The Edmonton Oilers Should Sign Josh Harding This Summer

Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding earned $750,000 in 2011-12 as the backup to Niklas Backstrom. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Oilers should give serious thought to bringing him aboard in time for next season.

But wait! The Oilers already have two goalies under contract for next season! Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to that: buyout Nikolai Khabibulin. A Khabibulin buyout makes sense, not only from a roster perspective, but also from a financial one. Bring Josh Harding in as his replacement.

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The Oilers and Harding are a good fit for each other in a few ways. Let’s start with why the Oilers could use Harding.

At 27 years of age, Harding fits with the Oilers core group of players, and if all goes well could spend the next decade as an NHL goaltender. He’s a good goalie now; his save percentage for the woeful Minnesota Wild this season was a sparkling 0.917, and over 117 NHL games he’s posted a career 0.916 SV%.

Given his youth and proven level of NHL ability, Harding would give the Oilers a second strong option in net. This is desirable for a few different reasons. First, the competition for playing time would undoubtedly help push both Harding and Dubnyk. Second, redundancy in goal is always a good thing – in the event one guy gets hurt or struggles, there’s always a second capable guy around to help shoulder the load.

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One of the underrated strengths of the glory years Oilers was their depth in net; early on the team had Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr splitting time in net; later on they had Fuhr and Bill Ranford. In all of Fuhr’s years with the Oilers, only once did he play more than 60 games – in 1987-88, when Moog left to play for the Canadian National Team until the Oilers sent him to Boston for Ranford and Geoff Courtnall.

Obviously, it’s far too early to compare a Dubnyk/Harding tandem to Fuhr/Moog, but there’s no denying the value of having a backup who can play regularly.

Still, if Harding has an attractive combination of talent and (relative) youth, why would he be interested in playing in Edmonton?

Part of the reason is the NHL goalie market: the simple fact is that there are more competent goalies available than there are job openings, particularly when the trade market is taken into account.

Beyond that, Harding’s injury history is a big risk for a team looking at him as a starter. A knee injury cost Harding the entire 2010-11 season. He’s missed time with both hip injuries and head injuries, and given that a team might hesitate when penciling him in for 60+ starts.

Edmonton is the perfect middle ground. Harding’s career save percentage is better than that of Devan Dubnyk, and he’d stand a decent shot at taking the starting gig away if he signed with the Oilers, and even if he didn’t he’d still undoubtedly play regularly. Because the Oilers already have Dubnyk, they’d be more willing to gamble on Harding’s health than a team with an untrusted backup would. The Oilers have also done a good job – with Martin Gerber and then Yann Danis – of having a third-string goalie who can play the last few years, so it’s reasonable to expect they’d be prepared in case of injury.

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It seems like a situation that would work well for both parties.

This week by Jonathan Willis at Oilers Nation

  • Eulers

    Jonathan, you forget that Khabibulin has “fire in his belly” and is our MVP. We therefore do not need a young goaltender who can ‘stop pucks’. #Ifixedit

    Fire the Incompetent Steve Tambellini

  • Hemmercules

    Tamblo give up on his superstar? Never! He somehow defends that geezer when everyone and their dog knows he needs to be bought out. Love to have Harding but I don’t think Tambo is capable of pulling off a smart move like that.

    • 1) Then go sign a Russian player who can help the team. Or an off-ice translator who can help Yakupov. Khabibulin’s not getting paid $3.75 MM to hold Yakupov’s hand.

      2) Neither goalie has played even a full year in the AHL, and at least one full AHL year is likely for both prior to any NHL duty. It would be a mistake to hold off addressing the net for a year or two just because there are a couple of mid-round picks in the system who look like they might make good.

      • I gotta say JW, usually I agree with your analysis. But this whole goalie situation is way off base.

        First off, who cares if Khabi makes 3.75 MM or 2, or 5. Its 1 more year, and I can’t imagine we’ll have cap issues this year. Its a pointless argument. I realize its emotional to link salary to performance if someone is being overpaid based on their performance (see Shawn Horcoff). But its irrelevant.

        What is the benefit of spending any time, effort, money, or goodwill (buying out Khabi might not be received overly well by other aging vets we will need to acquire for a cup run one day).

        Dooby performed well down the stretch, and should be given the #1 job next year. I believe you yourself argued the Oilers will be hard pressed to make the playoffs next year. In that case, who cares about a goalie at all.

        Tambo should spend 100% of his energy, assets and time on improving the D and looking to add depth/size up front while deciding which of the current small’ish forwards fit and which don’t.

        This goalie talk is pointless.

  • Dipstick

    I wonder if the Oilers are on Luongo’s trade list…

    We’d rid ourselves of a big contract (Horcoff?) and send prospects and picks (not including this year’s #1) and be set in goal.

    Then buy out Khabi this summer if nobody wants him in a deal.

    • justDOit

      Luongo’s wife is from the Tampa area, and he still owns property there, so I’d say the chances of him agreeing to that trade would be ice cold.

      I like the idea of signing Harding, and I believe people here are reading too much into Tambi’s comments on him. He can’t really come out and say, “Yeah, Nik played poorly for us this year, other than the first 10 games or so, but we’re stuck with him until we find a sucker to trade him to or buy him out.”

      He has to ‘pump Nik’s tires’ for a few reasons, one of them being that he just might need Khabby next season, and doesn’t want a disgruntled, aging goalie with confidence issues.

      It’s like this: I’d love to be driving my old Toyota next year – but if I get the chance to sign a new one this summer, it’s a done deal!

  • Dipstick

    If the market price for Harding is driven down by the potential availability of Luongo, Kipper, Tim Thomas as well as Vokoun. Then it makes sense if it’s for the right term and price.

    My gut it telling me that Harding goes to Columbus though, they won’t be able to land one of the above players and unless they get a goalie for Nash he give Harding the best opportunity to start in the NHL.

    Another option I would like is for the Oilers to buy-out Khabibulin and bring in two quality AHL goalies such as Yan Danis & Anton Khudobin (25 years old). Khudobin has had SV% of .919 this past year & .920 (Providence) / .911 (Houston) the year before. If the Bruins keep Thomas & Rask next year then Khudobin is in the minors again sharing time with Bruins prospect M. Hutchinson. He’s looked good in the NHL with a career SV% of .961 in 7 games. His main issue is size.

  • J-Dogg

    Even if Luongo’s contract was a long 5 years as opposed to an unwieldy 9 remaining years, I’d rather not pick up the anti-clutch goalie who only seems to play at an elite level when it doesn’t really matter.

    • Jason Gregor

      How do the Oilers save money if they sign Harding? You think he will sign for less than $1.25 million?

      They won’t save money, and at this point isnt’ Harding almost as much of a wild card as Khabibulin.

      Harding has had injury issues, but he’s much younger. Curious why if they don’t save any money, you think Harding is guaranteed upgrade?

      • The Oilers don’t save money by signing Harding – sorry, I should have been clearer. The Oilers save money (with no loss in ability) if they buy-out Khabibulin and sign a guy like Danis. They upgrade the position if the sign Harding.

  • I think you’re assuming that the Oiler managements “ultimate” goal this year is to win as many games as possible. I don’t believe it is. I believe they want to make incremental improvements all the while stock piling draft picks. If they keep the tandem in place I believe they can make greater improvements in the other areas and it will look like vast improvements overall to the team. Mission accomplished.

  • Dipstick

    #1 I wouldn’t want Lou as our goaltender even if we could get hime. I don’t think he would fit in with the dynamics of the team.

    I believe we have 2 AHL goalies who’s contracts are ending. So I propose that the Oilers sign Harding and have the three compete in training camp and pre-season. You want to stay in the NHL earn it. The Likely outcome would be Bulin going down to OKC which isn’t a bad idea, he would be a great mentor to one of Propects likely to be with OKC next season.

    Also Nail has already played two years in Canada, I don’t think he needs another Russian to help him fit in I think he will do just fine on his own and with his own age group.

  • @Jonathan Willis

    I remember the exact same concerns about the Oilers, before they were a dynasty.

    Bad defense, poor goaltending, no depth….

    The Oilers have two years before they are contenders.

    High end defense will come, goalies will struggle and then solidify.

    The object of the rebuild at this stage is to build the offense into a goal scoring machine.

  • Keeping Khabibulin because he’s Russian makes sense in theory, but there are a lot of Russian players that could be on the market.

    1. Ruslan Fedotenko – UFA at the end of the year. Would fit because he’s a good two-way player that can fit on the bottom of the roster.
    2. Nik Antropov – Huge contract low point totals, apparently coach doesn’t like him. He plays PP, PK and can play all three forward positions. If the Oilers want to overpay a Russian (actually from Kazakhstan) they can overpay this guy.
    3. Alex Burmistrov – Long shot (you’d have to give up alot) but huge talent and apparently the coach doesn’t love him either.
    4. Artem Anisimov – With Kreider in NYR, Anisimov’s minutes have been cut alot during the playoff. In the regular season he was 6th in TOI the playoffs he is 10th in TOI. He can play all 3 forward positions and helps out on PK & PP.
    5. Nik Nikitin – CBJ has 5 defenseman on one way contracts and have two prospects that are close to being ready. You have to be willing to give up alot to get him, but he’s an RFA. He plays tough minutes and is a good all around Dman.

    Just a couple of names that could be available.

  • Vaclav

    JW, what would Khabibulin, fetch on the market……..I’m thinking trade this guy for a second round draft choice, and make Denis our back up.

    Based on his play in the AHL, he deserves a chance.

    • Yes but you assume there is zero cost in terms of goodwill in a buyout. Perhaps thats true…

      My point is that in 2012-2013 who cares about 1.25 million in savings VS the cost of shifting focus from what really matters (D and size up front) as well as some potential hard feelings.

      Worry about goalie next year. Or this year at trade deadline. Maybe someone better will come up, I just don’t see any reason to move now.

    • DieHard

      Your logic is sound. Khabibulin can either retire with 1.25M for the next 2 years or try for another contract as well. I don’t believe there would be any hard feelings, I think Khabby knows the direction of the Oilers and he’s just not cutting it. Try to sign Harding to a 3 year deal. It’s a good age mix with Dubnyk/Harding. They can duke it out while we hopefully develop our goalie prospects to replace one of them in 3 years time or so.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    A UFA elibible goaltender who’s making less than one mill per season? Nothing says you’ve arrived in the NHL better than being in the situation Harding is. The kid can’t even stay healthy. Your sense of humor is on display in this effort Jonathan. Whats better than two goalies that struggle to stop the puck/stay healthy…..3 goalies can botch this up just as easily as two can. Pass on Harding, thanks.

    Plug the 1 and 2 holes on the Oilers blueline before making a deal for a goaltender if need be. If the Oilers don’t bring in a couple candidates for the #1 and #2 spots on the blueline, it won’t matter who’s playing goal here. A bottom ten finish is a lock if they don’t fill those 1 and 2 spots.

    Personally, i’m pulling for another work stoppage this coming season. The decision on who to draft is removed from the Oilers grasp if they keep having to select first overall. It’s doing wonderful things to our top 6. MacKinnon without having to watch this team struggle for yet another year is the perfect storm.

    Update: only 341 shopping days left till Shea Weber is a UFA.

  • I thought Khabi is ineligible for buyout because of his age when he signed his contract (35+) so that it would cost the Oilers the entire $3.75 million.

    It makes more sense to me to try and deal him at the deadline for an asset to help the club.

    • db7db7db7

      You’re right
      As per CapGeek:
      Nikolai Khabibulin has a 35-plus contract (see our FAQ for a detailed explanation). A buyout of his contract will save the team in actual dollars but not in cap dollars. The total buyout cost is $2,500,000 spread over 2 years. His contract was originally valued at $15,000,000 beginning in 2009 and ending in 2013, with $3,750,000 remaining from the buyout year forward. The following is a season-by-season breakdown of the buyout. The “buyout” column shows how much the team must pay the player in each season of the buyout

  • Vaclav


    I agree that buying out Khabibulin is the right choice but I don’t think Harding is the correct target given his significant injury history.

    I would rather see the Oilers go after a goaltender like Thomas Greiss in San Jose or Anders Lindback in Nashville. Both of these guys have good numbers albeit in limited games and are caught behind starters signed to long-term contracts. While Harding wouldn’t cost the organization anything in assets if either of these two were available for a lesser prospect or draftpick it would be worth it in my opinion.

  • Vaclav

    Give up the pipe dream guys.. Management has made it clear they will be honouring Habby’s last year of his contract

    We all know his days of being a solid #1 tender are behind him. It seems as though we will get one more year of him in a backup/mentor role.

    He usually starts the season on fire, so maybe he gets 8-10 games early. Then another 15-20 the rest of the way, with a short leash though as management also has said they will be trying to make playoffs this year.

    It might not be so bad like that. I also believe they intend on leaving a roster spot available for the eventual emergence of Roy or Bunz.

    As far as Harding goes, be very leary of goalies from defencively oriented teams… Bryzgalov anyone?

    What do you think the numbers would look like if Dubey played for minni, and harding with the oilers the last 2 years? I would bet they would be much different. You have to wonder how would Dubey look on Nashville or maybe Pheonix.

    Lastly.. There is absolutely 0% chance Loungo ever sports the oildrop so just forget it!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    If we’re going to blow some of Katz’s money on a buyout, it should be put towards Shawn Horcoff. 35 pts a year offensively, combined with the fact he’s on the ice for almost 95 goals against is putting your team down 1 goal per game before they even drop the puck for the opening faceoff.

  • Not sure if an injury prone goalie is the answer, especially with the talent that might come available, but we do need to work on goaltending. Working on the offensive machine means that they will make mistakes, and we need someone to stop the mistakes from becoming goals. Also, better goaltending usually means less time in defensive zone, which means more time in offensive zone, which means more scoring opportunities, which means more goals.

    We need to have a goaltending tandem next season that the team can rely on, and Nikki really can’t be 1/2.

  • So assuming Harding would sign for $750K, the Oilers would be saving themselves $500K in salary and be exchanging Khabibulin for Harding?

    Just doesn’t seem like a meaningful deal at this time…

    Is there anything wrong with keeping Khabibulin’s veteran presence for this last year and then address the
    back-up” goaltender the season after?

  • Sorry. I checked the link and see that $1.25M could be saved …but no asset in return.

    I still don’t agree that buying out Khabi is the best option for the club. I think it is better to put energies and money into building the defence, and acquire effective size and strength on the wings.

  • Cobalt

    Although it’s hard to argue with the financial side of buying out Khabby, there may be more to it than meets the eye. He’s not terrible as most would like to suggest and perhaps he brings value in areas that some of fail to recognize. To have a back-up with his demeanor and experience (including a Stanley Cup) is not worthless, and in fact may be part of the plan with such a young squad. Additionally, with Yakupov likely coming into the mix next year Khabby could act as a great mentor to him and ambassador for the City. It’s not quite as simple as signing another russian ufa or hiring a translator.

    On the flip side, to suggest Harding is the answer is doing so without knowing the full story. What do his teammates think of him? Is he coachable? How will he work with Dubnyk? With a young, impressionable group these are important questions to the know the answer to. To save a little money in buying out Khabby when cap space doesn’t matter next year, I’d argue that it’s more of a gamble to try and sign a guy like Harding than sticking with Khabby for one more year and giving him ~30 starts.

    • Maybe 15 times since the lockout; I’m betting he’s played against the Oilers at least 8-9 times going by memory and I try to catch other NHL teams a few times a year.

      He’s got a fast glove hand, he’s a pretty decent puck-handler, and his chief problem is probably that he could be a little better on rebounds.

      But it’s been a bit since I’ve seen him play and it’s not like I’m keying in on him and him alone; those are just superficial impressions.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    My problem with Harding is you have no idea how good he is as a starter. He’s numbers have been all over the board in Minny and even Hackett had good numbers there this year.

    Harding on a 1-2 year probably isn’t a bad thing, but to think he will solve problems is a bit much.

    There is nothing to make me believe he is a better than Dubnyk either. Sure Harding has better numbers, but we are splitting hairs if we think Harding’s .917 makes him better than Dubnyk’s .910. Especially given the teams.

    • Jason Gregor

      Bulin was 53rd in save% over the entire league. So let put that in perspective. That means that almost every other team in the league had a starting and backup goalie that was better than Bulin even after his hot start. I could care less about the dollar values, money saved or spent. The fact remains that if this teams wants to win, they can’t do it if every team in the league is getting better goaltending. Listen to Hall the kid wants to win and wants to win now. Keeping Bulin is like giving Hall dull skates and refusing to sharpen them for him.

  • Spydyr

    Only a person lacking vision and a comprehension of the CBA in the NHL would make a deal for Bobby Lou

    Therefore I expect him to be an Oiler in the near future.