The last time Nikolai Khabibulin played for the Chicago Blackhawks was in the 2009 postseason, four years after he first signed with the team. That fall, the Blackhawks decided to go with Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet as their goaltending pair, and Khabibulin went on to sign with the Edmonton Oilers. Four years later, the prodigal goalie has returned, signing a one-year contract with the Blackhawks.
The signing comes on the heels of a season in which Khabibulin only saw 12 starts with the Oilers, where he was the understudy to Devan Dubnyk. At the end of the season, Khabibulin, who is 40, told the media that he would consider retirement. He’s now turning his back on thoughts of retirement to help out his old team.
Khabibulin’s signing solves a crisis that arose during the madness of free agency. Ray Emery signed with the Philadelphia Flyers for a chance at the starting position. Carter Hutton, who had been the starting goalie with the Blackhawks’ affiliate in Rockford, was signed by the Nashville Predators. With the majority of their goaltending prospects not yet ready for prime time, the Blackhawks turned to Khabibulin. He gives the net a veteran presence and can mentor Corey Crawford just as Emery had for two years.
There’s a fascinating fact concerning Crawford and Khabibulin. In 2005, the year that Crawford played in his first NHL game, Khabibulin was the starting goalie. They were also briefly paired during the 2009 Western Conference Final. Eight years later, Crawford is now the starter, and Khabibulin will be watching from the bench as his second in command of the net.