"Nikolai Khabibulin is no longer a good goaltender. He hasn't been for quite some time, but his performance last season was truly abominable. His save percentage was among the lowest in the NHL, thanks in large part to his (lack of) performance when the team was short-handed. Even if that number comes back a little bit - and I expect that it will - it's overwhelmingly likely that the man who will turn thirty-nine during the 2011-12 season is going to be well below average... if he can stay healthy."
--Scott Reynolds, "Buying Out Nikolai Khabibulin"
"Honestly, even projecting him to get back to the level of Jeff Deslauriers in 2009-10 is blue-skying at this point."
--Jonathan Willis, "Nikolai Khabibulin ≠ Tim Thomas"
"What an absolutely bitter pill. I mean really. The Edmonton Oilers are in a worse position today than they were last fall! Khabibulin is a year older and miles from his last effective season, Gerber is long gone and Yann Danis is the only incoming help. A tremendous amount of pressure is on young Devan Dubnyk, a completely unnecessary risk."
"And there's Nikolai Khabibulin's five-hole, which is such a prominent part of this team I think it has a cap hit. Seeing the puck slide between Khabibulin's legs like that just like old times made me feel positively cozy. You know that feeling when you're back home for the holidays, and your family is bantering and you're holding a cup of spiked egg nog and a warm feeling of familiarity and satisfaction drifts over you? Imagine that feeling, except instead of warm it's like being stabbed in the face by an ice pick of despair."
--Ben Massey being Ben Massey.
There are exactly five people who still believe in Nikolai Khabibulin: Steve Tambellini, Bob Stauffer and three commenters at Oilers Nation. Lowetide is right - backing up Dubnyk with one of the most injury-prone, oldest, and worst goaltenders in the league is an unnecessary risk. Taking the risk leaves the Barons exposed and puts the NHL club in dire straights should Dubnyk go down to injury. It's late in the free agency season, but is there anyone out there who can still help?
If it's a savior they want, the Oilers aren't going to find him in the leftovers. If they're looking for a better goaltender than Nikolai Khabibulin, they're in luck because there are a few of them still available. They're all flawed, of course, but so is Khabibulin. Khabibulin is 39 years old, injury prone with a number of nagging injuries, has a DUI conviction and appeal hanging over his head and he's an awful puck-handler, something the already under-manned defense shouldn't have to deal with.
The contenders to replace Khabibulin are listed below, along with their age, total minutes since the lockout, total save percentage since the lockout and their save percentage by year.
|5-yr Sv. Pct.
Emery and Leclaire come with significant injury risk but Emery checked out with Anaheim's doctors and should be good to go. With a clean bill of health, Emery is a much more reliable option compared to the aged Russian. Leclaire is a poor option -- he seems like he's injured more than he's healthy and his numbers haven't been that much better than Khabibulin. Turco, for all of the beatings he's taken in the last six years, has been better than Khabibulin four of the last six seasons. If he's willing to take a near-minimum deal, he's a slightly better option than Khabibulin and he's typically healthy.
The wild card is Erik Ersberg. After being demoted to Manchester out of training camp, he hung on for awhile, then bolted for the KHL without permission from the Kings. The Kings promptly waived him and terminated his contract. Ersberg signed with Ufa Salavat Yulayev and played 18 games during the KHL regular season, posting a .926 save percentage. Ersberg started 20 of 21 playoff games for Ufa, posting a .933 save percentage as he led his new squad to the Gagarin Cup. He's played the fewest NHL minutes of anyone in the above group (even Pascal Leclaire). In fact, he's played so few minutes that we don't have a solid idea of his true talent level.
If Devan Dubnyk earns the starting job, and that's not a good bet, given Stauffer's comments from Willis' article, he would start approximately 50 games in 2011-12. That leaves 32 games plus spot relief for the backup goaltender. A reliable, healthy backup matters at the NHL level and the AHL level. The Oilers still have a chance to bring in someone to back up Devan Dubnyk and send Nikolai Khabibulin to Oklahoma City to play third-string to Olivier Roy and Yann Danis.
Ray Emery is the logical choice if he has a clean bill of health, but my choice is Erik Ersberg. Given what's transpired between the Kings and the Oilers, Ersberg would add to the hostilities, especially if he were to find his game and put up KHL-like numbers. Ersberg beating the Kings during the Spring of 2012 is funny. Ersberg putting together a .925 season, leading the Oilers into the playoffs, would be downright hilarious and an overt gesture from Steve Tambellini to Dean Lombardi. Both men are just 28 years old, only 4 years older than Devan Dubnyk. They both have a chance to be a reliable second-string goaltender for a long time. If the Oilers give either one a chance and they pan out, the team would be in a strong position to re-sign them, eliminating a source of constant worry since Dwayne Roloson left town.