EDMONTON – Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is pumped to come to Edmonton in a deal he says is more about the timeline than the bottom line.
“The Edmonton Oilers made such a big commitment. There weren’t too many opportunities with such a long term out there,” the 36-year-old Russian said during in a conference call Thursday from his summer home in Phoenix.
He signed a four-year free agent deal with the NHL team Wednesday worth US$15 million after talks with his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, didn’t go anywhere.
“They (Chicago) needed a few things to bring me back,” said the man known as the “The Bulin Wall.”
“We had some one-year offers. But when I had such a long commitment from the Oilers, it was a pretty easy decision to make.
“I’ve turned the page and now I’m going to play for Edmonton and do my best to help the team win.”
The 2008-09 campaign was a rough one for Khabibulin, who played four seasons in the Windy City.
Battling Cristobal Huet for the starting role, he started out on waivers but eventually performed well enough to take over the No. 1 job.
In 42 games, he was 25-8-7 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .919 save percentage, numbers that put him in the top six among NHL goalies.
He also played 15 games in the playoffs as the resurgent Hawks made it to the Western Conference final after missing the playoffs for six consecutive years.
He said the young Oilers remind him of the Hawks, who are thriving with young talents like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
“Our chances of accomplishing something are really, really good.”
Khabibulin said he expects to play about 60 games, a move that would allow the Oilers – who are struggling to get back to the playoffs – to groom youngsters like Jeff Deslauriers.
“Nikolai is a world-class goaltender who has proven himself throughout his career as one of the best in the game,” Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini said in a news release.
“He has had success at many levels of hockey, and we’re looking forward to seeing him continue that success here in Edmonton.”
The Oilers moved quickly to acquire Khabibulin just hours after last year’s starting netminder Dwayne Roloson signed a two-year, US$5-million deal to back up Rick DiPietro with the New York Islanders.
Edmonton is the fifth team for the man from Sverdlovsk, a coal-mining hub in the Donets Basin in eastern Ukraine.
He started with the Winnipeg Jets in 1994. He has played 678 career NHL games, establishing a career record of 299-267-58, including a 2.67 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.
He backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup winning team in 2004.
The signing is a salve for a city that has been stung recently by snubs from high-profile players like Chris Pronger.
Old wounds were reopened this week, however, when it appeared the Oilers had a deal to trade for disgruntled Ottawa goalscorer Dany Heatley only to have Heatley invoke his no-trade clause.
Khabibulin said he’s watching the Heatley saga from a distance.
“I think any team would love to have a 50-goal scorer, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”