SUN Hockey Pool

The first Tsar is ...

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

Bless the Bulin Wall!

Thank goodness for the Nyet Minder!

Praise the First Tsar!

Celebrate Calgary Kryptonite!

If there was ever a time the Edmonton Oilers needed a guy to go for the green without worrying about the weather, his wife or recent sets of standings, this was it.

The No. 1 netminder available in free agency, Nikolai Ivanovich Khabibulin, helped cure the condition which ailed the already severely damaged ego of Edmonton.

The upgrade in goal lifted Oiler fans out of the Dany Heatley funk from the night before or make it a double down on depression when Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini flew all the way to Kelowna last night for a face-to-face with Heatley with the midnight Eastern deadline do-over looming large again and the result ending up the same: Hell no, I won't go.

Heatley refusing to agree to wave his no-trade clause to come to Edmonton in the deal for Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid the night before inspired 24 hours of international discussion on why nobody wanted to play in Edmonton.

But for a disturbing couple of hours from the opening gun of free agency yesterday, the Oilers were without a starting goaltender when Dwayne Roloson said no to the Oilers one-year $3 million deal and quickly signed a two year $2.5 million U.S. per season contract with the New York Islanders.

But new GM Steve Tambellini came through for both Edmonton and the Oilers by signing Khabibulin to a four-year, $15 million U.S. deal. And Heatley be damned, they're a better team today than they were 48 hours earlier.

If you look at Khabibulin's history, the man's a mercenary.

The Bulin Wall is on wheels. The Chicago Blackhawks still wanted him even though he went to free agency but, as GM Dale Tallon admitted, came up short on dollars and term. But, hey, Khabibulin is from Sverdlovsk, Siberia, Russia. And he enjoyed the first years of his career in Winnipeg. Edmonton?

No problem.

And if you think signing Khabibulin was a cure for the condition of the community, it worked pretty well for the condition of the new head coach as well.

"Steve did a great job," Pat Quinn told the Sun yesterday of the Oilers' GM: "That's was my biggest concern and the most important thing there is and we didn't have a goalie.

"Khabibulin struggled a little when he left Tampa Bay but he's a quality goaltender. He can play.

"He's experienced.

He's won a Stanley Cup."

While at age 36 he won't turn the age Roloson will be this season until the last year of his contract.

And while he was on the waiver wire last September, he took the Hawks to the final four and out-played Roberto Luongo in the process.

The bottom line is that he was 25-8-7 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

There's no knocking his career 2.67 goals against average or his career .908 save percentage. In 11 of his last 12 years he's had a save percentage over .900.

At $3.75 million U.S. a year - $750,000 more than they'd been paying Roloson - it buys the Oilers time to develop and draft young goalies for the future.

Khabibulin has played more than 50 games in six of his last seven seasons.

Jeff Deslaurier, who thanks to the Oilers not having their own farm club one year and Craig MacTavish riding Roloson for all he was worth last year, should play 25-30 games.

The happiest guy about this deal is new head coach Pat Quinn.

"Steve did a great job getting a quality goaltender," Quinn told the Sun yesterday. "That's was my biggest concern and the most important thing there is and we didn't have a goalie.

"The thing I hear about Khabibulin is that he likes to be a bit of a mentor, too.

"It's best that Deslaurier build his NHL career," Quinn said of the back-up not being thrown in to sink or swim.


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