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Khabibulin happy for new opportunity // Edmonton Journal
Oilers acquisition began NHL career in Winnipeg, excited to play in front of sold-out crowds at Rexall Place
Certain that his best years are not yet behind him, Nikolai Ivanovich Khabibulin was intent on securing a long-term contract, which was something the Edmonton Oilers were willing to offer.
So it took the 36-year-old goaltender all an hour to officially end his tenure as a Chicago Blackhawk.
"There's a lot of goalies who have been playing into their 40s. I think I'm still pretty young," the veteran said Thursday in his first media availability since he signed a four-year, $15-million contract with the Oilers on Wednesday.
Khabibulin takes over from Dwayne Roloson, who signed a free-agent deal with the New York Islanders soon after the market opened on Wednesday.
"I feel pretty confident that I still have a lot of years left in me," Khabibulin continued.
Behind him will be Jeff Deslauriers, who has played all of 10 NHL games.
"I like to play a lot of games. I think if I can play 60 games at a high level, that would be pretty good," said Khabibulin, who has a noteworthy record of 30-10-2 against the Calgary Flames.
He was also able to polish up his not-so-impressive record against the Vancouver Canucks. Before the Blackhawks took out the Canucks 4-2 in the Western Conference semifinal this spring, the netminder was 0-9-1 against Vancouver, with the lone tie registered on Jan. 26, 1998, when he was 25 years old and a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I learned quite a bit last year. You have to fight no matter what," said the netminder, who at one point last season was placed on waivers.
"I think I developed even more character last year because I was constantly fighting for playing time. I do like to carry the ball. I feel like when I play more, I play better."
Khabibulin, or the Bulin Wall as he is better known, won a Stanley Cup championship with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, was the starter in 2002 when Russia won an Olympic bronze medal, and has played 678 NHL regular season games since making his debut with the Winnipeg Jets in 1994.
He even managed to revive his performance last season, and the Blackhawks would have retained Khabibulin if he would have signed for a year or two.
Instead, Cristobal Huet regains the starting job in Chicago and Khabibulin stands behind a team that lacks the offensive punch of the young Blackhawks.
"When you play in one city for a number of years you get attached to it, but it didn't work out and I can walk away from Chicago through the front door. I'll turn the page," he said.
"There weren't too many opportunities with such a long term and it happened that the Oilers made a commitment. But I do feel it's a team that's similar to what we had in Chicago. I think our chances of accomplishing something are really good.
"I remember from my days in Winnipeg, when you play in a smaller city where everything is hockey, the fans are passionate and that is always exciting. When you play, you want to play in a full building."