Sunday, February 26, 2012

Khabibulin Would Get The Maple Leafs To Playoffs

Heading into this season many felt the Maple Leafs were good enough in goal with James Reimer, I was never one of those people. In my mind, he is your typical Toronto netminder that is made out to be far better then he actually is because of the jersey he wears. While Reimer may yet turn into a decent NHL starter, it won't be anytime soon. Toronto has been looking at possibilities to upgrade their roster leading up to today's Trade Deadline but their the most pressing need, is in between the pipes. There are not many options out there but if Brian Burke decides to pick up the phone and make a move to acquire Edmonton Oilers starter Nikolai Khabibulin, the Leafs would find themselves taking part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2003-2004.

With Reimer signed for the next two years at a $1.8 million cap hit, the youngster has time to develop but he needs help. Bringing in a veteran goaltender would not only help him with his overall game but it would allow him to be removed from the current spotlight, which seems to be far too much for him and fellow netminder Jonas Gustavsson, too handle. While the Oilers netminder still has another year left on his current deal at $3.75 million, it is not as bad a deal as many make it out to be. He still has the ability to play at a high level and has always kept himself in great physical condition.

In Khabibulin, they would be adding not only a former Stanley Cup winning goalie but a player that showed earlier this season, that he is more then capable of still carrying a team on his back. He was the best goalie in the league over the first six weeks of the season before hitting a wall when the Oilers were hit hard by injuries. While his stats have come back down to earth over the last three months, much of that had to do with how poor Edmonton was playing. That being said, his level of play did slip but when you are continually peppered on a nightly basis, the wall will eventually break. He is no longer a sixty game start guy but that is not what Toronto needs.

Like most veteran players, Nik wants to play in the playoffs and being put back into that type of situation, will undoubtedly bring his game to a whole different level. Khabibulin is a winner and winners step their game up at this time of year and unfortunately for the thirty-nine year old Russian, he hasn't had that chance since signing as a free agent in Edmonton.

In all honesty, I am not even sure the Oilers would be 100% comfortable in moving him out. Many go on about them wanting to move his "cap hit" but that simply isn't the case. Khabibulin's contract isn't an issue because Edmonton is not a cap team. The problem with trading him, is Devan Dubnyk is a carbon copy of Reimer. He looks great some nights but is very inconsistent and has the habit of letting in bad goals at the worst possible time. If they were to move Khabby, the Leafs would not have to give up a ton but it is not as though the Oilers are trying to unload the sixteen-year veteran for nothing. Be it a prospect or an early to mid-round pick, it would cost Toronto something.

Toronto heads into today's action only three points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but have two games in hand. If they decide to not upgrade their goaltending and continue with the Reimer/Gustavsson tandem, they can kiss the playoffs good-bye. However, if Burke can manage to work something out with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, Leaf Nation will once again find themselves being led to the playoffs by a former Edmonton Oiler netminder.

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