July 2, 2009
Oilers ink 'Bulin WallKhabibulin, the best free-agent goaltender available, signs four-year $15M deal
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA
The net wasn't empty very long.
Less than two hours after last season's MVP Dwayne Roloson left town to sign a two-year deal with the New York Islanders, the Oilers signed unrestricted free agent Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year, $15-million contract.
In addition to replacing him in the net, Khabibulin, at 36, replaces Roloson as the oldest player on the team.
While some would ask the difference between signing a 36-year-old to a four-year deal and refusing to sign a 39-year-old to a two-year deal for a smaller cap hit ($2.5 to Khabibulin's $3.75), the Oilers are obviously very happy with the Nyet 'minder.
"Nikolai is a world class goaltender who has proven himself throughout his career as one of the best in the game," said GM Steve Tambellini. "He has had success at many levels and we're looking forward to seeing him continue that success here in Edmonton."
He became the first Russian goalie ever to win the Stanley Cup (2004) with the Tampa Bay Lightning and owns two Olympic medals, the last coming in 2002 when he started for the Russian bronze-medal team and was named the tournament's top goaltender.
While he's not that much younger than Roloson, and only played more than 50 games in a season once in the last four years, he has good numbers, including a save percentage over .900 in 12 of his last 13 seasons.
He was 25-8-7 last season while finishing third in the NHL in goals against average (2.33) and sixth in save percentage (.919).
In 15 playoff games last year he posted an 8-6-0 record with a 2.93 goals against average and a .898 save percentage.
"I'm obviously very excited about the opportunity and the new challenges of coming to Edmonton," he said in a statement released through the team. "It's going to be great to play in a Canadian city."
Khabibulin has played 678 career NHL games, establishing a career record of 299-267-58, including a 2.67 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.
In 72 career post-season games, he is 39-31 with a 2.40 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
Oilers defenceman Jason Strudwick has played against Khabibulin plenty of times and has always liked his style.
"I didn't get a lot of shots on him, didn't have a lot of scoring opportunities," joked Strudwick. "But as a D-man I can tell you I know how he plays. He's very solid. I know he controls his rebounds. As a D-man I really like that, it's more predictable, that's what you want from a goalie."
Khabibulin's 50-game ceiling means, in theory, more work for Jeff Deslauriers, who is a wild card in the whole Oilers goalie situation. One of Craig MacTavish's most costly mistakes last season was going through a whole year -- in which Edmonton didn't make the playoffs anyway -- without finding out if Deslauriers can be a starter in the NHL. He played back-to-back starts on the road in early November, won both, then lost on Nov. 13 and 30, then played just two times in the next four months. And the Oilers are not one step closer to knowing what he's all about than when last season started.