In Nikolai Khabibulin, He Trusts

Aside from the comments on Yakupov, the most interesting comments to me in Steve Tambellini’s last press conference were the ones on the Oilers’ goaltending situation. Tambellini confirmed that Nikolai Khabibulin would be back, and praised his veteran goaltender.

Asked by Bob Stauffer whether or not Devan Dubnyk was a starter, Tambellini answered this way:

Only to the point, Bob, where maybe he hasn’t done it long enough. In peoples’ minds, they see the potential. I know he wants it, I know he wants it badly. I’ve always said to both him and Khabby, ‘I don’t care who it is, just somebody take the net.’ If I’m saying that to a young guy, and if I’m a young player and my manager has told me, he’s given me the green light that if you’re playing that well it’s your net, go take it, I’m pretty excited. I like what I saw the last third of the season, I liked his poise. I liked the way he handled, you know playing once a week or every two games here and then sitting five games is much different from managing your energy, confidence levels, expectations from the rest of the team that ‘we need someone to be in a post that can help us win every night, give us a chance to win every night.’ So there were good signs.

The first sentence of that quote is the one that jumps out at me. Dubnyk’s career save percentage in the NHL is 0.910, which is right around the league average and compares favourably to guys like Marc-Andre Fleury (0.912) and Martin Brodeur (0.910) in the same span.

On Khabibulin, Tambellini was definitive, saying “We’ll have Nik back.” Asked what role Khabibulin would return in, he expanded on that statement:

You know, when I talked to Nik in his post season exit meetings, he told me he wants to play another four or five years. I said ‘You feel that good Nik?’ and he said ‘Well why not?’ So, by him saying that to me, he’s still feeling the compete and the challenge. I think guys like Nik Khabibulin need to be, or like to be, challenged or motivated, they’re not afraid of it. So Devan’s poised right now to take games from him and I love the fact his plan is to get the net back.

Khabibulin and Dubnyk both started playing for the Oilers in 2009-10. Here’s the list of active NHL goalies (minimum 50 GP) and their save percentages since that season, with Khabibulin and Dubnyk bolded:

Rk Player GP W L T/O SV%
1 Cory Schneider 60 36 13 3 0.932
2 Tuukka Rask 97 44 34 10 0.927
3 Tim Thomas 159 87 48 18 0.926
4 Henrik Lundqvist 203 110 72 20 0.924
5 Pekka Rinne 195 108 56 22 0.922
6 Tomas Vokoun 168 70 73 18 0.922
7 Ryan Miller 196 106 61 23 0.921
8 Jaroslav Halak 148 79 46 19 0.920
9 Roberto Luongo 183 109 51 19 0.920
10 Evgeni Nabokov 113 63 34 13 0.919
11 Ilya Bryzgalov 196 111 56 23 0.918
12 Carey Price 178 77 76 22 0.918
13 Jonathan Quick 202 109 67 23 0.918
14 Cam Ward 189 85 72 28 0.918
15 Jonas Hiller 181 85 69 19 0.917
16 Jimmy Howard 183 109 49 19 0.917
17 Kari Lehtonen 140 72 50 15 0.917
18 Miikka Kiprusoff 214 107 74 27 0.916
19 Jason LaBarbera 53 18 20 7 0.916
20 Antti Niemi 167 95 47 19 0.916
21 Mike Smith 131 64 42 18 0.916
22 Craig Anderson 185 95 67 17 0.915
23 Johan Hedberg 108 53 35 10 0.915
24 Semyon Varlamov 106 52 37 14 0.915
25 Jose Theodore 132 67 34 21 0.914
26 Niklas Backstrom 157 67 64 20 0.912
27 Scott Clemmensen 84 31 25 15 0.912
28 Marc-Andre Fleury 199 115 58 15 0.912
29 Josh Harding 59 22 24 4 0.912
30 James Reimer 71 34 24 9 0.911
31 Martin Brodeur 192 99 72 13 0.910
32 Corey Crawford 115 63 36 13 0.910
33 Devan Dubnyk 101 36 43 13 0.910
34 Brian Elliott 148 67 55 17 0.910
35 Michal Neuvirth 103 49 29 9 0.910
36 Sergei Bobrovsky 83 42 23 10 0.909
37 Jean-Sebastien Giguere 100 36 37 14 0.909
38 Ondrej Pavelec 168 64 69 25 0.909
39 Brent Johnson 62 29 18 6 0.907
40 Andrew Raycroft 50 19 18 1 0.907
41 Ray Emery 73 38 22 5 0.906
42 Martin Biron 67 29 26 6 0.905
43 Chris Mason 114 51 42 12 0.905
44 Al Montoya 51 18 16 10 0.905
45 Antero Niittymaki 73 33 25 8 0.905
46 Marty Turco 87 35 33 14 0.905
47 Brian Boucher 77 28 34 8 0.904
48 Dan Ellis 85 37 28 8 0.904
49 Dwayne Roloson 144 60 59 15 0.904
50 Peter Budaj 77 25 33 11 0.903
51 Mathieu Garon 119 45 39 16 0.902
52 Jeff Deslauriers 52 19 29 4 0.901
53 Nikolai Khabibulin 105 29 61 13 0.901
54 Curtis McElhinney 50 18 18 3 0.901
55 Ty Conklin 66 23 24 7 0.900
56 Jonas Gustavsson 107 39 45 15 0.900
57 Steve Mason 158 60 73 19 0.899
58 Alex Auld 54 17 13 7 0.898

Devan Dubnyk ranks 33rd on the list. Omitting his cameo at the end of 2009-10, and he moves to 22nd among NHL goalies, tied with Craig Anderson. He’s young, and even if he’s reached his plateau he’s still a very respectable 1A/1B-style goalie.

Nikolai Khabibulin ranks 53rd on that list, tied with Jeff Deslauriers and Curtis McElhinney. Only four guys with a minimum of 50 games have posted a worse save percentage. Omit his strong part-season in 2009-10 with the Oilers (18GP, 0.909 SV%) and his save percentage drops to 0.899, ahead of only Alex Auld and just behind Ty Conklin and Jonas Gustavsson.

The numbers are clear, and in this case tell truth. The decision to stick with Devan Dubnyk is a good one. The decision to stick with Nikolai Khabibulin is indefensible for a team actively trying to win.

Khabibulin’s late season collapses the last two years have been pivotal to landing consecutive first overall draft picks. Post-Christmas, the last two years, Khabibulin’s record has been a mind-blowing 3-33-6, with a 0.880 SV%. Overall, his record has been 22-53-11, as opposed to Dubnyk’s 32-32-11 mark.

A team actively looking to move out of the basement would look at what Khabibulin has done the last few years, decide that he’s not up to the job, and find another option. Even the Oilers’ third-stringer this season – Yann Danis, the AHL’s goalie of the year – is a better option for the NHL roster than Nik Khabibulin.

It’s a bad choice for the Oilers, but this isn’t new. They’ve been making bad choices with Khabibulin since the day they signed him.

Today at the Nation Network

  • TwoSkidoos

    Tambellini is just posturing, saving face for the terrible signing that Khabibulin was. I don’t think we need to read to deep into what he says. After all, he also said we’d be a playoff team this year.

  • Ryan14

    statements like this really make me question the competence (or honesty) of Steve Tambellini. Any person who can analyze a stat sheet could see that Nik Khabibulin is more of the problem in Edmonton than the solution. I see goaltending as the biggest obstacle that needs to be addressed in order for this team to move forward, as they little trouble scoring goals. To go into next season with Nik Khabibulin slotted in to start 30+ games or even to compete for the starting job would be committing postseason suicide before the puck was dropped in early october.

  • Lexi

    There’s less than 5 goalies in the league under 28 who are definitively better than DD, so I feel like it makes sense to go into next year counting on him next year for 55 plus games and to be an at least top 20 in the league.

    Habby seems like he at least can be an average backup for one more year. The signing was horrible, but we have no cap issues next year so let’s just live through this last year like a loveless couple with one more year before the kid graduates. I also think he could be a valuable mentor for Yakupov and that’s worth something.

  • Ryan14

    Totally agree JW. He sits there talking about competition and then says Bulin will be back next year. What kind of a message does that send to someone like Danis who has worked is tail off and has been the most impressive goalie in the AHL this season? It doesn’t matter how well you play, if your a goalie you wont get a shot in the NHL even though we keep playing a guy that should be retired.

  • Drinkin' the Oilaid

    Start your engines folks. Tambelini is looking to set a professional sports frachise record with 4 straight number 1 picks. Its the only logical explanation for keeping Khabby around.

    Pick your slogan here:

    “Flail on for MacKinnon”

    “Losing On for MacKinnon”

    “Sinking for MacKinnon”

    “We’re back for Mac”

    “Disgracin’ for Nathan”

    “Not winnin for MacKinnon”

    “Screw Winnin’ get MacKinnon!”

  • Beavis

    The cap hit should only matter financially, though. As a hockey decision, paying him NOT to play is much sounder. Maybe they should offer him more money for next year if he promises to “injure” himself in training camp.

  • geoilersgist

    If I were Tambellini I might have laughed at Khabby for saying that and then I would offer him a job as goalie coach. He clearly has been good for Dubnyk but it’s time for him to move along.
    Are there any problems with no longer having him as a player and having him as a coach salary cap wise?

  • oilerdago

    This is among the things that irritates me about Tambellini and Renney – the handling of Khabibulin and Dubynk.

    They must really take the fan base for a bunch of idiots to say things like that and I wish someone would challenge them.

    Even if you are not a stats guy, Khabibulin’s post Christmas numbers are abysmal. Tambellini and Renney should be telling him that those numbers tell me your not up to the job and he ought to be thinking about post hockey careers.

    Is it farfetched to suggest that Renney didn’t start playing DD until he was forced to start coaching for his job?

  • vetinari

    Either Tambellini and Renney have blinders on or they simply don’t want to shake the confidence of a player who they may be stuck with for another season. Unfortunately, I can’t tell if they are serious about their assessment of Khabibulin’s performance and role on the team or not.

    I don’t think you have to go all “Brian Burke” on your goaltenders but I don’t think it is out of line to publically state that for a veteran, Khabibulin needs to be more consistent, raise his game and give the team a chance to win on a nightly basis and that a .901 save percentage is not going to cut it as a starter.

    Privately, I think it would also be fair to tell Khabibulin to come back to training camp in the fall prepared to fight for a backup role, assuming that Dubnyk is ready to start. I would also tell Khabibulin that I would not be offended and would encourage him to look for European options.

    In the last three years, Khabibulin has had four more starts than Dubnyk, but Dubnyk has posted seven more wins. When the combined total of wins between them is only 65, that’s a statistically significant number.

    • Beavis

      Just saw this. If two people are thinking the same thing, that must make it true, right? Kind of like how Tambo and Renney think Khabibulin can still play goal. Oh.. wait.

  • Beavis

    Maybe, just maybe, Katz has told Tambo that he’s not buying out his contract? So Tambo has to put the best face on this that he can? Is that even in the realm of possibility, or is it just ineptitude, pure and simple?

      • geoilersgist

        Did anyone ever stop and think that ST is just saying this in order to be classy and not throw another veteran player under the bus? just because he says this in april doesn’t mean he won’t be actively looking for an upgrade or that he’s contemplating an extension. let’s not call this a mistake before anything has actually happened

        • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

          Exactly. Why would anyone, GM, coach, player, trainer, criticize anyone in the organization publicly? It’s absolutely stupid, see Sheldon Souray. It usually leaves you with one and only one option.

          Wether ST believes Khabbi is still a good goalie or not, he’s still gonna pump his tires in the media.

          • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

            I disagree. ST has got to be honest and recognize that the Khabbi signing was an stupid knee jerk move after Roli signed on the Island. No need to pump up a flat degraded tire…just get new tires….

      • Drinkin' the Oilaid

        JW, while a buyout doesn’t help the Oilers cap situation (really, are we worried much about the 2012-13 cap?), the question should come down to how much Katz really wants to payout for this guy.

        If Tambi can actually come to the realization everyone else seems to have reached, then he needs to accept that Khabi truly can’t be on the Oilers NHL roster in 2012-13. And, really, can we all agree that there is not one GM in the league stupid enough to trade for Khabi based on his performance and contract?

        If Khabi insists on not playing in the K, or if no one there wants him either, then the Oilers would have to consider the AHL. However, there is the possibility that Khabi might retire if they demote him, sticking the Oil with his full caphit anyhow.

        Thus, if there isn’t a deal to be done with a KHL team, then Katz and Tambi (if he is even really sticking around) have to decide which situation is better:

        1. Pay 3.75 mill to keep that amount off the cap, with a chance they pay zero but take the full caphit.

        2. Pay 1.25 mill in 12-13 and again in 13-14 and suck up the 3.75 mill caphit guaranteed in 12-13.

        Perhaps Tambi’s comments suggest that Khabi communicated that he is okay with playing in the K or the A. But if I were Katz and there is even the slightest suspicion that the guy would cut bait and leave the money on the table, I’d save 1.25 mill, absorb the caphit, and fire whoever’s brilliant idea it was to sign the guy (or fire the yes-men that didn’t stop us if I were the one who forced the signing…)

        • geoilersgist

          Buying out Khabi is not an option unless its the amnesty clause, buying him out does nothing because his cap hit sticks this year so it serves no purpose, the cap has no issue this year as we aren’t a cap team, it sucks having him still but at least after this year he is gone along with the cap hit and the Oilers free up a good chunk of cap.

          So again even using the amnesty clause on Khabi is not smart management. In the end the Oilers may have to bite the bullet on Horcoff and use it on him, it would be a tough move for the organization but from a financial and cap standpoint its a no brainer.

          What would be ideal if the new CBA comes into the place and then the NHL limits 2nd contracts and then we can buy out Horcoff using the amnesty clause in the summer of next year because his 5.5 cap hit doesn’t effect the Oilers this year.

      • Beavis

        Right. I knew that. Maybe Tambo just doesn’t want to admit he’s wrong. This was his big signing, and doing anything but letting Khabi play out his contract is admitting that was a mistake. Of course, everyone already knows it’s a mistake, but it could be just pride. In the old boy’s club that is being a GM in the NHL, pride plays way too much of a factor.

          • RexLibris

            The last time the GMs met I believe it was laid out that there will be no amnesty clause for GMs in this next CBA negotiation. Now, that was Bettman saying it so it could change with the weather, but I don’t think any GM worth his salt should be planning a roster strategy on a faint-hope like the amnesty clause.

            Horcoff may find a new home closer to the end of his contract to a cap-floor team (if that even exists under the next CBA). Who knows, he’s probably more moveable than Matt Stajan, though.

            As for Khabibulin, somebody on the Nations suggested having him mentor our potential new draft pick for the first year to help him acclimatize to the NHL and Edmonton.

            And come trade deadline maybe we can interest Steve Yzerman in another veteran Edmonton goaltender with playoff pedigree. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

  • Time Travelling Sean

    3-33-6? LOL wow, I’d pay him to play against me.

    EDIT:Well IDK if Tambi actually, truly feels that way, he just may not be telling the media about his true feelings on him.

  • tragic.
    “So, by him saying that to me, he’s still feeling the compete and the challenge.”
    Tambo’s logic is so bizarre. This is like his line about Yzerman and Schultz. Who cares if he is ‘feeling’ it. The guy can’t stop a beach ball anymore. What a terrible signing. How can he plug the holes in the OKC roster so effectively but hang the NHL roster out to dry with Barker and Khabby?