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

  • 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.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    @sloppy joe

    Belangers deal looks bad now but it looked quite digestible at the time. At the time, they filled a big hole with a pk center who was great on draws.

  • Everyone bashes the Khabibulin signing but if you remember, 4 years ago we couldn’t get the walking dead to sign with us. I think Edmonton knew exactly what they were doing. As if a GM and all his paid staff don’t know the market place. They took a risk and it flopped. No different than the Barker risk. Except in order to attract Khabibulin we had to offer 4 years. Heck, other teams probably would have done it too. I never liked the signing but Khabibulin is not the only reason we we’ve finished last or close to for the last few years.

    • I think the Oilers wouldn’t have looked so bad on this if they gave Khabi that overpayment over 2 years. They took a huge risk giving a 35+ player that much money for that long of term. I try to give the Oilers the benefit of doubt when it comes to knowing the CBA like the back of their hand, but when stuff like that happens, I wonder if they really thought about the fact it was a 35+ contract (and thus no way out for us). You can bet they know now though.

      It was also well known (Khabi said this) that the Oilers offered him that contract first… there were no previous offers. Khabi accepted that first offer. They started too high, clearly.

      I actually really wanted Khabibulin to sign with us back then, I will admit. But the second I heard about what he signed for, I immediately knew it was a bad contract. 35+ year old player for 4 years.. at that term.. yikes! Younger more skilled goaltenders were signing for much less back then. Craig Anderson signed a 2-year deal for $1.81M. Martin Biron signed a 1-year deal for $1.4M. Scott Clemmensen signed a 3-year deal for $1.2M. Dwayne Rolson got 2-years at $2.5M. It was a buyer’s market. The Oilers went in with a high offer and threw it on the table right away.

      I honestly don’t think they did know the marketplace very well. I think you’re right that we did have to overpay to attract players back then (and now even), but I think that was much higher than needed (Again proven by Khabi taking the first offer and it being a “buyer’s market”).

      Really, the Oilers should either have offered a big salary for short term, or a low salary for a long term. They dropped the ball big time, much like how they did the same with Horcoff (big salary, big term).

      It happened though, and it really doesn’t do us any good though to keep revisiting it over and over, however.

    • “No different than the Barker risk”

      Almost missed that.. actually it’s hugely different. That risk was highly acceptable because they risked 1 year on Barker. No harm, no foul.. no loss, really. Even the salary wasn’t that bad. I think many liked the risk on that one too. Barker was once a top prospect, and we just wanted to see if he could be a reclamation project… and well, it seemed like a pretty obvious no. But no harm done taking a shot there.

    • DSF

      I don’t see it that way. Every deal has to made in terms of current factors. His agent is saying there was weak demand and one of the few destinations signed someone similar.

      That is a buyer’s market. Just like this year is a seller’s market for UFA defensemen. Khabi’s choices were to take a deal or perhpas not find a spot and miss out on millions of dollars in the last few years of his career.

      His agent would have been for almost any deal I’ll bet to get his last or second last payday out of that client.

      The contract I feel could have been almost dictated to an injury prone, old goalie with few options and declining numbers.

  • Brownlee loves the word meow

    Will – Worst contract ever????

    “Can someone write an article in the coming hockey drought months to come rating the 10 worst contracts ever awarded, or the current ten worst. My prediction is Crosby takes another knock on the head next year, ending his career but will maintain the money, making it the worst contract ever.”

    NHLPA is having fits. Crosby, arguably the best player in the game takes no salary hike. His percentage of the teams cap is way down. This is at at time when the cap is skyrocketing up. Maybe the best contract ever.

  • 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 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!!!!!


    The jury’s still out to a large degree on what they’ve learned, but I think the Belanger and Sutton deals are a bit of a tell (too much term and too much money).

  • Great read, Willis. The funny part, to me, is the irony of how the Khabibulin contract worked out. Now he’s in the last year of his deal, and will likely be the obvious mentor/transition guy for Yakupov to lean on.

    As much as it pains me to say, I could even see the Oilers extending him a year just to help the kid along. Either that or they go out and find some other veteran Russian. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

    Solid read.

  • wouldn’t have mattered who you signed for the net – it was going to be a disaster regardless

    the HOPE was well if we are going to have zero defense maybe a good goalie can bail us out more than a rookie goalie could. and for One and a half months of every season Khabi has….. then it catches up to him and 12 weeks in you have exhaustion from taking 30 + shots every night of high quality and 2-1 scenarios and breakaways. Any goalie would wear out, get injured and start checking out. Khabi did all three!

    sure you paid extra to bring him to Edm (that is the complex edmontonians in general seem to never overcome that you must convince someone to be here!)

    but the error did not put us in cap crisis – we were not going to go get someone anyways… and the length of the contract turns out to be good timing as the team is nicely set up cap friendly for the inevitable raises of the young guns.

    less term – means dubnyk would have suffered the horror of crap defense in front of him a year(s) earlier into his development (you want to ruin the mental game of a young goaltender? have tons of rubber go past him – see what that does to his confidence)

    less money – he doesn’t come and some other fool willing to take on the task would have done the same, slightly better, or retire from the insanity!

    has Tambo learned – 2 years – 5 Mil for Ales Hemsky – uhh yea he has

  • Nice telling article . Oiler assessments somewhat flawed to say the least . Other teams have bad decisions as well , so we are not alone . Troublesome assessments lead to bad trading habits as well . I think it obvious we over assess the talent we have and thus trading them away becomes almost impossible considering what we might ask for in return – even though they underperformed to the assessment they thought they would /could or should have .

    It certainly limits the marketplace available too us by keeping on board bad contracts . Buy outs are quickest way to alleviate these unmoveable contracts rather than get continually straddled by them and miss out several times the opportunity to advance your club in todays marketplace . Example : Horcoffs contract if moved could probably have landed us two good players by now . As it is we have stuck ourselves with a diminishing asset and not had opportunity to replace that burdening liability at that exhorbitant price .

    Oilers having a problem with paying players on hope over reality . Unfortuneately we still continue to do so ,and are forced to live with it , rather than get innovative and try to change it all these years since rebuild . Their assessments reflect that discrepancy . This is about the Oilers not the other clubs who also make some less than adequate decisions . Limit the bad contracts and more diligence on reality and not hope , would be a good starting point moving forward .

    We should be catapulting forward , but we are being retarded by past missassessments . We need them to become MR.FIXIT’S .

  • Dipstick

    I am hopeful – probably foolishly – that the addition of MacT will help avoid signing bad contracts in the future. He seems to be better at identifying real player value. Maybe he can also quantify that value in dollar terms.

    • DSF

      MacT was front and centre in the Horcoff signing and, later, suggested Horcoff should have been selected to play for the World Championship team.

      I wouldn’t be looking for any salvation there.

    • DSF

      MacT was front and centre in the Horcoff signing and, later, suggested Horcoff should have been selected to play for the World Championship team.

      I wouldn’t be looking for any salvation there.

  • I did not get it at the time and still don’t. I felt Roloson was a better goalie and due to his age they were only willing to offer him 1 yr. Then they give another older goalie with a less impressive resume more money for 4 years.

    I understand wanting to keep the term short with an aging goalie and was not against offering Rolie a 1 yr contract, but you better have a plan in place before you let him go.

    That being said with Rolie in net we would have still sucked, but we would not have finished 30th, 30th, and 29th, racking up a talented roster that will make us competitve for years.

    Obviously, a bad team in a destination other than California, has to overpay to attract free agents. I am hoping that is over now or nearing an end. We still are not California but the only people that don’t see a great future forethcoming soon for the Oilers are Leaf fans. Hell I think I could lace them up and take the minimum salary for 2 or 3 years. If I stood in front of the net with all that talent bouncing pucks off my ass I would be in line for a big raise on the next contract and who knows I might even get a cup ring out of it.

    • Brownlee loves the word meow

      Less impressive resume? I cant see anything that suggest roli’s resume was better. Included in that resume was the fact he was very old and could be done at anytime. Either guy would have resulted in the same scenario. Both were high mileage goalies. One of them had less mileage. At the time it was the best decision…Due to not having a plan in place like you said. Less money and term would have been nice, but the scarcity of quality proven goalies that year and the fact we sucked probably played into the contract. In the very least he gave time for Dub to develop properly.

  • Dipstick

    I’m not surprised that this discussion went up on their website, especially after this particular tire-pumping by Grossman:

    “If a young player came to me and said, ‘What do you think about playing in Edmonton?’ I’d say it’s a place with a lot of great players for him to play with, that the team is on the rise and it’s certainly a place where you’d want to be,” Grossman said. “I can’t make the decision for individual players, but that’s the input I’d give.

    “Teams that create the right environment, create the right culture and certainly teams that have the opportunity to win along with the right coaches — they’re a player’s top destination.

    “There are teams with a more negative reputation than others — several reasons go into it, but Edmonton isn’t one of them. Especially now.”