Like a poorly-written novel, the Nikolai Khabibulin saga has taken forever to get going but the climax has been brief and brutal.
From the Twitter of the Arizona Republic's sports reporter Sarah McLellan in the courtroom comes the news that the Edmonton Oilers' goaltender has been found guilty of the charge of extreme driving under the influence, a charge that's likely to land Khabibulin in Tent City for a minimum of thirty days and a maximum of six months -- more than enough to shred his 2010-11 NHL season and perhaps throw his career into doubt. He also faces a range of other penalties, as DUI Attorney David Maletta told Derek in early August:
"Extreme DUIs carry a mandatory minimum of thirty days in jail, with a maximum of six months in jail, alcohol counseling, an interlock device placed on the vehicle for one year, fines, probation, and a ninety-day driver's license suspension....DUI convicts serve their sentence in Tent City at the County Jail. It's an outside jail, where men sleep in army tents."
Those new to the Khabibulin saga would be well advised to hit up Tyler Dellow's posts on the subject; he's been on top of the Khabibulin charge since day one. But what matters is that Khabibulin's defense, long speculated upon, was that a retest of his blood sample, taken months after his original arrest, showed that Khabibulin had only a blood alcohol level of .158 with a 10% margin of error. In short, taking the most generous possible view of the lawyer's word regarding Khabibulin's privately commissioned test would put him just under the .150 minimum for extreme DUI and certainly leave Khabibulin guilty of some sort of drunk driving offence. To quote our own Derek Zona, "My client was hammered, but he wasn't fall-down drunk, he was tip-over drunk."
The quick judgment in Khabibulin's case came as a surprise to me and others given that Khabibulin was arrested way the hell back on February 8th, and that his trial had originally been scheduled to begin July 7th. It had been delayed to hell and gone all through the spring and summer, so to see such a quick decision - it came within three hours of the trial's beginning - is enough to give one unversed in courtroom procedure vertigo.
It was probably easier that Khabibulin's only defense was on just how drunk he was. Khabibulin was tested at a .164 by the state with a 5% margin of error, and that margin of error falls on a bell curve so it was more likely to be a .163 than a .155. Again, the boundary for extreme DUI in Arizona is .150, which is a long way from the State of Arizona's estimation of Khabibulin's intoxication and still awfully far from Khabibulin's own lawyer's estimation. Given that four and a half months passed between the two tests and some of the alcohol in Khabibulin's blood may have degraded while it was in storage, that doesn't so much raise a reasonable doubt regarding Khabibulin's guilt as it raises a reasonable doubt about how much that lawyer could possibly have been worth.
McLellan noted that Khabibulin's team argued that the field sobriety tests should be ignored because of his back injury, a tactic they previously tried in an attempt to get the tests declared inadmissible in June. Though McLellan doesn't specifically mention the judge's reaction, it's clear that the tactic failed yet again.
The story isn't over quite yet. Khabibulin still has to be sentenced: the tentative sentencing date is August 31st, pending approval from the prosecution. Both sides will have an opportunity to present additional arguments, and it's a foregone conclusion that the defense will ask for 10 days in prison and the other 20 days suspended as part of an agreement in which Khabibulin will undergo psychological evaluation and agree to an alcohol treatment program. The prosecution will likely press for 30 days, and possibly more based on the extreme speed involved in the incident.
NHL teams could be well into training camp by the time Khabibulin even knows how long he'll be in prison for. Then there's serving the actual time. The point is that, as any Dellow reader could tell you, the Oilers have reasonable grounds to void Khabibulin's contract based on breaking the performance clause in the standard player agreement. As anyone with any common sense could tell you, they have a very good reason to do the same: it's safe to say that a goaltender with serious back problems and a criminal record in the United States who's spent up to half a year as a guest of the United States government isn't going to be worth almost $4 million a year for three more seasons. And as anyone who's watched the Oilers for the past four seasons could tell you, Khabibulin will probably be a part of this team for years to come.
Even if Khabibulin were to avoid jail time during the season, which is highly unlikely, there remains yet another major issue outstanding -- the fact that Khabibulin has yet to be declared officially healthy. Khabibulin ended the season on long-term injured reserve and it now becomes in his best interest to stay on LTIR. He can't face punishment for non-performance, nor can he be suspended for the conviction while on injured reserve.
Check into this space over the course of the evening as the rest of the Copper & Blue crew sticks their heads in and gives us their opinions on the whole Khabibulin mess.
A tip of the hat to Sarah McLellan who did an amazing job reporting from the courtroom and taking questions on twitter.