Khabbi Got Back (Problems)

In case you've been living in a bomb shelter for the last twenty-four hours, the news bears repeating. Nikolai Khabibulin missed last night's game with the Blackhawks with a bad back. A back so bad that he could not even be trusted to sit on the bench and a flareup so sudden the Oilers didn't have time to bring Devan Dubnyk over from Springfield, leading the Oilers to give an amateur try-out deal to twenty-year-old Torrie Jung, a former seventh-rounder of the Tampa Bay Lightning and a mediocre goaltender on a worse-than-mediocre WHL team, the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Perhaps most aggravating is the fact that we know so little, still, about Khabibulin's injury. This isn't his first brush with the injured reserve, as Blackhawks fans still grieving over Cristobal Huet could tell you. We knew that he had a history of such things when he signed (whether Tambellini knew is another, very good question). But even in the cold light of Sunday afternoon the powers that be have deigned to give us very little information. CBS Sportsline hits the nail on the head when they say that Khabibulin's status is "uncertain": nobody in the Edmonton media seems to know what's going on beyond "day-to-day, his back hurts" and certainly the Oilers aren't talking. Our sole clue: The Oilers recent callup of Devan Dubnyk, which suggests "bad".


Not that a lack of transparency regarding injuries is new to the Oilers, of course. From "surprise! Fernando's colitis is back!" to the vague mumblings about the "pubis thing" that's kept Marc Pouliot out a quarter of the season already, less appears to be more to the Oilers' front office, this season in particular. Khabibulin's missed games last year were down to the classic Lower Body Injury, which at least means this isn't a recurrence, but on the other hand Khabibulin missed twelve games in 2007-08 with back spasms and anybody who's had back problems can tell you in detail how they can flare up.

Lots of professional athletes suffer back spasms at some point in their career and never have a problem again. A few of them endure back injuries and are never the same. Khabibulin is an athletic goaltender who famously exerts himself on the ice so much that his sweat is a running gag, and though I'm not a doctor that doesn't sound like a good sign for avoiding chronic back problems.

Of course, Khabibulin has had several other injuries, particularly over the last decade: he may be the most oft-injured starting goaltender in the NHL. So perhaps this isn't a chronic back problem and his body is just made of glass.


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