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Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (35), from Russia, celebrates his team's win in the overtime shootout of an NHL hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta on Tuesday, October 6, 2009. The good news for the Edmonton Oilers is Khabibulin already appears to be in mid-season form. The bad news, with all the rubber the steadfast Russian goaltender has faced, is he's had to be. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jimmy Jeong

Jimmy Jeong

The Edmonton Oilers will likely have a new wrinkle in their goaltending situation as of late Tuesday afternoon, with veteran Nikolai Khabibulin learning his fate in an Arizona courtroom.

Khabibulin was found guilty last week, on two charges of impaired driving and one of excessive speeding stemming from his February arrest in the wee hours just outside his off-season home near Scottsdale, Ariz.

The 37-year-old faces a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, meaning the Oilers' projected starter could spend most of training camp and NHL preseason behind bars in a state known for being tough on drinking and driving.

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If Khabibulin is unable to start the season, Edmonton will go with two youngsters (Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk) and recent addition Martin Gerber in goal.

"Both Nikolai and the Oilers organization recognize the severity of what has transpired," Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini said in a statement. "We plan on meeting with Nikolai, his agent and the National Hockey League in the near future."

After signing a four-year, $15-million (U.S.) deal as a free agent last summer, Khabibulin missed all but 18 games in 2009-10 due to a back injury. With Deslauriers and Dubnyk taking over and injuries decimating the Oilers roster, Edmonton sunk all the way to last place in the standings in the second worst season in franchise history.

Khabibulin's legal trouble, meanwhile, began when he was pulled over in his black Ferrari just after midnight on Feb. 8. The arresting officer testified last week that Khabibulin was driving 70 miles an hour (112 kilometres an hour) in a 45-mph zone.

His blood alcohol level was tested at more than twice the legal limit.

Khabibulin's situation has led to some speculation that he may be in jeopardy of violating his contract.

Tambellini said he would address the situation after Tuesday's sentencing, due in Arizona at 3 p.m. local time.

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Signings on the rise

After a slow few weeks in terms of activity, NHL free-agent signings have begun to pick up as teams prepare for training camps, the majority of which begin Sept. 17.

On Monday, the Phoenix Coyotes re-signed winger Lee Stempniak to a two-year, $3.8-million deal, and the New York Rangers signed winger Tim Kennedy to a one-year, $550,000 deal.

Several agents surveyed on Monday said they believe the free-agent market will pick up in the little more than two weeks remaining until training camp.

"You get to a certain point in the summer, and then teams are just waiting for deals," one agent said. "They wait for desperation to set in."

Among players who played 40 or more games last season, 51 remain unrestricted free agents.

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Some of the more high-profile ones still available are: Jose Theodore, Bill Guerin, Antti Niemi, Brendan Morrison, Marek Svatos, Owen Nolan, Kyle Wellwood, Ruslan Fedotenko, Fredrik Modin, Patrick O'Sullivan, Darcy Tucker, Mike Comrie, Nigel Dawes, Slava Kozlov, Ray Emery and Jeff Halpern.

Leafs, Hanson close to deal

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke told The Globe and Mail on Monday the team has made progress towards a new contract with restricted free agent Christian Hanson, who had two goals and five assists in 31 games as a rookie last season.

Burke said he expects Hanson to be signed by the start of training camp.

His deal, potentially for less than his $900,000 qualifying offer, would put the Leafs right up against the $59.4-million salary cap.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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