“Hallelujah, the Edmonton Oilers will finally have the chance to rid themselves of Nikolai Khabibulin‘s contract after this season!”
That is probably what a lot of Oilers fans are saying to themselves right now, and I’m sure a fair number of them are even hoping he will perform well enough to warrant his being traded before the season is over just so they can finally be done with him. The problem, though, is the Oilers don’t really know yet what they have in presumed starter and possible goaltender-of-the-future, Devan Dubnyk. We know the Oilers signed him to a two-year, $7M extension last year and that with a cap hit of $3.5M a year, they are expecting him to do great things and develop into the elite goaltender they believe he can be.
I gave some of my thoughts about Dubnyk earlier this month, and maintain that he will play an integral role in determining Edmonton’s success or failure this year. He has improved as each of the past three seasons have gone by, and even in a shortened season where rest will be at a premium, I still expect him to start more games then Khabibulin.
That being said, Khabibulin will still be important to this team. Dubnyk will need days off to avoid getting burned out, even if he only played a handful of games during the lockout and hasn’t really had a chance to get dinged up or anything. Khabibulin will also be essential to the Oilers’ success simply because if he gets injured, the team’s next option is Yann Danis. Despite the troubles Khabibulin has had during his time with Edmonton, he is still a better option than Danis, so the Oilers need to pray that both he and Dubnyk stay healthy this season. Tyler Bunz and Olivier Roy project as potential goaltenders for the Oilers, but that’s still a few years off so the Oilers have to ride the Dubnyk and Khabibulin train all the way, and hope it takes them somewhere nice.
Make no mistake, the Oilers are banking on Dubnyk’s being able to continue to progress and take whatever strides are necessary to ensure that he will in fact be their goaltender for the next ten years or so, starting with this season. If he can perform well this season, then the Oilers’ future in net will be secure because Dubnyk can be the unquestioned #1 going forward, and all the Oilers will need to do after this season is get a serviceable backup once Khabibulin departs. But for right now, the present is uncertain, and the tandem of Dubnyk and Khabibulin have much to prove. Will they be up to the challenge?