The Edmonton Oilers are doing the hard time when it comes to Nikolai Khabibulin's drunk driving conviction.
What could have been resolved Tuesday took an unexpected twist when the Oilers goaltender filed a notice to appeal the minimum 30-day jail sentence he received from an Arizona judge. That Khabibulin chose to appeal when he could have received as a much as six months in jail left the Oilers flat-footed.
What to do with the 37-year-old veteran should his appeal be overturned was a question Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini was unable to answer Tuesday. Once again, the Khabibulin matter is in the U.S. court system, which means it could take months before an appeal is heard.
Until then, can Khabibulin report to the Oilers' opening of training camp on Sept. 17? Tambellini told reporters he expects that to be the case. But what happens if Khabibulin has to return to Arizona where he was found guilty on three of the four charges against him, including driving with a blood alcohol level of .164? That's the rub.
The Oilers are handcuffed not only by Khabibulin's age, salary ($3.75-million U.S. for three seasons) and the fact he had back surgery in January; they're also tied to the uncertainty of his legal woes and the possibility he could go to jail then receive supplementary discipline (a fine or suspension) from the National Hockey League.
Add it all up and suddenly Khabibulin is a lot more trouble than he's worth.
Last season, with Khabibulin bothered by a herniated disc in his back, the Oilers went with Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk in net and finished dead-last in the NHL standings. Team officials added Martin Gerber in the off-season with plans to have a strong team with good goaltending in Oklahoma City, the home of their American Hockey League affiliate. Who plays where and how much now depends on how long Khabibulin stays with the Oilers, who are going with a young line-up this season.
Khabibulin's problems began Feb. 8 in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he was pulled over by police in his black Ferrari just after midnight. The arresting officer testified Khabibulin was driving 70 miles an hour (112 kilometres an hour) in a 45-mph zone. Khabibulin's blood alcohol level was more than twice the state's legal limit.
After being found guilty of two charges of impaired driving and one of excessive speeding stemming, Khabibulin was then sentenced to 30 days in jail, ordered to pay a $5,100 fine and undergo alcohol counselling. He was supposed to report to jail on Saturday.
There has been some suspicion Khabibulin's actions will allow the Oilers to violate his contract and walk away. But with an appeal to be filed, the Oilers are unable to do anything other than wait.
"Both Nikolai and the Oilers organization recognize the severity of what has transpired," Tambellini said in a statement prior to yesterday's development. "We plan on meeting with Nikolai, his agent and the National Hockey League in the near future."
Khabibulin helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2004 before signing with the Chicago Blackhawks and later Edmonton.