SUN Hockey Pool

Khabby camper in Edmonton

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

Heading into training camp, Nikolai Khabibulin just wants to concentrate on hockey.

Its been a turbulent year for the Edmonton Oilers goaltender, who was back in town for the first day of medicals and fitness testing on Friday.

He lasted just 18 games last season before a back injury brought his year to a premature end.

His problems were then compounded after being charged in Arizona and eventually convicted on extreme drunk-driving charges, which are currently being appealed.

Thats something that I wish I didnt have to deal with, Khabibulin said.

I spent a lot of time on it over the summer and I was taking it very seriously. But it is what it is, and Im working to try and get past it.

Right now, Im just excited to be back, to begin practising and being with my teammates. I hope that makes things a little easier.

Having been found guilty and sentenced to a month in jail, the Oilers were hoping things would have been resolved by the time their veteran goaltender arrived at training camp.

However, the appeal process left the situation up in the air.

Theres a possibility Khabibulin, 37, may have to leave the Oilers at some point during the season to eventually serve out his sentence.

I cant really answer that question, he said. My lawyers have a better understanding of how all that stuff works.

But whatever happens, Ill deal with it then. Right now, Im looking forward to playing. Im excited to be back and being around the team again.

I feel healthy. For me, overall, its very exciting and Im looking forward to it.

Having signed a four-year, $15-million deal last off-season, the former Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning wants to give the Oilers a better return on their investment.

Khabibulin says his back feels good and has passed all the medical tests needed to in order for him to get back on the ice.

I probably feel even better than I did before (surgery), he said. Im really happy with how the recovery has gone. Ive skated a few times already without any problems, which I think is awesome.

The goal for Khabibulin would be to play in the neighbourhood of 60 regular-season games for the Oilers this year.

Thats the number the club envisioned him playing per year when they signed him as an unrestricted free agent.

Being healthy this year, hopefully, I can play a whole season, Khabibulin said. I still believe in what I can do. Up to the point where I was injured last year, I thought I played fairly well, and hopefully I can continue to do that.

Despite his legal problems, the Oilers welcomed back their starting goaltender. The club is hoping Khabibulin is able to backstop what is expected to be a young roster.

As a strong team, as a team with integrity and character, well do everything we can to make sure he feels comfortable coming back and being a hockey player for the Oilers, said head coach Tom Renney. There are some things we can control and certainly internally our environment is one of them. Outside of that, we dont have a whole lot of control over what other things we have to deal with.

If it comes to a point where theyll lose Khabibulin to the Arizona penal system, the Oilers will deal with the matter then.

Were not even thinking about that, Renney said. Were thinking about today with our physicals and medicals. Our training camp starts (Saturday).

Were at the front end of the process here and so is he. During the season, well deal with anything that comes our way no matter what it is. At some point and time, that may or may not be one of those things.

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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