Jay Grossman talks about the Khabibulin contract

There’s a piece on the Oilers’ official website today featuring a discussion with player agent Jay Grossman. Grossman talks about the Oilers as a free agent destination, and also about the circumstances surrounding the original signing of Nikolai Khabibulin. He has some interesting things to say.

Honestly, I was a little surprised that this discussion went up at the Oilers’ official website, since it doesn’t take a lot of reading between the lines to see how bad the Oilers’ decision was at the time.

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Take this comment, for example:

I didn’t know which teams would or wouldn’t be looking for a goaltender. I thought there might be three or four teams max that would have interest. I went through every one of them with him, which included the Islanders, Oilers and a couple others.

The market for goaltenders was all but non-existent at exactly the same time as Khabibulin hit free agency. This was well-known at the time and players like Martin Biron were ultimately forced to take backup jobs just to stay in the league. Grossman captures the feeling well:

[I]t’s like musical chairs. You don’t want to be the odd one out. If someone signs within 15 minutes and you see them as a comparable — and Roloson was — it gives you a good measuring stick in terms of what the market is like. The movement was as quick as we’d expected.

Dwayne Roloson – quite rightly, given that his statistics on the whole post-lockout were superior to Khabibulin’s in the summer of 2009 – was viewed as a comparable. What was his contract worth? $5 million over two seasons.

That contract was already done when the Oilers made a four-year, $15 million offer to Khabibulin.

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Grossman’s comments just reaffirm what was obvious at the time: that the Oilers were out of touch with the marketplace, and consequently made a very generous offer that was entirely out of keeping with the realities of the goalie market that year.

I talk about this contract a fair bit for a few reasons. The first, obvious, reason is that Khabibulin is still under contract to the Oilers; they’re entering the fourth year of his four-year deal and Steve Tambellini is as committed to him as ever.

The less obvious but more important reason is that contracts reveal truths about the people who sign them.

The Khabibulin contract revealed that the Oilers didn’t understand the market. Whether that was simply due to a failure of research or simple inability to comprehend the results of that research, it’s unforgiveable for a team that plans to sign a starting goalie. It showed other things, too – a poor grasp of goaltender ability, a failure to mitigate risk (a long-term deal to an injury-prone, 35+ goalie, no established backup) and a focus on things other than hockey ability.

The people who made the decision are still in place. Have they learned from it?

In at least one way, I’d say the answer is yes. Since the disastrous 2009-10 season, the Oilers have always had goaltender depth. Martin Gerber and Yann Danis are high-end third-string goalies; clearly, the Oilers have decided that having some redundancy in the system is important. They’ve spent money and found quality people to ensure they aren’t caught with a pair of rookie backups in net again.

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As for the other problems with the contract, the jury is still out on whether the Oilers’ approach has changed. The fact is that Edmonton hasn’t done a lot in free agency the last couple of seasons, in line with the slow rebuild approach. The hope is that they’ve learned to gauge the market correctly, and that they’re less fixated on Cup rings and big names then they are on the actual level of ability each player displays.

Until they start targeting impact free agents, however, we won’t know if that hope reflects reality.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • DSF

    I’m not going to hold some of these free agent signings against Tambi since I really liked some of them last summer, all for different reasons.

    The market for Dmen is going to be crazy this year. Signing Jason Garrison for $5 million per scares me. How good will he be without Brian Campbell? I’m sure somebody will take that risk.

  • Quicksilver ballet


    I’d put the blame for that Horcoff contract as much in Katz’ hands. He came in as the new owner then and wanted it known to the fanbase that the days of Edmonton’s best players leaving town for finacial reasons was at an end. I’d put that more on Katz than Lowe or MacTavish. Timing is everything as they say, especially on this Horcoff issue. As it unfolded, Katz couldn’t have had poorer timing to flex his financial muscle on this so called impact player.

    The Hemsky and Horcoff contracts have derailed any possibilty of a new financial order as far as the Oilers best players are concerned. Both need to be erased so a new reality can be established here.

    • DSF

      Oh, I agree…but MacT was always a huge Horcoff supporter and would certainly have done nothing to impede that contract IMO.

      Toby Petersen and Liam Reddox pretty much tell you all you need to know about his evaluation of players.

      • justDOit

        MacT didn’t really have much else in the cupboards back then. I think it’s just as much of a sign that he could make NHL stew with so little to choose from.

        It’s like complaining about getting cream of mushroom soup for lunch, when the only other can on the shelf was baby corn.

  • justDOit

    People! People! People!

    The past few years have not been great I’ll openly admit, but although Horcoff, Khabby and barker have been not good contracts based on returns, the over-all picture has gotten us excellent youngsters in Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov, Paajarvi, Petry, Marancin, Gernat, Klefbom, Lander, Musil, Davidson, Teubert, etc.

    Now is the time to look at contracts and new picks, and most importantly as of today, trades and free agents.

    I do not blame Mac T or Lowe on the past Smyth deal or the way Pronger acted after that awesome palyoff run. when pronger left so did Samsonov, Spacek, Peca, etc.

    Not one of those players tried real hard to stay or ever stuck it out for newer contracts. The team became depleted.

    Now we have a future again and what a great future. This is when I put full emphasis and focus onto the Oilers management teams.

    Stu and his scouting team have more than done their job and its been fantastic so far. Now the pro scout team of the Oilers and management are of full responsibility.

    I expect good free agency and trade deals from now on and a full well played season upcoming from the players, coaches and management to earn a playoff run.

    The kids are now getting ready to take off and lead the way. Horcoff, Smyth (if here), Belanger (if here), Eager (if here), Jones, Hemsky, Whitney, Sutton, Khabby, etc, all should be each man enough to look in their morrors and start helping the youngsters out and most of all, do it all for the team they are supposed to be loyal to of whom has paid them each so very well.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Note to Bucknuck:

    Khahibulin played in only 40 games last yr, half a dozen which he came in and moped up after Doobey had been shelled/pulled.

    Your theory 29th place rests squarely on Habbys shoulders has a few holes in it. The stable full of 3-7 blueliners in front of Nikolia and Devan is not a valid excuse.

  • The Soup Fascist

    @ Madjam

    Your point would be somewhat relavent if the Oilers had cap issues and that signing Hemsky would prevent them from signing the wunderkids down the road or acquiring a free agent D-man. Bottom line is Hemsky’s signing does nothing to tie the Oilers hands now or in two years.

    Good organizations (which the Oilers hopefully are trying to become) don’t let long term assets walk out the door for nothing. Especially talented players who want to be in Edmonton. The only person who has a right to b!tch would be Katz because it is his money – and I guess his kid, who would now only inherit $1,990,000,000 instead of the cool $2B he was looking at. Hemsky was a calculated risk that has no significant downside. I am far from a Tambo fan, but this was simply good asset management.

    Yes, Hemsky could have a poor year. But the impact of that happening is far less severe than letting him walk for nothing and him putting up 70 points elsewhere. The hue and cry would be deafening. A two year contract is not the killer like Horcoff’s contract, which could be measured in dog years. In short, signing Hemsky was a prudent risk to take, with significant upside and no real downside, and professional management of an asset, IMO.

  • The Soup Fascist

    To Soup Fascist : We disagree obviously . I’ll elaborate a little further . Good asset management and good fiscal responsibilty should always be maintained , or alternate solutions should be enacted . Cap and contracts have a pertinency with our Oilers like any other club . Fiscal responsibility and good asset management go hand in hand ! To me , this contract was fiscally irresponsible . An extra $5M now might bring in an asset that might be more worthy than what Hemsky might bring . But what of Horcoff’s contract you seem to feel is outrageous ? Does not Horcoff do more fr the team than Hemsky ? Yes he does , yet all can basically agree that contract is also fiscally irresponsible in hindsight .

  • The Soup Fascist

    @ madjam

    I appreciate you clarifying, but yes we disagree. If you believe signing a then 31 year-old Horcoff to $5.5 M for SIX years in 2009 should be viewed as a better contract compared to paying a 29 year-old Ales Hemsky $5 million for TWO years, I assure you, we are not going to find middle ground.

    I will not bash Horcoff because he signed (as quickly as possible, I assume) what was put in front of him. But even if Hemsky only scores 3 goals next year and they are all into his own net, his contract will not be as damaging as Horcoff’s was given the term and what the cap was at the time.

    Here is the real question. What is a more moveable contract? Three more years of Horc (33 years old) at $5.5M or two years of Hemsky (28 years old) at $5M? There is only one answer.

    Question #2: Who would you like to sign as a free agent that we cannot because they signed Hemsky? They have $26.5 M in cap space with only Gagner, Petry, Smyth (or a reasonable facsimile), Peckham and Dubey to sign. Basically 4 RFAs and a veteran – maybe $13 Million in remaining obligations for 2012. Still $13 – $14 mil. Hemsky’s contract is inconsequential!

    • justDOit

      The only thing I can think of for Horc’s sake, is that he’s a serviceable center, a good leader, and the last two years of his contract pays out much less than his cap hit. So a team looking to make the cap floor might be interested.

      • Bryzarro World

        Why do you say he is a good leader? Cause he didn’t accept a new role last year and pouted? Gonna go with “he good with the kids”? How do you know?

        They probably look at Sloth as someone in the way of them taking over the team and leading with skill… not hope and “work ethic”.

        The kids didn’t get to be first over all picks by not knowing how to work hard and sacrifice. Horc is redundant

  • The Soup Fascist

    Feel free to give them Tambo’s number.

    Again, not bashing Horcoff, just saying Hemsky’s contract is more defendable than Horcoff’s.

    But apparently I am crazy ….. dare I say, “mad”??

  • O.C.

    I, for one, cannot wait for February, 2015. That is the month that I expect will be the last month that Shawn Horcoff will be an Edmonton Oiler, unless he is traded before the trade deadline of 2014 or during the 2014/2015 season. Heaven help us all if the Oilers extend his contract.

    Before that time, the likes of Hemsky, Whitney, Belanger, Jones, and Khabibulin will also have departed.

    With Horcoff’s departure, one of Eberle, Hall, or RNH will assume the captaincy and a new Oilers’ era will finally be upon us.

  • The captaincy will undoubtedly go to Hall. This guy is the face of the team, his determination and fearlessness to get to the net and score is unrivalled in thid league. This guy electrifies and will be the captain. You can mark my words the day he questioned Renneys tactics was the day management knew Renney wasnt our guy. Eberle and Nuge are awesome assistants on the team.

    Horcoff took advantage of our crappy center situation and in hindsight he took the money and ran. He is by all accounts a crappy player, but its only up to him to quiet his critics. Leader? Maybe but I think he’s holding the “C” on borrowed time. This team now lives and dies with Hall. And mark my words when the Oilers lift number six Gary Bettman will be holding his tears when he hands the cup over to Taylor Hall! FIST!!!!!

  • derrickhands

    When did Hor**** become a leader. There was a couple of games last year that it look like Hall was going to take his head off. Horcoff’s the last part of that cancer that infected the team years ago and the faster he’s gone the better.

  • O.C.

    The contract talk is irrelevant. None of those overpays tied the hands of the Oil in their signing of other players. It was a bridge to get thru the inevitable fall to the basement during a total rebuild.

    Now Horcoff has too long a contract but it still doesn’t hamper…

    The message sent was clear. There is no concern about paying players if they fit into the scheme to get to a competitive state. Next year Khabby gets a gold watch and will be a memory… Maybe a coach as well… Also serving double duty as a Russian vet.

    Edmonton treated the Wall well thru tough times… That gets noticed and reaps respect.

    Good topic.

  • O.C.

    Horcoff is a great Mentor. Do what the coach asks, smile… Play the game with honour and be thankful you are in the NHL.

    Yashin and Avery, as example, needed that Mentor…

  • O.C.

    Turning the corner ? If Gagner and Smyth looking to hit big bucks here alternate solutions could dictate other means . Arbitration ,trade , etc.? Unlikely Gagner will end up as top 6 in future , as 4 youngsters will/may eat up a large portion of our emerging club . Same goes for Smyth . Horcoff can still bring anything Gagner brings to the table in hindsight , and no sense giving those players that type of bread when one sees what that creates with Horcoff alone . I like them both , but i don’t forsee them in the future 2 years from now if they request big dollars.