The Edmonton Oilers have not had a good season. They are the worst team in the Western Conference. Young stars like Andrew Cogliano, Patrick O’Sullivan, Denis Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert have failed to take the next step; indeed, they’ve regressed from their performance last year. Key veterans like Shawn Horcoff and Sheldon Souray have struggled. The team is plagued by injury. Pat Quinn sounds frustrated; he’s called his team “stupid” and has seemed to bite back curses in post-game press conferences. Despite Jordan Eberle’s spectacular effort in last night’s gold medal game, the immediate future isn’t much brighter: the Springfield Falcons didn’t win in December and are mired in the AHL cellar and the team has little cap space to bring in veterans.

Not all of this can be laid at the feet of Steve Tambellini, the Oilers’ G.M., many of the problems were inherited, although that doesn’t excuse his apparent inability to start fixing them. One particular bit of recent news is especially troubling, however: the news that Edmonton’s prize summer acquisition, Nikolai Khabibulin, is on the verge of being written off for the season. According to the local media, who got it from the coach, January 16 is the deadline for a decision on Khabibulin, who has yet to show any sign of returning to the team. If that continues, it’s probable the Oilers will opt to send him for surgery.

The really disturbing side of this particular story is evident in Robert Tychowski’s write-up:

Khabibulin, who turns 37 next week, has wrestled with back problems before.

“Apparently he went through this window in Chicago and came back at playoff time,” said Quinn. “That’s where we are, we’re still waiting.”

Khabibulin’s track record with regard to injury is not a positive one. Here’s what I wrote, a mere two weeks after the Oilers signed the goaltender to a four-year/$14 million contract:

Nikolai Khabibulin: 66 [games missed since the lockout] (back spasms, knee, groin, finger and multiple lower body injuries). The Oilers newly acquired number one goaltender, 36-year old Nikolai Khabibulin, has suffered repeated lower body injuries which have caused him to miss an average of 16-17 games per season. While this is serious, the greater concern is that given his age, history and the position he plays, he may be at a relatively high risk of suffering a long-term injury.

I was far from the harshest critic of the move; Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey wrote three great posts on the signing: “A Loser Move For A Loser Franchise,” “Loser Move, Part II” and “Relentless Incompetence”, which do a nice job explaining in detail the key reasons why signing Khabibulin to a four year contract was a big mistake. Ignoring the saturated goalie market this summer for a moment, as well as questions about Khabibulin’s ability to play at a high level given his track record in Chicago, one of the key points was that Khabibulin a) had a long history of injury problems, b) was over 35 (meaning that his contract sticks like crazy glue), and given a) and b) probably shouldn’t have been signed to a long-term, big-money contract (for those of you who would quibble about the long-term or big-money bit, see here, second-last paragraph).

This is about risk management. Had Steve Tambellini signed Khabibulin to a one-year contract, I couldn’t argue forcefully that he’d made a poor decision; it would have been a short-term bet on a player coming off a fine season. If Khabibulin’s performance wasn’t all that good, or a long-term injury issue popped up, come summer the Oilers would have been free and clear.

Tambellini didn’t sign Khabibulin to a one-year contract. He signed him to a four-year contract, despite the player’s age and injury history. It was a reckless move that showed an utter inability to effectively manage risks – and despite Tambellini’s rather short time at the helm, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if it turned out to be a move that led to his dismissal.

Comments (9)

  1. Whats hilarious is how Tambellini has more or less managed to give the perception that he’s not the general manager for the past two seasons. As if all of the troubles affecting the Oilers aren’t anything to do with him.

    Two years, or seasonally speaking a year and a half, and all this guy does is talk the talk.

  2. Don’t worry, Khabibulin will be back for the playoffs! Hahahhaahha…ohhh..

  3. We all knew it was a bad contract the second it was announced.
    Even when Khabi – and the Oilers – started off strong, we didn’t like it because of the risk.
    One of (hi Rick DiPietro!), if not THE, worst contracts handed out in recent memory.

    The combination of a number of factors: high cap hit, long term, the35+ rule, injury risk, a buyer’s goalie market, a team already in cap hell, a cheaper option in Roli, and the simple fact that Khabi isn’t even an elite goalie make it stupid x8.

  4. The Oilers needed a goalie, and Khabibulin was the most famous one on the market. Whether he was the best goalie available (or even better than their current netminder) doesn’t even seem to matter.

    It’s all about getting people to talk about the Oilers in July for these people. Even if it makes them completely irrelevant in April. Why else do you chase guys like Heatley, Jagr, and Hossa well after it’s been made painfully clear they want nothing to do with them? Why else would they bring back Comrie and Laraque (at least try too)? Or sign a 90 year old goaltender with injury problems to a long term-big money contract that you’ll never be able to get out of?

    I don’t know if these guys are more interested in selling a few jerseys in the summer than they are about building a team that’s good enough to compete, or if they actually think the kind of moves they’ve made (and tried to make) are doing just that. Either way, it really doesn’t instil me with any confidence going forward.

  5. When I first read it I thought it was worst move – of course it was his only move.

    Disaster. The Oilers have another year likely before they can unload Moreau, Staios and perhaps O’Sullivan and Nilsson. That big fat contract hit would have been nice to fill in a few of the holes on this sadsack club.

    Oh well. Ty had it right.

  6. Next season will be a disaster also as it will be difficult to unload many of their players. I wonder if the Oilers would consider moving Cogliano and Nilsson for the likes of Martin Biron and a pick. Biron has had an average year and Cogliano and Nilsson are capable of playing top 6 forward spots. Souray and Visnovsky have to be moved as it doesn’t make sense for the Oilers to have two 33 year old defenceman on a club that at best won’t be competitive until 2011-12. I believe that Tambellini and Lowe should be let go as Lowe has had too many chances and failed and Tambellini can’t be inspiring confidence in the club, the city, and the upper management for the Oilers. (I wonder where we’d be if we kept Scott Howson and had let Lowe go?)

    Also with the way the season is going the Oilers are going to have a great shot at Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall, either are great picks. If the Oilers can get MPS, Eberle, Hall/Seguin, Anton Lander, Rajala, Hartikainen, and Linus Omark to the AHL next year the Falcons would get an instant injection of high level forward depth, skill and offence and would help the overall development of the players on that club as winning breeds great players, as shown with the Washington Capitals Farm Club the Hershey Bears.

  7. Here’s a question….. What if Gagner/Cogliano ask for the same deal Penner got? Realistically Lowe gave it to Penner for roughly the same point production that both the Kids have accomplished so far, and from what Oiler fans have been going on about there “potential” they should at least get 4.5 mill per season shouldn’t they?. Be a tough pill to swallow if they did……..

  8. Of course, Tamby also tried to trade Penner, Smid and Cogliano for a guy who didn’t want to be here.

    A lot of fans and bloggers (not to mention any names ;) ) supported that trade, but I saw it as a mistake, and still do, and another strike against Tamby.

  9. I’m still a fan of the initial effort to acquire Heatley; once he rejected the trade the team should have moved on but I can’t blame them for trying to add that 50-goal scorer, either.

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