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.


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.


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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  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    This whole insurgence to fire someone in VAN is ridiculous.

    That is an extraordinarily successful team over the past several years.

    Beyond emotional catharsis… I’m not sure what would be achieved by any dramatic changes.

    Trade Lu, dump some bad bets and pick up a few more pieces. That core is still magic.

    • John Chambers

      I agree about the coach – they won’t find a better one.

      They do need to make a big move though to give themselves a new look and free up dollars to add another impact player up front.

      Van is the only team who can boast 4 legitimate top-pairing D. Not tomention two All-Star goalies. If they can get some quality young assets in return and then have $ to go after a high-end buyout candidate or UFA (eg Horton, Briere, or Heatley), they could easily finish at the top of their conference and keep the window open another 3 years.

      Big summer for Gillis though, and big changes do need to be made.

      • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)


        What playoffs have you been watching?

        Corey Schnider an All-Star…where? Kazakastan?

        Briere and Heatley? You left out Martin Havlat.

        If Vancouver EVER had a WINDOW…it would be made by a company called “Fair Weather Windows”…Playoffs arrive and the sisters close the window….Poof…It’s like magic!

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I guess we’d differ on what big moves mean…

        I guess I’m pushing back on the blow things up idea (whether that means coach and/or manager and/or players)

        One of the goalies is gone, some bad bets are gone (Ballard, maybe Booth, maybe Roy) and maybe one or two large pieces (Edler?)

        If that all happens… I wouldn’t call that a major change. That leaves a huge core of the team intact.

  • Well DSF you make it sound all so easy. Just trade Lou, thats all there is to it. You yourself admit its hard to trade him with getting older and his contract. So you just admitted that Gillis made a stupid move signing Lou to that contract. Now Gillis is going to waste how many more millions of the owners money buying out a couple more duds. If all of that happens then there will be another news conference telling Mikey to find a new job.

  • RexLibris

    So Khabibulin spent from 2005 to 2008 in Chicago during which time the Hawks drafted Toews, Kane and Kyle Beach.

    He signs in Edmonton and they promptly draft Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov.

    If we throw out all those fancy stats about performance and goals-against, then ignore a complete and utter lack of discernible depth on the roster, as well as dance swiftly around causation and connection, we can come to only one conclusion: Khabibulin is draft-day gold.

  • DSF

    No thanks to Edler, the guy was playing on a very good team in the last 3 yrs, Vancouver probably had the best top 6 d- men in the league. He would be a bust in Edmonton.

  • Eddie Shore

    Actually, here’s the question in inverse: All things being equal, why would Khabby even consider re-signing with the Oilers?

    By “all things being equal,” what I mean is this: If, on July 1, he had a similar offer on the table from a team in a non-fishbowl market like, say, Florida or Carolina or Dallas (to throw some random names out there), is there any conceivable reason why he should even consider re-upping in Edmonton?

    Khabby has generally been a professional during his time here (save for that unfortunate impaired driving incident) … but, as noted, he hasn’t played consistently enough to really enjoy the support of the fans. The Oilers are in that “tween” stage where they’re still young enough to be considered as “having potential to be great” but far enough away from “being great” that Khabby will likely be retired if/when it happens.

    Khabby’s 40 years old, with a wife and kids. He has his Stanley Cup ring. He’s made a nice career for himself – he was practically a folk hero in Winnipeg and that was before he even won a Cup.

    So, unless he’s got this drive to sign with a contender next year, I don’t see why, if the opportunity is available (a big “if”), he doesn’t just bolt for the sunnier climes of a non-traditional hockey market. Earn some big money, retire at 42 and move on with life.

    I think MacT will be shopping for a new goalie on July 1st.

    • 106 and 106

      Since 1989, Nikolai has earned: $53,856,518 playing professional hockey.

      “Earn some big money” probably isn’t high on his list of things he needs to do anymore.

  • 106 and 106

    Sorry ON, I just trolled on Canucksarmy – I was pissed off that nobody is commenting on their posts. Sad, really – that the team has no heart and the fans don’t really show it either.

    Maybe I have too much time on my hands tonight (speaking of which, where is DSF?)

  • DSF

    Big news out of Vancouver.

    They’re holding a news conference tomorrow morning and it’s expected AV will be fired.

    I expect you may see AV end up as the new coach in Dallas while Vancouver will hire Dave Tippet.

    Look for some significant personnel moves on the ice too.

    Being speculated that Edler will be dangled for a first round pick.

    It’s gong to be a very interesting couple of months.

    Edler to Edmonton?

    • Eddie Edmonton

      I would make that deal assuming he still has some time left on his contract. Losing out on either a big centre who won’t be ready for at least another year, or a gritty defender who might never be ready depending on development, is worth it if acquiring a top two defender, which I believe Edler is.

      Do you think there’s a deal to be made for swapping picks, and if so who?

    • John Chambers

      Yep – the Canucks made a formidable run for it and came a game short. Now they have to tear it down.

      They have a few options – they could move the oft-injured Kesler and sign a guy like Weiss as their 2nd line C, while moving out guys like Raymond, Burrows, etc who have value, as well as Schneider …

      Or they could trade from their position of strength, which is on D.

      I would wager they make a deal with the Flyers (who desperately need D).

      • DSF

        I think you may have nailed it.

        LeBrun talking this morning about Edler and Schneider to Philly for Philly’s first round pick and Brayden Schenn or Jakub Voracek.

        Makes a lot of sense for both teams.

        Weiss is injured even more than Kesler so I don’t think that makes sense.

        • John Chambers

          That Schneider + Edler for a 1st rounder + Schenn deal could have them back being competitive immediately and with good young players in the mix.

          More than a Dman, the Oilers could profit from hiring AV.

          Could you imagine if the Oil obtained some quality depth players and a pair of solid mobile D, and built their game around giving 4-93-14 65%+ Ozone starts?

          AV could make them a playoff team.

      • Eddie Shore

        Every trade they make is from a position of weakness. They HAVE to move some guys out. They have only 17 players signed and are $100K over the cap already (next year).

        • DSF

          That’s nonsense.

          They have a large number of tradeable assets.

          They’ll likely buy out Ballard and Booth giving them a lot of cap flexibility and, if Luongo is traded, they have even more.

          • Eddie Shore

            I never said they didn’t have assets. I said they are in a position of weakness because everyone and their dog knows that they have to trade some players.

          • Eddie Shore

            Patently untrue? Ok. Care to expand on this? Or is it so because you say it is?

            Also, they need to resign Schroeder and Tanev so I’m not so sure how they will achieve this “cap flexibility” by buying out two players that will save them only $5M. Resigning the two players I mentioned will spend at least $3.5M of the money they saved via the buyouts.

          • DSF

            Is it true because YOU say it is or is there some objective reality.

            I would think your opinion may be coloured by your problems with math.

            Ballard makes $4.2M and Booth makes $4.25M.

            That’s a total of $8.45M and moving Luongo ($5.3M) would give then a total of $13.75M.

            I think they could sign Tanev and Schroeder pretty easily with that kind of room, don’t you?

          • Eddie Shore

            Ballards buyout cap hit would be $1.4 until the end of the 2017 season. Booths buyout cap hit will be roughly $1.3M, $1.0, $1.5M, $1.5. They do not save $8.45 but more like $6.04M-$5.5M. Tanev and Schroeder may eat up at least $3.5M of this.

            How are you so positive they will magically be able to move Lou without retaining any salary?

          • DSF

            You really need to brush up on the facts before posting.

            The Canucks have TWO compliance buyout available to them which means there are ZERO cap implications going forward.

            As for Luongo,I think it’s more likely that they move Schneider and his $4M cap hit.

            In any event, they’ll have lots of cap flexibility no mater how long or hard you try and insist they won’t.

          • Eddie Shore

            My mistake, thanks for so eloquently pointing it out.

            Not sure how Lou can possibly stay there after the circus there this year.

            As for your article Jonathan, no way in hell they should resign him.

          • Eddie Shore

            They will move Lou not Corey, Lou is getting Old how many Goalies are productive at his age and beyond?

            Answer not many. That is why it is so hard to trade him and that salary.

  • Eddie Edmonton

    I like Khabby, but I think retirement from the net is in everyones best interest. (I feel the same way about #94). With that being said, I think using both of these vets in some sort of coaching capacity would be a benefit to the roster players. Their voices of experience could be superior to what they can leave on the ice during a game. Age has caught up unfortunately.

  • Ducey

    Bulin should have been traded at the deadline.

    The Oilers should be looking at someone who is relatively young (in his 20’s) who might develop into a viable option at #1 after a few years. They will then have a strong tandem or a trade chip.

    Keeping Bulin just puts off the requirement to do something useful for a year.

    If there are no other options – fine. But I have trouble believing that there are no other options when there are usually a few established goalies looking for work in September.

  • Eddie Edmonton

    Get rid of Khaby, he is done, but Dubby has not proved anything. Seriousely all the weak goals he lets in silly. You need someone as good as dubby to push him, and then go with the best guy. The BIG EASY is to EASY

  • vetinari

    If MacT signs him, then obviously we have hired the wrong GM and it should be instant grounds for dismissal for both MacT and Lowe.

    Seriously… Khabibulin’s getting up there in age, he’s maddening inconsistent, he’s injured more than average when compared to other goalies and he’s no threat to Dubnyk to push him for playing time. Cut ties and look for someone… anyone… under the age of 33 and who has played more than 50 professional games during their lifetime and can post a respectable GAA.

    Khabibulin is another Andy Sutton in waiting. If we sign him, he’ll be on injured reserve for most of next season when he jumps for joy that he actually got an extension and pulled his back/ACL/MCL/neck/vestigial tail/whatever in the process. Quit hurting yourselves Oilers and let someone else hunt for ol’ Red October.

  • DSF

    Next year is a big year for the Oil. They must make the playoffs. If DD gets hurt, they need somebody that can play a string a games together and win more than they lose.

    Khabby has some nice numbers this past year and has a good relationship with DD. But I don’t feel confident that he can play 5 or 6 games in a row well, if it ever came to that.

    • RexLibris

      DD is not a playoff type of goalie………yes he does make his share of saves, but he lets goals in at all the wrong time too.

      He should be considered a back up or at best a goalie that can play half the games, or a dual goalie situation, at least until he gets consistent.

      • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)


        The Oilers have never played a playoff game since Dubnyk was drafted….how do you know he’s not a playoff goaltender? Are you aware that most players ELEVATE their game during the playoffs? (Vancouver and Minnesota being the exceptions).

        You know who else wasn’t a playoff goalie until he actually played in the playoffs?……..EVERY frigin GOALIE!

        • Quicksilver ballet

          He has a point the ORG.

          Dubey just isn’t that good. If he was we’d have made the playoffs atleast once. Even Grant Fuhr had us in the finals during his ELC. This Dubnyk to me looks more bum than boffo.

          …am I doing it right?

      • How can you say he’s not a playoff type goalie when he’s never played a single NHL playoff game?

        Amen Willis. It was a mistake to sign him four years ago and it would be a mistake to re-sign him now. DD has earned the #1 spot but I think that he still needs somebody to push him and potentially play well if Dubnyk falters or gets hurt.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    No way he comes back. Edmonton really needs to improve next season and if Dubnyk gets injured and the Oilers run with Khabi/AHL starter for a month two it could toast the whole season. Gotta be a guy you trust will be healthy and consistent.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Is missing 28 games over three years a lot in comparison to other goaltenders?

    I’m very much on board with not resigning him but what should we expect from the average goaltender?

  • ghostofberanek

    Good call for change. Though I believe Dubnyk can handle the load of a number one, and do it consistently enough to get us to the playoffs, having a solid back up that could do the same, as well as push Dubnyk to the next level would be ideal. I hate to say it, but the way Dubnyk plays, Luongo would seem like an ideal mentor.

    If Van uses their amnesty buy out on him, and he’s willing to play in another town that wants it’s younger goalie to become the number one, he would be a good fit. I see them splitting the season if he was to come here.

    But likely he would want to still go back to Florida and be a number one somewhere for the remainder of his career.

    Are there any other goalies around the league that might be acquired this year. I know Smith is the big off season prize. What about Ryan Murray from Buffalo. As a 1B option he could be very good, and may even get back to his levels of greatness.

    However with Fluery playing the way he has, if they don’t win this series, I can see the Pens go after Murray.

    • Eddie Edmonton

      What is it Dubnyk’s play that makes you think Loungo would be a good mentor to him?

      If a if was a spliff-we’d be all #@$%ed up.!..
      Why would the Oilers give Dubnyk the #1 job and the bring someone in to share the load 50/50. None of them would then be the #1 goalie. What has Dubnyk done to lose his job as the #1? What has he shown to be concerned with?

      I don’t really care if Loungo wants to go back to Florida or where he wants to retire, it has nothing to do with the OIlers, Dubnyk or Khabi.

      • Eddie Edmonton

        Both Dubnyk and Luongo’s strengths lie in being big goalies that take away angles well, and can smartly read plays. Neither of them is overly athletic so reacting is not their strong suite. Hence, why their shoot out numbers are not at the top end of the league. Though I think Dubnyk occasionally shows some athletic ability, it’s not his play style. And that is fine. Where he falters as the number one is in his consistency. If he is going to be a goalie that takes away angles, then he has to be that all the time, and that is where Luongo could help him improve his game.

        Not only does he make Dubnyk need to do better to be our number one, but he can actually help make him better, while providing reliable goal tending when he’s in net.

        Dubnyk is our number one only because our number two is Habby. The off season should be spent upgrading our team at every position, otherwise what is the point. Bringing Luongo does that two fold. He is a huge upgrade over Habby (who currently holds a larger contract than Dubnyk by the way), and he can help both push and mentor Dubnyk to become the type of goal tender we all know he can be.

        Don’t get me wrong, I het the Canucks, I am glad they are out of the playoffs, but if you think having Luongo doesn’t make our team instantly better, you do not watch hockey.

        • Eddie Edmonton

          Both of their strong assets have nothing to do with a skill and atheltic ability, more so to do with bestowment of height, and the help of padding on it. If they were not so tall: how good of goalies would they be? Do you believe they would be #1 on any team?

          If Dubnyk’s weakness(as you are suggesting) is taking away angles-then it would only take a good coach and drills to help him get that going, and time of course. I don’t see what Loungo has to offer him.

          Are you suggesting that Dubnyk is not a #1 goalie? Only by default?

          I didn’t say Loungo wouldn’t make the team better, and I do watch hockey.

          • Hmmm, you might have misread that a little. I’m saying he is a goalie that takes away angles, that is his strength and style of play, which is similar to Luongo. Also similar to Luongo, his weakness is his athletic ability. He’s not an acrobatic goalie.

            Obviously their height gives them an advantage, I think I make that quite clear. And no, if they were smaller playing the same way, they would not be number ones.

            I don’t think Dubnyk, has shown he is a legit number one, simply by the fact he has never had a season where he played over 50 games. He hasn’t had that yet, and like Schnidier this year, stepping into a role with more games, might not be the easiest transition. Having said that I think he played great this year, but it wasn’t a full year. Currently, Dubnyk is definitely our number one by default, but also because management thinks he can be that guy, and so do I. But if say Bishop was here, I don’t think his number one status would be so solidified. Not so much a knock on Dubnyk as insight into how bad I think Habby is.

            Basically, because Luongo is a more consistent, and veteran goalie that plays a very similar game and style to Dubnyk, I think having him here will both help Dubnyk become more consistent and eliminate his one weak goal a game, as well as provide us with a huge upgrade on our back up situation, and an insurance policy in case of injury.

  • ghostofberanek

    So we’re finally free of this guy, and the media is asking if we should keep him around?? The answer is a resounding no!

    Now that I’ve covered that aspect, let’s switch gears here. How about them Canucks hey? Maybe they won’t take the last game of the year so lightly next time…

  • Eddie Edmonton

    I don’t believe the Oilers need someone to push Dubnyk. The Oilganization gave him the job this year, they’ll give him another year at the helm to see how he fairs. Given his core of d-men and cheating/slow forwards, Dubnyk wasn’t that bad this year.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      It’s never a bad idea to have competition in house. never.

      Also… injury. Look at Minnesota right now. In an instant you are reliant on a guy that you are going to want to be competitive. See also, Price.

      Also… performance. Look at STL this year. They went from 1st in team save % last year to the bottom 3rd of the league (worse for the first 2/3rds of the season). Even established goalies can tank… hard and suddenly. See also, Quick.

      • Eddie Edmonton

        I can’t agree with never.

        Injury is a concern and a gamble every team takes on every player. Anything can happen to anyone at any one time, including injuries and performance slumps- it is all part of the game.

        I don’t understand why you brought up those teams and examples, or what they have to do with Dubnyk and Khabi. I’m sure if I tried and looked hard enough, I could find a few examples of something/someone else to support my point of view.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          You are suggesting you don’t need to push a positional player.

          More than this, you are suggesting you don’t need to push arguably the most important positional player on any hockey team.

          I gave you 3 reasons.

          1. competition is healthy. having someone push for your position is good IMO.

          2. Injury. If Dubnyk goes down and you don’t have a competitive player in the wings, because you don’t think you need someone pushing for TOI… well… you’re effed.

          3. Performance. If Dubnyk suddenly tanks and his SV% goes haywire (hardly a rare occurrence for NHL goalies, even “elite” ones) and you don’t have a competitive player in the wings…. etc.

          for these reasons you need a reliable, competitive backup. Nik is not reliable because his performance is far from consistent, his age and his propensity to injury.

          • Eddie Edmonton

            I didn’t suggest any of the things you are suggesting I suggested.

            1. Sure, competition is healthy. But, it is not always necesarry, especially in the case of the Oilers and Dubnyk in the next year. I believe that with a better D-core and better bottom 6, Dubnyk will be a better goalie next year. Looking at his #s, he could be a top 10 goaltender.

            2&3 are concern for every player and every team. What would happen if Dubnyk goes down, then, his jobjacker comes in and gets injuried too: you suggesting the Oilers need to go get a solid 3rd/AHL goalie that will be able to go #1 when the times calls for it?

            I’m not saying the OIlers don’t need a back-up, and someone a lot better than Khabi, all I’m saying is they don’t need a back-up(trade for one) that will be in the position to steal Dubnyk’s job. I don’t see nothing to available in the FA pool, and no team is going to trade you anything that will challenge Dubnyk without a price. Oilers could use their assets to improve in other areas of concern.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Sure you did.

            You repeated it in this post. You don’t think the Oilers need someone to “challenge Dubnyk.” You don’t think competition is “necessary”

            I think it is. I think it is necessary at all positions, especially at one as important as goalie.

            FWIW I also think Dubnyk will be better next year and think he was great this year. big fan. Doesn’t mean I don’t challenge him and insure against either a collapse in performance or injury.

            The other examples (2 and 3) were elaborations using examples. that is all.

            Simple point: yes you need to have a quality back up; no Nik is not one; yes a good 3rd goalie is smart management

            By the way… I define a quality back-up capable of pushing DD as either a cheap journeyman who’s had success in the past and isn’t ancient (from the Labarbera family) and/or a Euro that has gone undervalued by NHL scouts (from the Fasth family) and/or a prospect on the up swing (from the Bishop family).

            I’m not talking about bringing in Rinne, or Luongo.

  • Rocket

    No. They should not consider this. I have nothing against Khabibulin & he seems like a good mentor but backup goalies seem like they’re easy to find.

    Time to move on.

  • Eddie Edmonton


    If he was willing to sign for a year at around a million. He could still be a useful back-up, if Dubnyk is up to par.

    If Dubnyk poops the bed, and the Oilers are forced to count for Khabi for a long period of time, it could get ugly.

      • Eddie Edmonton

        To be honest, none of them appeal to me. But neither does the uncertainty that is an NHL back-up goalie. Any one Oilers sign or take a gamble on will have at least 2 of the 3 Khabi appeals.

        Once again, if we consider the support stuff of the Oilers goalies, Khabi still had a few decent performances in the games he came in.