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|15 января 2008
A super saver he's not, so trade 'Khabi' // Southtown Star
By Tim Cronin
The summer day in 2005 when goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was signed to a four-year contract by the Blackhawks, both he and general manager Dale Tallon spoke of a bright future based on promise and hope.
"The Blackhawks are back," Tallon said. "It's a great day. ... I don't know of any better since I've been around."
Khabibulin, at that time the goaltender who had most recently hoisted the Stanley Cup, expected a long run with the Hawks, and not just because the deal was for $27 million.
"I hope I don't have to move anymore," Khabibulin said from his retreat in Belarus. "When you play good, a team likes to keep you."
And when you don't? Everyone knows that answer. Midway through the third season, it's clear Khabibulin isn't the answer in goal. Neither promise nor hope has been fulfilled.
Khabibulin has played 144 games for the Hawks. Of that gross of games, Khabibulin has won 57, or 39.6 percent. He has one shutout.
The number of games he has stolen - top goaltenders pull heists regularly - can be tabulated on one hand. Maybe one finger. A 56-save showing against Detroit last April, culminating in a shootout win, sticks in the mind.
Little else worth $27 million does. Khabibulin has not excelled, and it's time to try someone else.
Heir apparent Corey Crawford is that someone else, groomed for the last two-plus seasons with the Hawks' farm club. With a 2.60-goals-against average and 19-9 record for Rockford, he's just four tolls away.
Crawford has been touted as the future goaltender by Tallon for years. With the team sliding out of playoff contention again, why wait? Why not now? Crawford and Patrick Lalime, solid in his last two outings, including Sunday's shootout win at Nashville, can trade starts the rest of the season.
Tallon is eager to deal for a veteran defenseman to shore up a roster decimated by injuries. His problem is in trading someone who can bring quality in return, thanks to all the players in sick bay. Tallon is loathe to deal a key forward or anyone on defense. (Naturally, Patrick Kane and the injured Jonathan Toews, the stars around whom this team will be built over the next decade, are completely untouchable.)
That leaves third- and fourth-line players, backups and Khabibulin, whose value, like that of the stock market, has lately skidded. Friday night's performance at the United Center against Minnesota was a new low. Like most butterfly-style goaltenders, Khabibulin has always been vulnerable to the high shot. Of late, he's also been weak down low. Matt Foy and Mark Parrish, neither of whom will be confused with Bobby Hull, took advantage.
If Tallon has a chance to deal Khabibulin, this is the time. He's still regarded well enough to bring value, if a general manager can be convinced he'll be good in the playoffs. His Cup-winning appearance of 2004 with Tampa Bay is his most recent postseason showing.
The hard part for Tallon is finding a team both with a goaltending need and a dealing GM. We'd suggest stumbling Toronto, but GM John Ferguson Jr. may be fired today and might not answer his phone. Perhaps Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster would bite, though defenseman Filip Kuba, whose ears are burning after recent criticism by head coach John Tortorella, might not be enough in return. But Kuba and the Lightning's top draft pick this summer might be.
The only thing Tallon can't do is sit tight. If he does, empty seats could return to the United Center, and eventually, one of them might be his.