Kukla's Korner

Where Will Khabibulin Land?

Let’s just pretend for a moment that Nikolai Khabibulin passes through waivers unclaimed. After all, a $6.75 million bill is a hefty chunk o’ change and the cap hit isn’t pretty, even if it’s only for one season. Ok, so then let’s pretend that Chicago GM Dale Tallon rolls the dice and sends Khabibulin to the minors and then recalls him, effectively placing him on re-entry waivers (Chicago keeps half his cap hit and salary while Team X gets the other half).

A one-year no-risk deal for a Stanley Cup-winning goalie that has (in the past, at least) been a solid #1, all for $3.375 million. Who will go for it?

There are two things to consider here:

A) Who needs a #1 goalie?
B) Who’s got the cap space to easily handle $3.375 million?

Now, note that I say “easily handle” because I’m guessing that most teams that have, say, $4 million in cap space and someone whom they can purport to be a #1 goalie will pass simply because they probably want to maintain that level of cap flexibility should anything serious come up. Now going by this criteria, I came up with five teams:

Atlanta: Kari Lehtonen certainly has the skills to be a #1 goalie but does he have the durability? Lehtonen’s groin has been a problem his whole career, and his flexibility and speed remain key to his game. In other words, take that out of the equation and Lehtonen becomes much less of a goalie. With cap flexibility, could Khabibulin double as #1A and an injury insurance policy? It’s a remote possibility, but I’m guessing no.

Carolina: Cam Ward simply hasn’t been consistent enough since winning the Conn Smyth trophy in 2006. He continues to show flashes of brilliance before letting in some awful soft goals. Ward is still young and I doubt anyone’s totally giving up on him yet. Would having competition like Khabibulin hurt Ward’s confidence or spur him on to become a better player? Carolina’s in a similar situation as Atlanta, and that’s why I’m thinking they will pass and let Ward run with it.

Los Angeles: Yep, everyone’s pointing over at Dean Lombardi and those wacky LA Kings to take the cap-problem players from every team, and why not? The Kings don’t have a proven top goalie and have plenty of cap space. This situation is the logical one as it fills an immediate need in the LA net while giving some breathing room for Jonathan Bernier to develop—and really, there’s nothing stopping Bernier from taking over the top spot should his skills bring him down that path this season.

Nashville: Dan Ellis posted incredible stats during his short reign as the Predators’ top goalie. Like any suddenly hot goalie, one has to wonder whether Ellis (and his new contract) are a glimpse into the future or a flash in the pan. A Khabibulin pickup could provide the Predators with the insurance they need should Ellis turn into a one-hit wonder. However, the new Nashville ownership is looking to spend their dollars wisely, and it seems more in line with their train of thought to let Ellis handle the position for now.

St. Louis: Somehow, the Blues took a faltering goalie in Chris Mason and accepted his overblown contract, all while holding on to Manny Legace after an All-Star year. You’ve got 1A and 1B, yet there’s no real assurances with either of them. If Khabibulin came to St. Louis, I’m betting that he’d make the Mason acquisition a moot point and immediately take over the starting role from Legace. Do the Blues want to have three goalies on their payroll? A one-year commitment may not be out of the question.

All thing’s considered, though, the only true logical choice is Los Angeles. It’s a win-win for everyone, as the idea of Jonathan Bernier getting shell-shocked for an entire season doesn’t necessarily seem like a great way to help his development. A rebuilding team needs as many little victories as possible, and a seasoned veteran in net could provide the stability to allow players like Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty come into their own.

Filed in: Rumors, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: nikolai+khabibulin

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