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Khabibulin intends to play longer than the new four-year deal he signed with Edmonton // Edmonton Journal
Steve Tambellini can apparently put up a wall with one hand tied behind his back.
That's a handy attribute for a general manager rebuilding a roster.
While being held at bay by Ottawa Senators sniper Dany Heatley, who refused for a second straight day to waive a no-trade clause and join the Oilers, Tambellini could make no bold moves up front but managed to install the Bulin Wall in Edmonton's net.
Nikolai Khabibulin is, at age 36, a three-year upgrade on the dearly departed Dwayne Roloson. He also cost them a great deal more money than the $5 million US it took to lure Roloson to Long Island for two years. Khabibulin signed a four-year deal for$15 million and his agent is adamant the resurgent goalie intends to be around a while.
"He's hoping to play beyond four more years," said Jay Grossman. "You may remember he missed about two years when he was with Phoenix. Times were frankly different with respect to unsigned players then.
"But he missed that time and he was always aware of that and has dedicated himself to his conditioning. I actually had to call him out of his workout this morning to get this (deal) going. Age eventually affects everybody, but Nik has always looked to guys like Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour, who played into their 40s, and he has every intention of doing that."
Khabibulin did indeed make a stand a decade ago. He refused to accept the Coyotes' best offer after the 1999 playoffs and did not return to the National Hockey League until March of 2001, when Phoenix finally dealt him to Tampa Bay. Holdouts were de rigeur in those days, as teams warred openly with players in a hockey world without salary cap. He took hits both financial and to his reputation.
Times and Khabibulin have changed. Headed into free agency as a mid-30s veteran of 678 games and five years removed from a Stanley Cup title with Tampa Bay, he understood he would have to take a haircut from the career-high $6.75-million US salary he gleaned in free agency from the Chicago Blackhawks four years ago.
"We weren't under the view that we were going to stay (at $6.75 million)," said Grossman. "Nik has felt a lot of confidence in the past when he has played with security. That was a factor. He also wanted to go to a real strong club at this point in his career."
He came to Edmonton anyway. Nice guy.
Khabibulin fits into the Oilers' salary structure well enough since his cap hit of $3.75 million is only slightly more than Roloson's $3.667 million.
You simply don't get Khabibulin unless you give him something nobody else would offer. In this case, that's term, because while no goalie and only a handful of free agents copped a better annual salary Wednesday, the money is not shocking.
Aided as he was by Edmonton's desperation, he still earned the new deal with solid numbers -- 2.33 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and a 25-8-7 record in the regular season. He also outperformed Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff in the first round of the playoffs, and did the same to Vancouver's Roberto Luongo in the second.