Nikolai Khabibulin hopes to rebuild his career, life after ugly DUI incident

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Thumbnail image for nikolaikhabibulin3.jpgIt’s been a rough summer for goalies, no doubt about it. Evgeni Nabokov had to take his steady stream of 35 to 40 win seasons to Russia to earn a big pay day. Marty Turco sweated out nearly all summer long until he settled for a shorter version (from $2 million per year for three seasons to one) of the deal the Flyers originally offered. Dan Ellis, Chris Mason and Antti Niemi signed bargain deals to catch on with new teams.

None of them, however, can hold a candle to the horrible summer (and really, 2010) Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin experienced. Of course, while those goalies and their agents misread the free agent market, Khabibulin’s wounds are far more self-inflicted.

The goalie reflected on the extreme DUI case that made all kinds of bad headlines since Super Bowl weekend with Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal.

While Khabibulin hopes to get comfortable in the net after just 18 games last year, his court case in Arizona continues to hang over his head after he appealed his extreme drunk-driving conviction and 30-day jail sentence in late August. There is no time frame for the appeal to be heard, which leaves his second Oilers season up in the air.

If Khabibulin is concerned about how his appeal will weigh on his employer, it doesn’t appear to be on the goalie’s radar screen after completing fitness and medical testing Friday. He is more interested in trying to work through the embarrassment of it.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on it this summer … it’s not something I wish I had to go through, but I’m taking it very seriously. It is what it is. It’s an ongoing process right now. It’s hard on everybody, my wife, my daughter,” said Khabibulin, who immediately filed an appeal after he was convicted. He could play the year out, or he could leave in mid-season for his appeal.

“I wish, collectively, we all didn’t have to deal with this.”

Let’s face it, Khabibulin is lucky that no one ended up getting hurt while he was driving so dangerously above the legal limit. As bad as things were, he can piece his life (and NHL career) back together and turn the page at 37 years old. With a young team that hopes to rebuild in a hurry, you never know, he might just be able to infuse this sad tale with a happy ending.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado