol and commit assault, did sean avery drive drunk behind his ferarri ?

      No – the only thing sean avery is guilt of is taking a quote of from CSI NY

      CSI: NY: Grand Murder at Central Station Episode Recap – CSI: NY season 2 episode 2 Grand Murder at Central Station Recap. … Overview · Recap · Cast · Writers, Directors & Crew · Trivia/Quotes · Reviews ….. Next we see Danny, Stella and Scagnetti walking towards a group of hockey players. …. and Danny comments on Paul having a taste for “sloppy seconds” because Steve ……/recap.html – Cached – Similar

  • Lofty

    Great read Brownlee.

    It’s an obvious reminder that as bad as KH was for the Oilers last year, it’s still just a guy living life. He’s just a man who’s going through ups and downs just like everyone else. The definition of things like wealth, happiness and success, are different for everyone and are relative to every individual perspective. You can always be better and can always be worse.

    No matter how KH plays in 2011-2012, he’s still just a kid, who’s riding the wave of life, had/has a skill, found a woman, made a family and is trying to support that family with the tangibles ($) and intangibles (leadership/experience/guidance.)

    I wish him the best moving forward, but I suspect his days as an NHL starter are over.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Wishing Khabby nothing but success this coming season.

    In this, It’s only illegal if you get caught world we live in, this will hardly be a deterant as far as drinking and driving go. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about another alcohol related incident relating to #35 within the next 18 months or so. He’ll be fine during the season if he’s healthy and playing but if he’s at home and his time is his own, he’ll be pushing his luck again soon.

    • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

      So is the assumption that Khabibulin has a drinking problem (be it severe or not) solely based on the fact that he has a DUI and is Russian? Because I’ve never had a reason to assume he even drank before the DUI. It’s not like he had a reputation…. or did he?

      Word on the street? see him in bars? friends of friends? What is it?

  • O.C.

    So how is it they deny people access into the U.S. for having a dui? (Not me – but others I know)

    Anyone else think that the two Dustins could benefit from summers in there, what with the quality of the food?

  • Charlie Huddy

    Hopefully all that time lifting weights and all the being bent over and stretched limbers him up for this season. This might be just what we needed for a movie worthy comeback season for khabbi.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    With this all behind him, hopefully he can regain his focus and have a solid season. Dubnyk has set the bar high for himself and I am definitely a fan of his but he is by no means a guarantee to duplicate his success from last season. A healthy, competitive Khabibulin could help to really push Dubnyk and maybe get us through any lulls in the giraffe’s play.

    • Little Buttcheeks

      Khabibulin is an easy target because, aside from fans being frustrated in general and looking for something to bitch about, he screwed up and he had a lousy season.

      He served his sentence. He wants to get his life and his career back on track. Let’s leave it to those who haven’t ever made a mistake to say he doesn’t deserve that chance.

  • I remember this one time, I didn’t make a mistake at all. And then, as a reward, my Dad had me killed so others could learn how to do it too. I was all like, “Dad cmon man there’s gotta be an easier way, lemme teach em.” And he was like, “No man you already tried son, now go get killed n stuff.”

    I was like damn. This sucks.

    Hmm wait no that wasn’t me … was some Book I read somewhere. Can’t remember the title.

    Let those who have not sinned cast the first stone. Go Khabby!

    P.S. It was the New Testament.

  • paul wodehouse


    …interesting take on our goalie and your prediction that he’ll be in trouble with the drink again…soon-ish…my hope is that you are wrong…my hope is that he can find his game now that he is not so distracted by all of us and more in his head and show that he can win some games so our Edmonton Oiler Hockey Club doesn’t suck as bad as it has with him playing…nothing will reverse any of this in the minds of some but the big picture shows that he’s paid his debt to society…finally… now we need to wait and watch because if you think he’s not getting it?…

    he WILL pay for his dunderheadedness again…

    …DD…be ready…

        • book¡e

          Robin, this topic really depends upon how serious of a crime you consider drunk driving. I consider it extremely serious and I consider the reasons for perpetrating it to be selfish. I know that many of you consider it a fairly minor issue, but it’s not. The numbers of people killed by drunks on the road is staggering and the impacts in each of those cases are devastating on families and last for years and years.

          Khabi’s statements in his article show a tremendous amount of remorse for what he had to suffer through in his 14 evenings in prison camp, but nowhere do I see a real acknowledgement with regards to the risk he posed to others.

          Would you be so forgiving to a 37 year old millionaire who robbed a clerk with a knife or who hijacked a car or would you call it a ‘mistake’? The likelihood of harming someone is probably less then the risk posed by drunk drivers.

          Why we keep forgiving this behaviour is something I don’t understand. Perhaps it is because it is something ‘we grew up with’, but slapping your wife around is also something we grew up with and it is no longer acceptable. Khabibulin demonstrates this with his “I met a lot of CEO’s in jail” comment.

          As I understand it Craig McTavish receives a birthday card every year from the family of the woman he killed. They have forgiven him, but send the card every year as a reminder that the world is a very different place for a whole group of people because of the selfishness of his actions. McTavish has demonstrated significant regret and has spent a long time earning back respect.

          I am glad that Khabibulin won’t be getting a birthday card every year from a family of someone he killed, but he won’t be getting my respect for some time. He could start by showing a clear understanding of the risk he put others in and showing some remorse for the action – not just for the experience of the punishment.

          • Kodiak

            There is no excuse for drunk driving. It’s not OK. It’s not minor, even when no accident or injury is involved.

            As an adult, you do not need to know somebody who was injured or killed by a drunk driver to understand this, although many of us are unfortunately in that boat. In my opinion, our laws do not adequately punish convincted drunk drivers.

            All that said:

            Khabibulin answered the questions he was asked by Matheson, Mitchell and I. We did not ask him to make a statement about the stupidity of his actions. “Do you understand how unacceptable DUI is?” etc etc. We didn’t ask him if he wanted to make a public apology. We focused on what the experience was like for him. He stood in and took our questions about a subject he’d rather not discuss.

            Some people talk as if anything short of a teary, public breakdown and apology means that Khabibulin is only remorseful because he got caught. That’s callous. That’s presumptuous beyond words.

            How do people saying that know what the hell Khabibulin thinks? They don’t. They’ve never met the man. They didn’t look him in the eyes as he answered our questions. They don’t know, but they mount the moral high horse and blather on as if they do. Enough.

            I can’t speak with certainty to the level of remorse Khabibulin feels about what he did or if he actually fully understands how serious his lack of judgment was because we didn’t ask him, yet other people jump to conclusions like they can. Again, presumptuous.

            What I can say is he didn’t come off as somebody who took this lightly, who was perturbed only because his off-season was interrupted by the “inconvenience” of the jail time he did, whose only regret was getting caught.

          • book¡e

            Robin – I get what you are saying and in fact, I wondered for a long time if Khabi was not ‘apologising’ for his actions due to legal reasons. I also cut him some slack because while he has been in North America for a long time, he is speaking in a second language and I have seen him struggle to clearly express his thoughts before. Third, I have been in press interviews and understand how often they don’t really represent the intentions of the interviewee.

            I hope he understands the seriousness of his actions, not just the legal repercussions. You are correct that we don’t really know how Khabi feels about that.

  • striatic

    i found that anti MADD blog post unconvincing, it starts off by admitting MADD’s numbers are correct and then proceeds to mention some very bizarre and unlikely circumstances that also might fit the statistical criteria.

    not a particularly convincing way to make an argument.

    regarding Khabibulin, i think drunk driving needs to be taken seriously. in this case, i believe it was taken very seriously especially considering how lax DUI laws are in other states.

    i’m glad that his actions didn’t end up hurting anyone other than himself and his family.

    i’m glad he got caught and i’m glad he went to jail.

    and now i’m glad he’s out.

    it would be good to see him do some public service and speaking on the issue of driving while intoxicated. it’s good to remind people to be careful out there, and i think Khabibulin would benefit from the experience as well.

    going by the text of the interview, i’m not sure whether he only feels bad because he got caught or not. i’d like to hear him say “what i did was dumb” in public but if he wants to say that he shouldn’t need a reporter’s question to prompt him.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Yeah poor Nik.

    The other day when I (being a 37 year old man, not a 19 year old moron) drove my $200K car 100 mph in a 60 zone, while pissed to the gills, I thought to myself


    My life is so tough. What with all the pressure and me being pretty bad at my job and all.

    Puff piece Robin. Sorry.

    • What’s sorry is your agenda, and it’s easy to look up.

      You’re the same guy who suggested I find better things to do on a hot summer day than go to the prospects camp at Millennium Place. I think you characterized it as “stalking teenagers.”

      That’s somebody I’d trust to judge something I write on its merits or lack of same. Sure. Don’t have time for it, so get lost. We’re not trading comments here.