Khabibulin happy to still be an Oiler
DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
|Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is happy to still be a part of the squad following the NHL trade deadline. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters file photo
EDMONTON - Nikolai Khabibulin wasn’t sure if he would still be a member of the Edmonton Oilers following the NHL trade deadline.
As a proven starting goaltender having a solid season, there was talk Khabibulin may be on the move to a contending team looking for insurance.
But whether the interest was not there or the offers were not to the Oilers’ liking, Khabibulin remained. And with a year left on his contract after this season, he’s still part of the picture moving forward.
“I’m happy here, and I think the team is going to be very good, probably as early as next year,” Khabibulin said. “For any athlete you want to play in the playoffs, but at the same time, I’d like to finish what I’ve started.
“We haven’t been good for the last two and a half years. I want to see this group succeed and if I’m still part of it, it’s a satisfying feeling.”
Heading towards the end the season, the Oilers obviously felt Khabibulin was an asset not worth parting with. The veteran goaltender has bounced back this season after a disastrous 2010-11 campaign.
It was the result of his play that Khabibulin was considered likely to be on the move.
“I didn’t really think too much about player movement and whatnot at the deadline,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “I really concentrated on our guys here and kept up the rapport with them as a coach and athlete should. That’s what I paid attention to, I wasn’t too concerned with who might be here or who might not be here. All that innuendo was out there anyway, I didn’t need to bring it into the dressing room.”
Regardless, by keeping Khabibulin, the Oilers have kept together a goaltending duo where the veteran has taken on a mentoring role for the club’s goaltender of the future.
How much Khabibulin plays the rest of the year, however, will be determined by how big a read the club wants to get on Devan Dubnyk.
“To me, Dubie’s a starter in the making,” said Renney. “However long that takes, I’m not really sure. I want to make sure I’ve given him enough of a chance to show us he’s ready. In the meantime it is a delicate situation, because you want to respect the career of a guy like Nik and his competitiveness and what he’s been able to do for us and what he did for us early in the season.
“But saying that, we have to do the right things in how we continue to grow this team, and Nik will play a vital part in all of that, as a mentor and a teammate.”
With 18 games left in the regular season, there is no set formula as to how much each goaltender will play.
The Oilers have long been out of a playoff race and are once again in a development mode.
“I’d like to see the performance, I’d like to base a decision on whether the guy is at least playing well,” Renney said. “Obviously winning is a great motivator. I’m not sure I’ll follow that down the stretch here. The bottom line is both guys are vital to our success moving forward. I think they can both do the job.”
Next year the Oilers are hoping to be in a battle for a post-season berth and playing time is expected to be determined on who they feel gives them a better chance to win.
Having been kept around, Khabibulin is excited to become part of that equation.
“I think we have a good group of guys and we have quite a bit of skill,” said Khabibulin. “Our power play is first in the league and I think that says a lot, especially when you consider teams like Chicago, Vancouver and Philadelphia and all the offence they have.
“Usually when your special teams are good, you have a good chance to make the playoffs and I think we’ve got that. We just need to improve in a few areas and mature a little bit and I think we’ll be a very good team.”