Most pundits and fans alike, believe that Nikolai Khabibulin is done. At first glance, his stat line since he left Tampa Bay has been anything but stellar and suggests that those people may be on to something that the "Bulin Wall" is finished. I tend to look at those stats in a slightly different light.
W L SV% GAA
2005-2006 - Chicago 17 26 .886 3.35
2006-2007 - Chicago 25 26 .902 2.86
2007-2008 - Chicago 23 20 .909 2.63
2008-2009 - Chicago 25 8 .919 2.33
2009-2010 - Oilers 7 9 .909 3.03
2010-2011 - Oilers 10 32 .890 3.48
What stands out? The two worst seasons were 2005-2006 and 2010-2011...those teams ended 27th and 30th in league standings.The 2006-2007 year was also poor and the Hawks ended up in a tie for 25th overall with the Oilers. His first season in Edmonton was a write off because of the back injury so we can throw that season out. So what happened during the middle two seasons for Khabibulin stats to take such a drastic spike? He played for a good team in 2007-2008 and a great one in 2008-2009.
Goaltenders occasionally get too much of the glory when a club is successful and too much of the blame when they do poorly. If a goalie plays on a bad team that does not a play a defence first system, like both the Oilers and Hawks, his stats will be terrible. I am not in any way defending Khabibulin's poor performance last season because he was dreadful. Yet for everyone to suggest he is done as an NHL goalie, seems a little harsh based on a poor season playing in front of the worst team in the league. It's hard to judge a goalie on a bad team if you go by stats because they'll always look poor. On the flipside, if you go by how much they win...that's a losing battle as well. In my mind, what makes a great goalie is if he's able to make the big save for his team when they need it and has the ability to not allow the back breaking goal to cross the line. If he does that, personal stats aside, you have yourself a highend netminder and Khabibulin has not delivered enough big saves since signing with the Edmonton Oilers and regularly allowed that back breaking goal in the Oilers net.
Devan Dubnyk showed last season that he has the chance to be a legit NHL goaltender. With that being the case, look for Dubynk and Khabibulin to share the work load for the 2011-2012 campaign. This should form a healthy competition between the two goalies for playing time and make it tough on coach Tom Renney to decide what number to call on any given night. It will also keep both of them fresh and ready to go. Khabibulin has proven a heavy workload is too much on him at this stage of his career and whenever Dubynk has started more then a handful of games in succession, his play levels off.
Nikolai has the type of high end game that can turn a game around, if not carry a club for short stretches during a season. The question is whether or not he will be able to bring that game to the table on a somewhat regular basis. There will be struggles but if he can find a consistent level of play, the Edmonton Oilers will find themselves with a much higher number in the win column at seasons end.
I expect nothing less than a rebound season from the Russian netminder. The combination of his poor play last season and his highly publicized DUI conviction, will push Nikolai Khabibulin to prove his critics wrong and show that he still has a few miles left in the tank.
2011-2012 Prediction: 17 W - 2.80 GAA - .908 SV%