Should the Edmonton Oilers consider keeping Nikolai Khabibulin?

Oilers’ backup Nikolai Khabibulin is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Does it make sense for the team to keep him around rather than shopping elsewhere?

Four years ago, the Oilers signed Nikolai Khabibulin as a free agent. Over his previous four years in Chicago, Khabibulin had a mix of performance and health problems, but he redeemed himself somewhat with a tremendous contract year. History seems to have repeated itself. Over four seasons in Edmonton, Khabibulin has had a mix of performance and health problems, but once again has come through at the end of his contract with a 0.923 save percentage over 12 games. Just as it didn’t in 2009, that late surge doesn’t make Khabibulin a good fit for the team.

Injury

Khabibulin was well-established as one of the most injury prone starting goalies in the NHL when the Oilers signed him. From 2006-06 to 2008-09, Khabibulin missed 66 games (an average of 17 per season) to a variety of maladies, with most of them being back and lower body injuries. That total ranked him fourth among NHL starters in time missed to injury; ahead of him were Pascal Leclaire (since retired), Rick DiPietro (the Islanders only wish he was retired) and Kari Lehtonen (he’s been remarkably healthy since).

In the four years since, injuries have been a frequent problem for Khabibulin. Via TSN, here’s the list of games missed to injury:

  • 2009-10: Missed 60 games (back injury)
  • 2010-11: Missed six games (groin injury)
  • 2010-11: Missed four games (eye injury)
  • 2011-12: Missed five games (groin injury)
  • 2012-13: Missed five games (hip injury)
  • 2012-13: Missed eight games (groin injury)
  • Total: 88 games lost to injury, average of 22 per season

For just under one in three games the Oilers have played since signing Khabibulin, the veteran goaltender has been on injured reserve. If not for the lockout, that total would have been inflated, as Khabibulin was on injured reserve to start the 2013 season.

Khabibulin is now 40 years old. Injury was a concern when the Oilers signed an oft-injured 36-year old; it’s more of a concern four years later.

Performance

Khabibulin was coming off a difficult four-year stint in Chicago when the Oilers signed him. He had won the Stanley cup with Tampa Bay just before the lockout, and the Blackhawks paid big money for him to solve their goaltending problems. Instead, he was terrible in 2005-06, moderately better in 2006-07, decent in 2007-08 and quite good in 2008-09. Overall, he posted a 0.904 save percentage over that span – a total that ranked 27th among goalies with a minimum of 100 starts in that period.

Khabibulin’s performance in Edmonton has been similar. He was pretty good in an 18-game first season before injury knocked him out of the lineup, but was then terrible the following year. A hot start in 2011-12 combined with a brutal finish propelled him to average-ish overall numbers, and then in a short stint this season Khabibulin was excellent. Overall, he posted a 0.903 save percentage over four years in Edmonton – almost the same total as he managed in Chicago, except that NHL goaltending has improved. Among goalies with a minimum of 100 games played over those four years, Khabibulin’s 0.903 save percentage ranks 39th of 42 players.

NHL goalies are getting better. At 40, Khabibulin is not.

Bottom Line

Khabibulin is a terrible fit for the Oilers. Ideally, the Oilers need a backup they can count on to play (Khabibulin can’t be, due to injury), play well (Khabibulin has not consistently done so) and ideally someone who can continue to push starter Devan Dubnyk or take over for a stretch if he falters or gets hurt (something Khabibulin simply isn’t capable of doing at this stage of his career).

When it comes to addressing the number two goaltending slot in Edmonton, Nikolai Khabibulin shouldn’t be in the conversation.

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  • Wax Man Riley

    I’m not reading 130 comments so forgive me if this has been said already, but Khudobin fits all of the stated criteria, would be relatively cheap and would be a great pickup. Go get him MacT!

    • Cheap Shot Charlie

      Trust me, it’s not worth reading the majority of the 130 comments (and I make lots if them).

      As for Khudobin, you maybe right. But I think Dubby has really done well with the veteran support that Khabi has brought. I agree it’s time to move on but I think a veteran backup would be better for DD long term.

      However, the validity of that point only comes if you agree that DD is our starting goalie for the next few years. Otherwise, if you think Khudobin is a starter in the making than we could have a goalie battle start up. And we just see who emerges.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Khudobin is a solid option. Labarbera is another good option… MacT should also explore Euro goalies and US College.

    Just don’t pay that much. Value at #2 G is essential.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Van is by any measure successful over the last several years.

    As much schadenfreude I take in their continued failure in the playoffs doesn’t blind me from acknowledging that fact.

    They’d be insane to blow it up. Tinker yes, tear it down no.

    Gagner over Roy all day unless Roy is packaged with Edler.

    If Raymond can come for cheap and limited term I’d look at him. Looks to me like a guy that needs a second opinion on his career.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    If we have a guy in the system who can play 20-30 games, the man to trade is Dubnyk. At 6’4″ the fact he makes a living on his knees makes me laugh. He is not consistent; marvellous 1 night, lousy the next. Gives up a softie almost every night. (How many 1 goal games did we lose this year?) He over-commits on his lateral movement (sliding on his knees & can’t stop), thus he cannot recover. Also can’t control his rebounds while on his knees; they just keep bouncing out iabout 15 feet n front of the net & is just fair playing the puck with his stick. We could get more for him than Khabby in a trade. Khabby is good for 50-60 games & he will play for a lot less money now.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Wow… just wow.

      There is no one is the system who can play 20-30 nhl games right now, unless you include Nik, in which case we still IMO don’t have anyone we can count on for 20-30 games.

      Dubnyk was miles from being the problem this year. The obsession with blaming goalies ranks up there with blaming coaches.

      Dubnyk outplayed the rest of the team by a massive margin.

      Nik will never play 50-60 more NHL games period, let alone in a single season.

      • Randaman

        I have an idea to add to the mix. What if we were able to sign Mike Smith. I like the idea of having a goaltender that can handle the puck very well and take the pressure off the defence. Worked for Jersey for years and works good for Phoenix. Dubnyk implodes every time he tries to leave the crease and handle the puck. This would improve the defensive zone play immensly.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          Smith is an interesting option. but his whole body of work doesn’t look like a better option that DD.

          His great run last year (esp. in the playoffs) is going to make him cost more than you want to pay a #2.

          And he’s going to want to be #1.

          I think you only target him if you have really soured on DD. Considering DD is our own product, we’ve invested a lot in him, he’s younger, he’s got another year on his contract and his year over year stats keep improving… I’m not sure you walk away for Smith.

  • 2004Z06

    If we believe that Dubnyk is our starter (I think he is) and assume he will only be better with a stronger D in front of him then you don’t even look at bringing in another starter as a backup. We cannot have 10 mil-ish tied up in goalies. Louongo and Smith are big ticket salaries and they are not going to want to be “back-ups”. There are a ton of options out there for a back up on the cheap. Dubnyk does not need to be “pushed”, he needs to learn to push himself.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      I agree with everything here except your last line.

      A guy like Bishop would have been perfect. A young G, looking to make a mark, a few years younger than DD and trying to work his way up to a #1 position.

      He gives you reliable option at 2, keeps DD honest and when he’s ready to take the next step you trade him or DD.

      • Vaclav

        I believe Thomas Greiss would be a good alternative to Bishop. In 2011/12 he put up a solid .915 save %age in 19 games. This season, with Niemi’s terrific play he only got into 6 games with the same .915 save %age.

        He’s only 27 years old and might provide the push Dubnyk needs while being an able backup. If Dubnyk falters Greiss could be given a chance to start.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Oilers will be on the outside looking in again next season anyways, so there’s no need to rush bringing in someone to push/push out Dubnyk. See of Jose Theodore is available, he could play 30 games or 55 if needed. Management is talking a big game going into next season, but this is most likely more same ship, different year propaganda with Lowe still in charge.

  • Vaclav

    Even if you believe Gagner is better than Roy and the two can be ha for similar money, the Oilers are a better team if they trade Gagner for a top 4 defenceman and bring in Roy as the replacement for Gagner on the second line.

    There is, on the other hand, no “Roy” level equivalent defenseman available in free agency this summer.

  • Tikkanese

    Khudobin or Greiss only out of the UFA market.

    Khabby only if those fail, trades for Bernier etc fail and Khabby is at the league minimum salary.

    It’s funny at the time of the Khabby signing he was at the top of most lists as the best UFA goalie available. Same for Souray. They both got overpaid, but all top end free agents get overpaid. Get over it.

    We needed an upgrade on Roli, other than his miracle run and a couple short hot stretches he wasn’t getting the job done. Roli was a career backup until that run and he was very old for that run, let alone by the time we signed Khabby. What did Roli do after he left here? Not much. Get over it.