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


    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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • If I could get value out of Horcoff I would trade him. Unless we are having cap issues the only problems with him making to muach is fan expectancy (which is probably not that big of a concern to the team) and comparables when negotiating new contracts. As long as they are prepared to tell others that it is a bad contract that they would not redo at that amount, and that if he was renegotiating now he would get far less, it should not be a huge issue in that regard.

    My bigger issue is Hemsky’s contract. It is current. They just rewarded it. How do other players not use it a a comparable. Gagner, is younger, playing on a higher line, and got more points this year. I think he is a 3-3.5 million dollar player, bus using Hemsky as a comparable he could easily ask for 6 million. Who know what an arbitrator would reward him. More points, on a higher line, playing a position of greater influence…..you never know.

  • G Money

    GBO’s got it right – any assessment of free agent signings by the Oilers has to take into account the fact that the Oilers are a lousy team in an unappealing (for many millionaire players) city. Four years ago the the Pronger taint was still there as well.

    I’m not defending management otherwise – as Cody anderson notes, the asset management was still terrible given that they bypassed short-term Roli to go with long-term Khabi.

    I just find the ‘why did Tambo overpay!’ and ‘why didn’t Tambo sign so-and-so!’ tiring. I would bet that a large proportion of NHL players still don’t want to play here, and will take a comparable or even lesser competing offer over an Oiler offer 9 times out of 10.

    That’s not going to change until the Oilers prove that they are actually a team on the way up and not just a team with potential.

  • G Money

    Every team in the league, and/or the history of the league, has their share of contract gaffs….whther it was of goalies, defencemen or forwards.

    The last two with the Oilers are of Khabby and Barker. I agree with @GBO of that there was no high end players at all ever really wanting to come to Edmonton four years ago.

    In regard to that i agree that Tamby had to make ridiculous offers back then. Yeah Roloson was available but may be there were other inside team issues to stop him being offered monies.

    Now the end of the Khabby era is here. The contract is now irrelevant as it can’t be changed, and being at the end of his time in the NHL, it is a perfect time for him to be a mentor to Yakupov and even Zharkov, and to help Dubnyk or the other young goalies.

    Barker is a bust and it showed on the ice as he was making bad decisions after bad decisions with regularity. The best fact of this was that he only was given a one year deal and it failed.

    Eager did basically what he has done each year prior to the Oilers and so that was not a failure, but it was not an improvement either.

    I still like Belanger and with his stats he could have just had a very bad and stressful year. He can bounce back. In this league every player can have a bad year. I say give him and Eager a chance this year and see what they can do under Krueger, barring a trade or two.

  • G Money

    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.

  • @Will

    Even if that happens it wouldnt be one of the worst contracts ever. If the ownership group felt that was an acceptable risk then that is all that contract is. An acceptable risk.

    If his career ends due to injury he wont count against the cap as he will either be on LTI or will just retire. Sure he gets paid still but its not that bad of a contract for a team if the owner is comfortable with the money.

    • CaptainLander

      I assume the players that are on LTIR are payed through insurance claims and not the team.

      I wonder what Crosby’s insurance costs will be with this new contract? 25 percent of his salary.

  • Brownlee loves the word meow

    What I took from what he said was the market was very scarce for goal tending that year? Was that not the reason they had to pitch hard and high to even get one?

    I would suggest that they understood very well what they needed to do at the time, but the real tell was that that were not smart enough to see it coming.

    I would compare this to your boat sinking and not having a life jacket on board… and then having to find/grab onto a floatation device… obviously finding another boat would be most desirable but if there is only drift wood floating around you would have to exert all your effort to grab on to a piece just to sustain existence.

    This can partly be blamed on Lowe for not having any back up plan in place, because when the new ship captain came in he had little time to try and fix the problem and as you can see made a rash decision. We have a bunch of young goalies in our system now which shows some more of a back up plan if dubnyk doesnt pan out in the coming years… He has similar numbers to Schneider, rask, pavelec… which is a good sign for the Oilers now.. and a good sign that the young goalies have time to develop properly.

    • “What I took from what he said was the market was very scarce for goal tending that year? Was that not the reason they had to pitch hard and high to even get one?”


      That title should answer that first question 😉
      Maybe not the most stellar group when you look back (save for Anderson, whom I really hoped we picked up, at the time).. but still.. as the NHL stated, it was a buyer’s market.

      • Brownlee loves the word meow

        Haha touche’
        Like you say though, not a stellar group whatsoever. That was the year that Anderson and Clemmensen were not absolutely proven yet. And obviously the rest are bums lol….I was def with you and wanting Anderson at the time.