The 2009-10 season was so rough for the Edmonton Oilers, I called it “Murphy’s Law on Ice.” One of the biggest components of that lousy campaign was Nikolai Khabibulin’s downfall, as the sporadically brilliant goalie went from Chicago’s unexpected netminding savior in 08-09 to an injury victim and the possible recipient of a DUI. (It’s amazing that no one made a “Humpty Dumpty” – “Bulin Wall” joke at some point during the season, actually.)
Tyler Dellow provided some interesting analysis of the situation, including the long-shot chance that the Oilers might be able to get out from under Khabibulin’s seemingly unbreakable 35+ contract thanks to a a tough-to-enforce morals clause.
There’s been a lot of speculation that the Oilers might be able to somehow get out from under Khabibulin’s contract if he’s found guilty of this. I haven’t really been that impressed with the idea. Morals clauses in sports contracts are notoriously difficult to enforce. Where this might get interesting is if Khabibulin is unable to report to camp or if he’s convicted and has to do some jail time during the season. In that case, the player contract is very clear and you don’t have to get into issues about whether his conduct meets some standard. The SPC provides that a team can terminate the agreement if the player fails to render his services hereunder or in any other manner materially breaches the SPC. Failing to attend games because you’re in jail (or because you’re in Phoenix at a trial) would seem to me to be pretty clear cut.
Would the Oilers do it? I don’t know. I’ve thought that everything Tambellini has done so far has been pretty easy. It’s easier to recognize and clean up someone else’s mistakes than it is your own. He gave Khabibulin a pretty strong show of support at the end of the season. This is, or should be, a contract that the Oilers want no part of going forward. If he were to be handed such an opportunity on a platter, Tambellini would be insane not to grab it. It’ll be an interesting test of managerial competence if it comes to pass.
Let’s make no doubt about it. Getting rid of the 37-year-old goalie’s contract ($3.75 million cap hit through the 2012-13 season) would go a long way toward unclogging the team’s salary cap.
Being that Khabibulin is well past the age of 35 – the cut-off point for when a team can get rid of a salary cap hit because of retirement – this could be a stroke of luck for an Oilers franchise looking to turn the page. That being said, it still looks like a Hail Mary pass for Edmonton; chances are, they’ll have to deal with the ugly contract and hope that they can get one or two more years of 08-09 Khabibulin.
(H/T to Puck Daddy)