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.
Alternatively you can watch the save from the NHL YouTube Highlight video by forwarding to the 5:00 mark of this video:
ESPN.com’s Rumor Central today is reporting the Blackhawks are close to working out a deal that would loan Nikoloai Khabibulin to a team in the Continental League (KHL) in Russia. The Russian team would pay most of Khabibulin’s salary and the Hawks would get his contract off the books for cap space.
This is a weird one to me if it’s true. Ray Emery was persona non grata in the NHL this summer so the KHL was probably his best option, and for Wade Dubielewicz it’s probably a more lucrative route than backing up Rick DiPietro. But Khabibulin is still a first-string goalie who lifted the Blackhawks out of the NHL basement and played over 50 games last year. Seems to me his only sin is having a hefty contract ($6.75M) hanging around his neck.
If I’m Khabibulin and deciding between Russia (where a KHL goalie was beaten up and robbed last week) and Los Angeles (where 60 degrees F is considered winter) I’m grabbing my shades and heading to Hollywood. Unfortunately it’s not his choice right now so I hope GM Dale Tallon allows him to stay in the NHL.
Surprising almost nobody, the Blackhawks have placed Nikolai Khabibulin on waivers. Folks have been speculating about Khabibulin’s fate since the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet to a monster free agent contract in the summer. The most popular rumors have Khabibulin headed to LA since A) they are way under the minimum salary level and B) they’ve struggled in the crease for years. In the “new” NHL era I can understand the Kings signing him for salary cap reasons. But isn’t their long term success better served by continuing their youth movement and developing the goalies currently in their system?
UPDATE: Khabibulin cleared waivers so now the Blackhawks can get serious about their two-goalie situation. Erik Duhatschek points out the Hawks have made it clear they intend to accommodate Huet as much as possible so we should see a move earlier than later. Duhatschek confirms LA as the likely destination but also suggests GM Dale Tallon has some other (surprising) options.