Goalie Dilemma in Chicago Gets More Dilemma-y

Everyone following the NHL knows the Chicago Blackhawks signed Cristobal Huet to a big free agent contract ($22.5M for four years) this summer so we’ve all been waiting to see what GM Dale Tallon was going to do with Nikolai Khabibulin (last year of a $27M four-year deal).  The Hawks couldn’t possibly support $12+M on two goalies, could they?  Khabibulin cleared waivers earlier in the season so Tenders Lounge was expecting to see a trade or possibly a loan to a team in the Russian league.

The goalie stories out of Chicago have grown over the past couple weeks as Huet’s play has been good (3-2-1, 2.45GAA, .916%) but Khabibulin’s has been great (4-1-3, 2.20GAA, .927%, 1 SO).  Earlier this week I sat down to watch Khabibulin and the Hawks play the Bruins.  First let me say that Tim Thomas was great in net for the B’s.  But Khabibulin was clearly the star of the game, even in a shootout loss, making one of the best saves of the season on Marc Savard in OT.  Apologies to Khabibulin as I could not find a photo of that save and chose to use a shot of P.J. Axelsson during the shootout.  Tenders Lounge has a policy of never showing a goalie being scored on but technically this photo was taken just before Axelsson netted the game-winner.

nikolai-khabibulin-shootout

Alternatively you can watch the save from the NHL YouTube Highlight video by forwarding to the 5:00 mark of this video:

If you keep watching past that save you’ll see Tim Thomas stop a penalty shot in OT so technically the shootout started early for him.  Keep watching past that and you’ll see ten-foot tall Zdeno Chara blast one off Khabibulin’s head from the hash marks.  Ouch.

So what do the Blackhawks do from here?  They’re in second place in their division (which is all they really can hope for being in the same division as the Red Wings) and have a shot at not just making the playoffs but possibly getting home ice in the first round.  Keeping two #1 goalies would certainly help guarantee they get top-notch goaltending every night but at what cost?  Moving one of their goalie salaries opens up a lot of cap room for taking on an elite forward or defenseman.

But which goalie do they move?  The simple reality is that no GM in the league is going to take on a four-year contract AND move a star player.  If he was willing to take on the big contract he’d just sign a free agent goalie next summer.  So that means it’s Khabibulin and I have to assume he knows this is what has to happen (barring a serious injury to Huet).  Think of the pressure that puts on GM Tallon.  If he had made a move at the beginning of the season (and we have to assume he tried) and Khabibulin played well somewhere else he could say he was happy for Khabibulin but he had to make a move.  But now that Khabibulin is stealing the spotlight for the Hawks Tallon is in a position where he needs a superstar performance in return otherwise fans will say he traded the wrong goalie.

The Huet signing was peculiar when it happened but now it’s just going to be fun to watch how it plays out.   What happens if the best offer for Khabibulin comes from a Western Conference team?  What happens if the Hawks miss the playoffs but Khabibulin’s new team not only makes the playoffs but wins a round?  Good luck to both Huet and Khabibulin in this mess, but especially to Dale Tallon… he’s going to have to sleep in the bed he’s making right now.

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