Jay Grossman talks about the Khabibulin contract

Jonathan Willis
June 29 2012 08:53AM

There’s a piece on the Oilers’ official website today featuring a discussion with player agent Jay Grossman. Grossman talks about the Oilers as a free agent destination, and also about the circumstances surrounding the original signing of Nikolai Khabibulin. He has some interesting things to say.

Honestly, I was a little surprised that this discussion went up at the Oilers’ official website, since it doesn’t take a lot of reading between the lines to see how bad the Oilers’ decision was at the time.

Take this comment, for example:

I didn't know which teams would or wouldn't be looking for a goaltender. I thought there might be three or four teams max that would have interest. I went through every one of them with him, which included the Islanders, Oilers and a couple others.

The market for goaltenders was all but non-existent at exactly the same time as Khabibulin hit free agency. This was well-known at the time and players like Martin Biron were ultimately forced to take backup jobs just to stay in the league. Grossman captures the feeling well:

[I]t's like musical chairs. You don't want to be the odd one out. If someone signs within 15 minutes and you see them as a comparable -- and Roloson was -- it gives you a good measuring stick in terms of what the market is like. The movement was as quick as we'd expected.

Dwayne Roloson – quite rightly, given that his statistics on the whole post-lockout were superior to Khabibulin’s in the summer of 2009 – was viewed as a comparable. What was his contract worth? $5 million over two seasons.

That contract was already done when the Oilers made a four-year, $15 million offer to Khabibulin.

Grossman’s comments just reaffirm what was obvious at the time: that the Oilers were out of touch with the marketplace, and consequently made a very generous offer that was entirely out of keeping with the realities of the goalie market that year.

I talk about this contract a fair bit for a few reasons. The first, obvious, reason is that Khabibulin is still under contract to the Oilers; they’re entering the fourth year of his four-year deal and Steve Tambellini is as committed to him as ever.

The less obvious but more important reason is that contracts reveal truths about the people who sign them.

The Khabibulin contract revealed that the Oilers didn’t understand the market. Whether that was simply due to a failure of research or simple inability to comprehend the results of that research, it’s unforgiveable for a team that plans to sign a starting goalie. It showed other things, too – a poor grasp of goaltender ability, a failure to mitigate risk (a long-term deal to an injury-prone, 35+ goalie, no established backup) and a focus on things other than hockey ability.

The people who made the decision are still in place. Have they learned from it?

In at least one way, I’d say the answer is yes. Since the disastrous 2009-10 season, the Oilers have always had goaltender depth. Martin Gerber and Yann Danis are high-end third-string goalies; clearly, the Oilers have decided that having some redundancy in the system is important. They’ve spent money and found quality people to ensure they aren’t caught with a pair of rookie backups in net again.

As for the other problems with the contract, the jury is still out on whether the Oilers’ approach has changed. The fact is that Edmonton hasn’t done a lot in free agency the last couple of seasons, in line with the slow rebuild approach. The hope is that they’ve learned to gauge the market correctly, and that they’re less fixated on Cup rings and big names then they are on the actual level of ability each player displays.

Until they start targeting impact free agents, however, we won’t know if that hope reflects reality.

This week by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 justDOit
June 29 2012, 05:03PM
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During this slow hockey news day, there's a good article by Nationist Kent Wilson on nhlnumbers.com. I'm currently lobbying him for to ban the use of the word 'truculence' in hockey articles. Anyone with me on this?

http://nhlnumbers.com/2012/6/29/asking-the-right-questions-the-imprecise-and-unaatainable#comment-304209

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#52 David S
June 29 2012, 05:04PM
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madjam wrote:

Nice telling article . Oiler assessments somewhat flawed to say the least . Other teams have bad decisions as well , so we are not alone . Troublesome assessments lead to bad trading habits as well . I think it obvious we over assess the talent we have and thus trading them away becomes almost impossible considering what we might ask for in return - even though they underperformed to the assessment they thought they would /could or should have .

It certainly limits the marketplace available too us by keeping on board bad contracts . Buy outs are quickest way to alleviate these unmoveable contracts rather than get continually straddled by them and miss out several times the opportunity to advance your club in todays marketplace . Example : Horcoffs contract if moved could probably have landed us two good players by now . As it is we have stuck ourselves with a diminishing asset and not had opportunity to replace that burdening liability at that exhorbitant price .

Oilers having a problem with paying players on hope over reality . Unfortuneately we still continue to do so ,and are forced to live with it , rather than get innovative and try to change it all these years since rebuild . Their assessments reflect that discrepancy . This is about the Oilers not the other clubs who also make some less than adequate decisions . Limit the bad contracts and more diligence on reality and not hope , would be a good starting point moving forward .

We should be catapulting forward , but we are being retarded by past missassessments . We need them to become MR.FIXIT'S .

MADJAM IS NOW USING PARAGRAPHS??!!??

*faints*

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#53 The Soup Fascist
June 29 2012, 05:04PM
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@ madjam

I appreciate you clarifying, but yes we disagree. If you believe signing a then 31 year-old Horcoff to $5.5 M for SIX years in 2009 should be viewed as a better contract compared to paying a 29 year-old Ales Hemsky $5 million for TWO years, I assure you, we are not going to find middle ground.

I will not bash Horcoff because he signed (as quickly as possible, I assume) what was put in front of him. But even if Hemsky only scores 3 goals next year and they are all into his own net, his contract will not be as damaging as Horcoff's was given the term and what the cap was at the time.

Here is the real question. What is a more moveable contract? Three more years of Horc (33 years old) at $5.5M or two years of Hemsky (28 years old) at $5M? There is only one answer.

Question #2: Who would you like to sign as a free agent that we cannot because they signed Hemsky? They have $26.5 M in cap space with only Gagner, Petry, Smyth (or a reasonable facsimile), Peckham and Dubey to sign. Basically 4 RFAs and a veteran - maybe $13 Million in remaining obligations for 2012. Still $13 - $14 mil. Hemsky's contract is inconsequential!

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#54 justDOit
June 29 2012, 05:10PM
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@The Soup Fascist

The only thing I can think of for Horc's sake, is that he's a serviceable center, a good leader, and the last two years of his contract pays out much less than his cap hit. So a team looking to make the cap floor might be interested.

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#55 The Soup Fascist
June 29 2012, 05:19PM
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Feel free to give them Tambo's number.

Again, not bashing Horcoff, just saying Hemsky's contract is more defendable than Horcoff's.

But apparently I am crazy ..... dare I say, "mad"??

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#56 washed up
June 29 2012, 06:16PM
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As per Darren Dreger twitter. Wayne Gretzky confirms he called Schultz as part of the oiler push to sign him. Paul Coffey also part of the Edm pitch

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#57 Bryzarro World
June 29 2012, 09:53PM
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DSF wrote:

Oh, I agree...but MacT was always a huge Horcoff supporter and would certainly have done nothing to impede that contract IMO.

Toby Petersen and Liam Reddox pretty much tell you all you need to know about his evaluation of players.

Who else did he have? Think he'd be playing them just as much if had them on today's team?

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#58 Vince
June 29 2012, 09:58PM
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The Khabibulin signing is the type that gets GM's fired. Tambellini should thank his lucky stars he's still here.

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#59 Bryzarro World
June 29 2012, 10:06PM
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justDOit wrote:

The only thing I can think of for Horc's sake, is that he's a serviceable center, a good leader, and the last two years of his contract pays out much less than his cap hit. So a team looking to make the cap floor might be interested.

Why do you say he is a good leader? Cause he didn't accept a new role last year and pouted? Gonna go with "he good with the kids"? How do you know?

They probably look at Sloth as someone in the way of them taking over the team and leading with skill... not hope and "work ethic".

The kids didn't get to be first over all picks by not knowing how to work hard and sacrifice. Horc is redundant

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#60 JMC88
June 29 2012, 10:34PM
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I, for one, cannot wait for February, 2015. That is the month that I expect will be the last month that Shawn Horcoff will be an Edmonton Oiler, unless he is traded before the trade deadline of 2014 or during the 2014/2015 season. Heaven help us all if the Oilers extend his contract.

Before that time, the likes of Hemsky, Whitney, Belanger, Jones, and Khabibulin will also have departed.

With Horcoff's departure, one of Eberle, Hall, or RNH will assume the captaincy and a new Oilers' era will finally be upon us.

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#61 Oilerman53
June 29 2012, 11:24PM
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The captaincy will undoubtedly go to Hall. This guy is the face of the team, his determination and fearlessness to get to the net and score is unrivalled in thid league. This guy electrifies and will be the captain. You can mark my words the day he questioned Renneys tactics was the day management knew Renney wasnt our guy. Eberle and Nuge are awesome assistants on the team.

Horcoff took advantage of our crappy center situation and in hindsight he took the money and ran. He is by all accounts a crappy player, but its only up to him to quiet his critics. Leader? Maybe but I think he's holding the "C" on borrowed time. This team now lives and dies with Hall. And mark my words when the Oilers lift number six Gary Bettman will be holding his tears when he hands the cup over to Taylor Hall! FIST!!!!!

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#62 @Oilanderp
June 29 2012, 11:38PM
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Apparently the Khabi contract was a bad idea.

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#63 derrickhands
June 30 2012, 12:46AM
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When did Hor**** become a leader. There was a couple of games last year that it look like Hall was going to take his head off. Horcoff's the last part of that cancer that infected the team years ago and the faster he's gone the better.

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#64 Oilcruzer
June 30 2012, 02:23AM
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The contract talk is irrelevant. None of those overpays tied the hands of the Oil in their signing of other players. It was a bridge to get thru the inevitable fall to the basement during a total rebuild.

Now Horcoff has too long a contract but it still doesn't hamper...

The message sent was clear. There is no concern about paying players if they fit into the scheme to get to a competitive state. Next year Khabby gets a gold watch and will be a memory... Maybe a coach as well... Also serving double duty as a Russian vet.

Edmonton treated the Wall well thru tough times... That gets noticed and reaps respect.

Good topic.

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#65 Oilcruzer
June 30 2012, 02:27AM
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Horcoff is a great Mentor. Do what the coach asks, smile... Play the game with honour and be thankful you are in the NHL.

Yashin and Avery, as example, needed that Mentor...

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#66 madjam
June 30 2012, 11:04AM
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Turning the corner ? If Gagner and Smyth looking to hit big bucks here alternate solutions could dictate other means . Arbitration ,trade , etc.? Unlikely Gagner will end up as top 6 in future , as 4 youngsters will/may eat up a large portion of our emerging club . Same goes for Smyth . Horcoff can still bring anything Gagner brings to the table in hindsight , and no sense giving those players that type of bread when one sees what that creates with Horcoff alone . I like them both , but i don't forsee them in the future 2 years from now if they request big dollars.

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