So how worried are the Oilers that Nikolai Khabibulin will be in a cage rather than guarding one when the regular season rolls around?
Not enough to warrant a panic signing.
So don’t read much into the addition of netminder Martin Gerber, the former NHLer who’s on his way back to North America after a stint in the Russian League.
Oilers assistant general manager Rick Olczyk said he’s here more for organization depth than prison insurance.
“It had nothing at all to do with that,” Olczyk said of Khabibulin’s impending trial on extreme DUI charges in Scottsdale. “He had a tremendous year in the KHL and we needed to fill a void. We felt it was the right move and the right player at this particular point in time. It has nothing at all, and I’d like to stress that, it has nothing to do with Khabby.”
Khabibulin’s next scheduled court date is Aug. 27, but the past three have been postponed, so there’s no guarantee they’ll have a resolution before September. As the case, which carries a minimum 30-day prison sentence if he’s found guilty, inches closer to the fall, concerns that it’ll interfere with his season are heightened.
But Olczyk says the Oilers would have made this move anyway, even if Khabibulin had been cleared of all charges a month ago.
They don’t have anyone else to help carry the load in Oklahoma City (Olivier Roy is in junior, Bryan Pitton isn’t ready) while Gerber, who’s on a two-way contract, can move up and down between the AHL and Edmonton in case of injuries without the club worrying about losing him to waivers.
“We’re going to have two darn good goalies in OKC,” said Olczyk. “He has that competitive nature, he wants to be in the NHL, but there were no promises made to him, no guarantees to him or his agent. It’s just an opportunity. He has an unbelievable work ethic and he’ll push all our guys, including Nik.”
As for Khabibulin, Olczyk says the Oilers are waiting, just like everyone else.
“There’s always a concern if any players misses any amount of time, whether it’s in training camp or the regular season, we certainly don’t want that, but we don’t know how this is all going to play out. We’re anxiously awaiting it as well. As an attorney I’m familiar with the process, in particular Arizona. We’re confident it’ll be worked out as expeditiously as possible.”
Rumours that the club is looking to loophole its way out of Khabibulin’s contract if he’s found guilty are way off base, he said.
“He was our MVP until the point that he got hurt, and his injury affected us, no question. Walking away from the contract? No. I have the utmost confidence that he’s going to bounce back and have a phenomenal year. He’s going to keep our guys in the game, give our guys a chance to win, because they’re going to be young and they’re going to make some mistakes back there. He’s a great person, he’s made a mistake and he’s going to learn from it. He’s a better person than he was six months ago.”
In 30 KHL appearances last year Gerber went 15-6-6 with a 2.19 GAA and .914 save percentage.
The 35-year-old native of Switzerland played for Anaheim, Carolina, Toronto and Ottawa in the NHL and for Switzerland in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Oilers assistant coach Ralph Krueger, of course, coached Switzerland for 13 years.