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Goal mender: Khabibulin says he's happy to stay // Chicago Sun-Ttimes
After tumultuous time, goalie ready to share job with Huet
BY LEN ZIEHM
Seeing the Blackhawks sign another top-level goalie in the offseason was one thing. Training camp was even more life-changing for Nikolai Khabibulin.
Not only was he no longer the Hawks' highest-paid player, but his starting job also was in jeopardy. Through his agent, Khabibulin investigated a move to another team, even one outside the NHL, and the Hawks took the extraordinary step of putting him through waivers.
They found that no other team wanted him, in large part because of the $6.7 million he's to be paid this season, and his agent couldn't land him a job in his native Russia, either.
Now -- assuming you believe Khabibulin and Hawks management -- all that turmoil is a thing of the past.
''Am I frustrated? No. Why should I be?'' said Khabibulin, ending his silence Wednesday for the first time since the Hawks put him on waivers. ''I'll play when I get a chance to play, and I'm still a part of it. It'll be fun. I'm still happy to be here. I like the people here and the guys in the locker room, as well.''
Khabibulin didn't play in any of the eight exhibition games. He practiced with the team for the second straight day Wednesday, and coach Denis Savard reiterated his plan to pick the starter for Friday's season opener against the New York Rangers on game day.
Cristobal Huet, signed in July to a four-year, $22.5 million contract, went through the entire preseason and played in four of the eight games.
''They're both No. 1 goalies, and the best will play,'' Savard said. ''The guy who's got my gut will play the first game. I don't see any problem. They get along great, and they're together in this. They'll challenge each other and make our team better.''
Huet wanted no part of a budding goalie controversy.
''I know a lot of things went on the last week or two,'' he said. ''I'll just try to do my job on the ice. I knew when I signed that it'd be like this. I respect Khabby a lot. Whoever has the confidence of the coach will play. You've got to earn your ice time.''
Said Khabibulin: ''There's always two goaltenders on a team. It's no different here. Cristobal is a good goaltender. I got to know him in camp, and he's a really nice guy. He's been in the league awhile and understands what it is, and I understand, as well.''
Khabibulin dodged questions about his reasons for looking for another team and his reaction to the Hawks waiving him.
''We were exploring options,'' he said. ''We had great communication with [general manager Dale Tallon], as we've had the previous three years. Now the season is starting, and I'm ready to play, to be a part of the team.''
He doesn't think the lack of practice time will hurt him.
''Players get hurt and don't play for a month or two months,'' he said. ''I missed four days [in addition to the exhibition games]. That's not a big deal. I think I'll be effective. I feel confident in my ability. When I get the chance to play, I think I'll be fine.''