Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where NHL'ers Go To Die

No I'm not talking about the late Peter Zezel. But much props to the journeyman. The Dump has a nice little tribute for the 'Youngblood' extra. Livin' the dream!

I'm talking about the KHL, the Kontinental Hockey League. Fucking Russian's can't spell worth a shit. (Tell me that doesn't look like OBEY.) I've already gone over Bill Masterton trophy candidate Richard Zednik's defection after Jaromir and Radulov led the charge, Yashin just scampered back as he wimpered into his sleeve. But now its seems as if we have a slew of others who are ready, not for greener pastures, but to be put out to pasture. The Russian National Team in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, not to be confused with the Swedish National Team of the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, have two players leaving for Mother Russia.

Sergei Fedorov has not yet directly admitted, but apparently there are reports that he has a two-year deal for $3.8million per, from Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Federov had his best years alongside Stevie Y in Detroit, and was labeled a greedy turncoat leaving Michigan for bigger numbers. He bounced around from Anaheim, to Columbus, before finally seeing a resurgence in Washington the last two years in a mentoring role for Ovechkin and the rest of those Soviet brats. You have to wonder if any team in the NHL would offer Fedorov any kind of deal, given his declining numbers and his age. It may be the best bet for him, closing his career alongside his brother in his native land.

Viktor Kozlov is the other Cap reportedly leaving for the homeland, and quite convincingly. Vik's two options are Salavat Yulaev and Lada Togliatti, no word on numbers just yet. I'm thinking Kozzie's going to opt for Lada, just because he's from Togliatti. (Just to clarify, I know nothing of cities in Russia, its simply in his profile.) Kozlov probably would have garnered some significant interest around the League, he's got fifteen seasons under his belt, probably could have squeezed out two or three more and then headed for the other league. (Another clarification; when I capitalize League, I'm referring to our League, the NHL, when its lower case I'm referring to this other upstart league, the KHL.)

Captain Obvious (Mirtle) has also reported that the likes of enigmatic (translate; sucks for every game of the season except one) Max Afinogenov and Miro Satan are also more than likely bound to head for the Red Curtain due to a lack of palatable offers from this side of the pond. Satan is actually Czech by birth (who knew?) but will probably get by on name alone. I mean that his name is Satan, not that he played in the NHL.

In that same article of 'From the Rink,' Mirtle also mentions that the Predator brass were unsuccessful in trying to lure Alex Radulov back to North America. I wish someone on a payroll with an expense budget would have dug deeper into this story, there's got to be more to it. Unless its just your standard sob story of young Russian boy dreams of playing professional hockey all his life, works hard, plays junior hockey in the QMJHL, gets noticed, signs a deal with an NHL team, realizes its Nashville, goes home. He said the KHL was "offering [him] much better conditions," does that tell you anything about playing pro hockey in Nashville?

Jagr surprised everyone by tucking tail and heading for Omsk considering what he was still able to do for the Rangers. He has admitted to receiving offers from the Oilers after his first year in the KHL, but stated that he will stay and honor his contract. It went so far in fact that Avangard Omsk had a deal in place with the Oilers that hinged on Omsk's playoff chances. Avangard made it to the second round but lost to the eventual champions, Ak Bars Kazan. However, there's nothing to say that the Curly Mullet couldn't eventually return to the League, but he's not getting any younger, and the fact that he could have stayed and didn't, has to say something.

Alexei just doesn't want to play for you anymore.

Now in a roundabout way I've finally come to the player that I originally wanted to talk about.

Nikolai Khabibulin.

Khabby has played 13 seasons in the League drafted by the Winnipeg Jets way late in '92. He made the move with the franchise to Phoenix where he played another three seasons before going to Tampa. In what turned out to be his last year of four seasons with the Bolts, he backstopped them to a Stanley Cup in the '03-'04 season ('04-'05 gets chalked up to the Lockout). He was then labeled as a free agent in the NHLPA's North American Free Trade Agreement, and signed a four year, $27million deal with Chicago, the largest amount for a goaltender at that time. 'Twitch' didn't play badly for the next few seasons, just average, and the upper management in Chicago thought the Stanley Cup sparkle was wearing off. So Chicago GM went out and picked up the French goaltender Cristobal Huet in a vanity signing, to either change the guard between the posts, or push Nikky to be better. The latter worked and the 'Bulin Wall, along with the gradual maturity of the young Hawks made a run for the Western Conference title. They would run into their old friends from the pond, their longtime Original Six rivals, the Detroit Red Wings.

Now here's where it gets fishy to me. After dropping two games at the Joe, the plucky Blackhawks returned to their home ice to seek some revenge. After taking a 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period, Khabibulin gave up three goals in approximately 4 and a half minutes. Quenneville yanked him, or he yanked himself, and Huet kept Detroit scoreless for an overtime win, the only win for Chicago in that series. Nikolai was never to be seen again. The young rookie Corey Crawford took his spot on the pine, and some puke mop up duty in Game 4. In Game 5 the Hawks played valiantly, but ultimately were no match for the Winged Wheel. And still no Khabibulin.

Did he see the end coming, and like the kid who takes his ball and goes home, did he metaphorically bolt out of his crease like Tim Thomas?

Did he refuse to stand in front of the buzzsaw that he felt his teammates were leaving him vulnerable to?

Or was he really injured as the Blackhawks state, and I'm just a skeptical asshole?

He's at the end of his contract and its hard to imagine anyone offering him, in the words of Pierre McGuire, the 'monster' amount of money he had already received, $6.75million per year from the Hawks. No team wanted to pick up that salary for a season when Tallon placed him on waivers at the start of the year. He's an "overpaid, aging veteran" says Mirtle, any reason not to think he's ready to be put out of his misery and return to the Hammer and Sickle?

My point is that he quit. Plain and simple. He's exactly the type of guy you'd expect to flee the competition like he did when Detroit battled back in the second period.

We'll see if he's got the guts to return to the League, or if anyone has the guts to offer him a deal.

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