Friday, July 24, 2009

Blueland Guest Goalie: Nicolai Khabibulin

One of the more interesting deals made this summer was Khabibulin going to the Oilers. I liked Khabi with the Hawks. In my mind he was like a grumpy old bus driver dealing with all of those babies on the Hawks. When the Hawks came through Blueland on February 11, I was excited to get pictures. One good thing about him going to the Oilers, I get to see him again this season!

STYLE: Open butterfly
STRENGTHS: Good size, solid fundamentals, plays angles effectively. Has great feet and is tough to beat low.
WEAKNESSES: Poor stickhandling. Inconsistent, perhaps due to fatigue

Николай Иванович Хабибулин/Nikolai Ivanovitch Khabibulin was born in Sverdlovsk, Russia on January 13, 1973.

Khabi began his pro career in 1988 playing junior hockey with Avtomo Sverdlovsk USSR.

In 1991 Khabi began playing for "The Red Army," HC CSKA Moscow (Central Sports Club of the Army, Moscow.) HC CSKA Moscow has won more Soviet championships and European cups than any other team in history.

In 1992, Khabibulin was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the 9th round (204th overall) in the NHL Entry Draft.

Nikolai continued playing in Russia after being drafted. He played two more seasons with the HC CSKA Moscow and in 1993 played 12 games with the Russian Penguins, a touring Russian hockey club that competed in the IHL.

In 1994 Khabi hit the shores of North America and split the season between the Springfield Falcons and the Winnipeg Jets. Khabi stayed with the Jets for the 1995-96 season, playing in 53 games. When the Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes, Khabi moved with them. In his 3 seasons there, he was a work horse. He played 70 games in 2 of those seasons and 60 games in the other. That's a heavy work load for a goalie and while Phoenix made the playoffs each of these years, Khabi's possible exhaustion is thought to be one of the reason the Yotes never made it to the second round of the playoffs.

After the 1998-99 season, Khabi got involved in a bitter contract dispute. He ended up sitting out the entire season. I tried to find some more info on the dispute, but didn't find much. It must have been ugly though. I found one article that was saying to expect Khabi to sign a contract to be back in Phoenix after the club was sold to Gretzky and friends. Apparently Khabi offered to come to training camp with no contract, but the previous owners told him "he wasn't welcome." Ouch!

Khabi didn't lounge around on the beach while waiting for his contract to be settled. He spent the 1998-99 season back in his old stomping grounds of the IHL with the Long Beach Ice Dogs. Khabi had a fantastic season playing in 33 games and posting a 1.83 GAA and .930 SV%. He also won the MVP award.

Well we all know that love fest with Khabi and Phoenix didn't go as planned and on March 5, 2001 Khabi was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Khabi only played 2 games that season, but the following seasons saw him return to his status as a premier goal tender. Khabibulin lead the team to a playoff appearance in 2003 and then back stopped the team to the Stanley Cup in 2004, the first championship in franchise history. On April 23, 2004, Nikolai became the fifteenth National Hockey League goaltender to record four shutouts in a single postseason with a 4-0 blanking of the Montreal Canadiens.

In 2004-05 season, during the dark, horrible (for the fans) days of the lockout, Khabi played for the Ak Bars Kazan of the (then)RSL. After the lockout, Khabi was a free agent for the 2005-06 season. With a shiny new cup under his belt, he was a hot commodity. Chicago signed him to a 4 year, $27 million deal. Nikolai spent 4 seasons with the Blackhawks helping rebuild their team with such youthful draft picks as Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane. In the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Khabi back stopped his team to the Western Conference Finals against their fierce rivals, the Detroit Red Wings.

Khabi has played for Mother Russia (not Shauna, the actual country) as well. Khabi won a Bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002 and a gold medal in Albertville in 1992. He also won a gold medal in 1992 in the World Junior Championships when his team defeated Germany.

Khabi has seen his share of controversy. He boycotted the Russian team for several international games. Why? The coaches of the 1992 team stole his gold medal! Khabi was 3rd on the depth chart and never actually played in any of the games. When the medals were handed out, legendary Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov kept a medal for himself instead of giving one to Khabi. Coaches and management do not receive medals, only the athletes. It took 10 years to settle the matter. In a private dressing-room ceremony with his teammates and the Russian Hockey Federation, Khabibulin was awarded the gold medal that former coach Viktor Tikhonov took from him in 1992. You go Khabi! Don't take any shit.

Some more fun stuff about The Bulin Wall
* On April 5, 2007, Nikolai stopped fifty-six of fifty-eight shots, plus three of four in the shootout, to defeat the Detroit Red Wings by a 3-2 margin.
* Khabi prefers the number 35 but changed it when he signed with Chicago because 35 was Tony Esposito's number.
* Although Khabi still guzzles coffee, he quit his nasty smoking habit when he went to Tampa Bay. At 32 years of age, he showed up for training camp with 9% body fat, the lowest of his career (at the time).
* Khabi on his mask and nickname in 2002: "Someone tabbed me the Bulin Wall [after the Berlin Wall] and it stuck. I told the painter to do something cool. So he did this thing based on The Wall by Pink Floyd. I don't know anything about Pink Floyd. I don't have any of their CDs. I don't even know what some of the things here are."
* Other nicknames: The First Tsar and my favorite The Nyet Minder.

Good luck in Edmonton, Khabi!


Ms. Conduct July 26, 2009 at 10:58 PM  

I never knew that about the gold medal! That's nutz. Nyet Minder.... sick nickname...

Sunshine36616 July 27, 2009 at 9:31 AM  

Don't fuck with the Bulin Wall! I love that about him. And yeah, I fell in love with the Nyet Minder. I might have to make him a sign when he comes through Blueland lol.

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