Tag:Nikolai Khabibulin
Posted on: November 4, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 3:22 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Streaks, stats on the line

By Brian Stubits

It's amazing how quickly things can go from being so hot to being so cold. I mean 72 days for a marriage? That's a quick flameout.

Oh, and there are also those Red Wings from Detroit. Just two weeks ago, the NHL eyes were locked on a battle of the unbeatens; 5-0 Detroit at 6-0 Washington. Fast-forward to Friday and the Red wings have picked up one single point since, sitting now at 5-5-1.

In this six-game losing streak it hasn't been what we figured would be the team's Achilles' heel -- defense - that has let them down. I mean it could be much better -- it could ALWAYS bet better -- but it's sufficed, even if Jimmy Howard has slumped a little, too.

Instead, it's been the offense, the unit that carried the team a season ago. During the six-game losing streak, the Wings are averaging exactly one goal per game. Once they scored two, once they were shutout, the other four games they scored once. That means Detroit has the second-fewest goals in the NHL -- incidentally still six clear of the last-place Islanders, who have scored just 18 goals in 10 games.

At that kind of scoring clip, the Red Wings were lucky to even pick up one point.

"We've got to believe in ourselves, stay positive," Henrik Zetterberg told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "Here we go again -- same quotes, but there's nothing else we can do."

We can chalk some of that up to bad luck, though. Detroit is carrying a shooting percentage of 6.2 percent right now. As Jesse Spector of the Sporting News points out for comparison's sake, the Devils were at 7.3 percent last season for the worst in the league.

Statisticians will tell you shooting percentage is more a byproduct of luck than anything else. The Wings are too talented to shoot at that low of a level for the season. These things do even out. If you believe they will continue to shoot that low of a percentage this season, I have some beach-front property in Nebraska to sell you. Real cheap, too.

Maybe Ken Holland crossed a black cat's path sometime just before Halloween or something. Seven games of bad luck, perhaps?

If the streak stretches to seven, it will have to come at the expense of the similarly struggling Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. The Ducks themselves enter on a nasty little losing streak, having lost four in a row, the last two in overtime.

As they say, something's gotta give.

Lucky Seven

The opposite of the Red Wings and their six-game losing streak? Try the Edmonton Oilers and their six-game WINNING streak. (Boy, the NHL standings look awfully wacky right now ... can it last?) The last time the Oilers won six in a row? You have to go back to 2002.

They will have a chance to run that streak to seven on Saturday when they visit the Coyotes.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Nikolai Khabibulin, who is back to being the Bulin Wall. He spent a couple weeks in jail back in Arizona for a DUI offense. Who knows what kind of impact that might have had on Khabibulin, but he's been spectacular.

He was deservedly named one of the NHL's three Stars for the month of October. He has been maybe the biggest surprise of the season from an individual standpoint. He is still averaging less than a goal per game (0.98) in GAA and has a spectacular .963 save percentage.

Just like Detroit's shooting percentage, you don't need a genius to tell you that's not going to last. Still, for a guy that people felt was going to be as useful as an empty Twinkie wrapper, this qualifies as outstanding.

He will have a chance to keep his stats low for another night, though. Considering the Oilers and Coyotes are two of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, a 2-1 battle or so is probably in store. Of course, now that we mention it, the game will more likely be a 7-5 breakout.

Speaking of bad shooting percentages ...

Remember that start the Colorado Avalanche had? The one where they were 5-1-0 and the early talk of the NHL? Yes, life on the road was nice.

Well home has not provided very friendly confines. At all.

The Avs are 1-4-1 at home while still 6-1-0 on the road. Since you are clever readers, I'm sure you know where this is going ...

Colorado is at home for the weekend capper on Sunday evening when it hosts the Calgary Flames. The key to getting on the right track at home? Again, we return to the that luck theme.

In their home games, the Avalanche have a 3.8 -- 3.8!!! -- shooting percentage. Either they continue to shoot directly into the opposing goalie's chest, or things just aren't going their way.

More starting trends

One more shooting percentage trend and then that's it, we promise.

Here are two reasons not to go all in on the Toronto Maple Leafs quite yet. First, their shooting percentage is unusually high at 12.9 percent as a team. Secondly, Toronto is actually being outshot by an average of five shots per game. They are in first place in the Northeast.

On the other hand, the Bruins are plus-five in shots per game and they are in last place in the Northeast.

The means exist for a reason. Teams usually regress toward the mean over the course of a season. Of course, in the meantime these trends are still being bucked.

Now the table is set for their showdown on Saturday in Toronto. By the way, Phil Kessel is still on pace for that monster season with 10 goals and 11 assists through 13 games.

Net issue

Very quietly there is the rumblings of a goaltending controversy in Buffalo. Like we said, very quietly.

Backup Jhonas Enroth has been very solid in his backup work of Ryan Miller, including the relief appearance earlier this week against the Flyers. In that game, Enroth held the Flyers scoreless for the majority of the game after Miller was pulled early in the first period with three quick goals.

It comes as little shock then that Lindy Ruff is going to start Enroth on Friday night with the Calgary Flames in town. Ruff is electing to start the hot goalie and likely trying to flip Buffalo's fortunes at home.

Like the Avs, the Sabres aren't finding home so nice in the early going. They are 2-4-0 at the First Niagara Center or whatever they call the arena these days.

The champs are here!

That would be baseball's champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Friday night in St. Louis will be a chance for the Blues to honor their winning neighbors.

Chris Carpenter, the Cards' ace pitcher, practiced with the team this week. In case you missed it, it was brought up countless times during the playoffs that Carpenter played hockey growing up.

Also, now ex-Cardinals manager (retirement) Tony La Russa will drop the ceremonial puck before the Blues face the Canucks. The Blues would love it if some of that winning magic can rub off on them as the Blues enter having dropped their last two games and are a quiet 5-6-0.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:32 pm
 

Handing out some first month grades

octgrades

By: Adam Gretz

The first month of the NHL season is in the books and we're still trying to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad and which hot start is for real and which one is simply an early season mirage. Let's check in with a progress report on some notable players and teams for the month of October.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's pretend, just hypothetically, that Phil Kessel is able stay near the top of the NHL's scoring list all.

Now, you shouldn't expect him to maintain his current pace (his shooting percentage is currently 26 percent -- that's probably not sustainable for a full season), but what if he were to do something completely unexpected like, say, win the NHL's scoring title and help lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Would that do anything to change your opinion of the the trade that brought him to Toronto? Should it? Brian Burke has already said Boston won the trade because it has a Stanley Cup, but that trade -- which landed the Bruins two first-round draft picks, including a No. 2 overall selection used on Tyler Seguin, and a second-round pick -- had little to do with that championship. Seguin played about 12 minutes a game and scored 11 goals during the regular season, and only appeared in two postseason series. It's not like he was the driving force behind that cup run. The steep price Toronto paid still overshadow the fact that Kessel is a pretty darn good (three straight years of 30-plus goals) player and still only 24 years of age.

Even if he doesn't maintain this current pace he's been the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL this season and one of the biggest reasons the Maple Leafs are off to their best start in a decade, and that's worthy of a top-grade for the first month.

Other players and teams earning A's for the month of October

Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) -- had one of the best months of any goaltender in the NHL, including three consecutive shutouts; James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- for a Penguins team that continues to deal with injuries, Neal has been their best overall player and looks to be the young goal-scoring winger they've been searching for for years; Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) -- He leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average for what has been, so far, the toughest team in the NHL to score against; and the Dallas Stars -- winners of eight of their first 11 games, thanks in large part to the play of Kari Lehtonen.

Ottawa Senators: For the first two weeks of the season the Ottawa Senators looked to be every bit as awful as they were expected to be.

Over the next two weeks? They won six games in a row and end the month two game over .500. Even through the awful stretch to start the season the Senators were impressive with their determination to never quit in a game, regardless of the score, resulting in acouple of late come-from-behind victories (against Minnesota and the Rangers).

They've been outscored 27-15 over the first two periods but have outscored their opponents 21-18 in the third period. It's not likely they'll be able to continue to rely on huge third period comebacks to get wins, and they're going to have to start getting some better starts in games so they're not constantly trying to play catch up, but a 7-5 record at this point is more than could have (or should have) been expected.

Other players and teams earning B's for the month of October

Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) -- He's been the best player on a Nashville team that is losing the possession battle just about every single night and is facing more shots than any other goaltender in the league. He's keeping the Predators in it while they search for some offense; Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia Flyers) -- Three years away from the NHL and at 39 years of age Jagr opened the season and showed everybody that he can still play at the highest level with a point-per-game pace for the Flyers.

Detroit Red Wings: The A-plus honor student that brings home the rare and unexpected C. You know they can do better, and you expect them to do better. (And they will do better.) But after starting the season 5-0 the Red Wings dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 16-4. That streak includes a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, a game that was followed by a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first victory of the season. Their defense definitely took a hit when Brian Rafalski retired over the summer, and they're not the defensive stalwart they were a few years ago, but they should be better than they've looked over the first month.

Other players and teams earning C's for the month of October

Montreal Canadiens -- Injuries to their defense, as well as top forward Michael Cammalleri, didn't help, but a rather uninspiring start for the Canadiens that only started to turn around when an assistant coach was forced to take the fall.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula spent a ton of money this summer in an effort to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, and one of his biggest investments, Ville Leino, has been a complete non-factor through the first month of the season. In 10 games the 28-year-old Leino has scored just one goal to go with one assist and has recorded just five shots on goal, or one every other game. He's definitely talented, but based on what he's actually produced at the NHL level the six-year, $27 million contract was, at the very least, one hell of a gamble. And so far it's a losing one.

Other plays and teams earning D's for the month of October

 Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) -- And he's probably right on the line between D and F. Let's just say this: the only goaltender in the NHL that has a worse save percentage entering November is Ottawa's backup, Alex Auld.

Columbus Blue Jackets: An offseason with such excitement and a season that seemed to have so much promise was opened with … the worst start in franchise history and the worst record in the NHL. There is obviously time to turn it around -- and I still believe the Jackets can -- and the two big offseason acquisitions have been limited so far, which isn't helping things. James Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season, while Jeff Carter, acquired from the Flyers, was limited to just five games in October due to a foot injury, scoring zero goals. Still … the worst start in franchise history?

Other players and teams earning F's for the month of October

The Boston Bruins -- Defending champs with the second-worst record in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 10:33 pm
 

Weekend wrap: Bruins' slow start staggers on

By Brian Stubits

Before the season, there was a lot of lip service given to the Stanley Cup hangover. While I could see the thinking behind it, I wasn't sure I believed it would really have a negligible effect.

While it could be pure coincidence, I'm beginning to believe in the power -- or more appropriately pain -- of the hangover. That's because the Boston Bruins are 3-7 to start the season after being swept in a home-and-home by the not-long-ago struggling Canadiens (by the way, that's three straight wins since the Habs axed assistant Perry Pearn). For those keeping track at home, that's good enough to be last in not only the Northeast Division, but the Eastern Conference.

“Honestly, this is so frustrating,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after Saturday's 4-2 loss in Montreal. “I don’t know. It’s like we can’t buy a break right now and we just keep getting deeper. We need to turn this around.”

Maybe this is a team that used up all of its breaks last season.

But I didn't see this hangover coming this harsh to start the season. I mean, this is the kind I'd get in college when I'd sleep through breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I was a believer in Boston last season, picking them to win the Cup before the playoffs began. I'm a sucker for plus/minus stats for teams, and nobody was better than Boston in that category a season ago. I took that as a sign of quality balance and partly the product of Tim Thomas' career year.

Thomas hasn't been the problem this year, even if he's not living up to the standard of a year ago. But nobody, and I repeat nobody, expected that season again. It was record-setting as far as save percentage goes, the best in NHL history. That's tough to repeat.

No, instead it's been the offense. It's a group that doesn't seem to possess any elite scorers, but as the playoffs showed, there are numerous guys who are good enough. They have just 22 goals in 10 games. Defensively, there 25 goals allowed is the second lowest total in the East behind only Buffalo.

Claude Julien has tried to fix the issue. There has been line mixing. The team's best player has been sophomore Tyler Seguin, who has four goals and six points. Only five players have at least five points through 10 games.

For his part, GM Peter Chiarelli is not panicking yet. Why would he? This current roster is almost exactly the same as the one that won the championship a few months ago. Obviously it is good enough. But Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reported that Chiarelli might be working the phones already, trying to perhaps find a player to come in and inject some life into Boston.

“I’m always working the phones, but I am a little more diligent these days," Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Thursday.

This is the part where we normally remind you that we're only 10 games into the season. There is still a lot of time for the B's to wake up and defend their Cup in earnest. But it's also worth noting that the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference are looking better this season.

They can't afford to sleep in too long until the headache goes away.

Any be-Leafers now?

When do you start believing in what the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing? Ron Wilson's crew is 7-3-1 begin the year. The last three games, including Saturday's OT win over the Penguins, have been with starting goaltender James Reimer injured. They did get tripped up by the Sens on Sunday night in a great game.

We chuckled at the uber optimism Leafs fans were feeling with the quick start and statements such as Phil Kessel is headed for Wayne Gretzky numbers. Now there is a bigger sample size of 10 games and Kessel has 10 goals with eight assists. It's still a small sample size, however it's easier to take big projections. Don't expect Gretzky numbers, but it could be a monster season nonetheless.

Speaking of monsters, Jonas Gustavsson has fared certainly well enough in Reimer's absence. With Reimer sidelined for a little bit, this was Gustavsson's chance to show he could handle the backup duties himself. So far so good. He was good enough on Saturday for Ron Wilson -- one of the few coaches on Twitter -- to pronoune him the starter for Sunday night's game against Ottawa, a loss.

"Great win. Monster was huge and gets start tomorrow. Komo keeps getting better. Dion and Phil are the best at their positions in NHL!"

If nothing else, let's just say it's time to take Toronto a little more seriously.

Streaking Senators

Raise your hand if you saw the Senators winning six games by Thanksgiving before the season began.

Forget Thanksgiving, the Sens have won six games in their last six outings after a great comeback win over the Rangers on Saturday and then a solid win over the Maple Leafs on Sunday. Things seem to be coming together quickly.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but Jason Spezza has been his usual spectacular self. He has 15 points through 12 games (7-8=15). But also joining him in the better-than-a-point-per-game pace are Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson, who has an NHL-high 12 assists.

Before the season, a lot of folks had the Senators as the preseason favorites for the Nail Yakupov (top draft prospect) sweepstakes. While they still could be, they are at least giving the fans some fun along the way.

A Star is born

Has anybody noticed what Kari Lehtonen is doing in Dallas? Judging by the attendance, the majority of the Metroplex hasn't.

The Stars are 8-3-0 after Saturday's 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. In those 11 games, Lehtonen is 8-1. He carries a goals against average of 1.75. He has been simply stellar for a team now being led not by Brad Richards, but instead by a bevy of young guns and veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray.

Lehtonen is at that magical age in sports when they are supposedly at their peak, 27. After playing in 69 games a season ago, he looks ready to carry the load again this season.

Just another quality goalie from Finland. Ho hum.

As for the attendance? Well Saturday night only 11.740 were announced to be in the stands to witness the win. I understood the reasons for low attendance numbers earlier this season, baseball's Rangers were fighting for the World Series and, well, the Stars lost their big star in the offseason. But with this kind of start and the Rangers now done, I hoped to see more than 11,740 in the crowd. Baby steps, I guess. Baby steps. If the Stars keep winning, they will come.

Night Caps

The Washington Capitals took on the Vancouver Canucks in the Saturday night cap and it didn't last long for Tomas Vokoun. The Capitals goalie gave up three first-period goals, two of them being on Canucks power plays, and was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau to start the second.

The reason? Boudreau wanted to give the team a spark. Well, his Caps did come back to the tie game, but it all got away from them again in a 7-4 loss. (On a side note, a four-goal performance won't do much to change the Canucks fans' feelings about Roberto Luongo either.)

Some are seeing it as a deal. Boudreau said Vokoun wasn't particularly sharp. Vokoun said he felt fine.

But I'd like to point out that Vokoun had played every game since Michal Neuvirth was given the opening-night start. If nothing else, Vokoun deserved a break.

We're going streaking!

As already mentioned, the Ottawa Senators now have a six-game winning streak going. But they're not alone.

The San Jose Sharks have also won five in a row. More impressively, all five of those games were on the road, including Saturday's shootout win over the Islanders and a win on Friday over the Red Wings.

Speaking of Detroit, it has lost four games in row since beginning the year 5-0. Maybe that 7-1 beatdown at the hands of the Capitals sent them into a funk?

The Islanders are also in an early tailspin. Make that five losses in a row for them after Saturday's loss to San Jose.

Last but certainly not least, the Edmonton Oilers are very quietly in first place in the Northwest Division, surpassing the Colorado Avalanche. That's because the Oilers have won five games in a row after weekend wins over the Avalanche on Friday and Blues on Sunday. The Kids in the Hall are getting a lot of attention for that, but Nikolai Khabibuln has been spectacular.

Quote of the weekend

Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was very happy with his team's 3-2 comeback win over the Sabres on Saturday night. He took it as a chance to talk a little, umm, anatomy.

Let's just say he appreciated the marbles his team showed by scoring twice in the final four minutes for the win.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 21, 2011 12:39 am
Edited on: October 21, 2011 12:58 am
 

Heatley, McDonagh with buzzer-beater goals


By: Adam Gretz

The Edmonton Oilers were less than one second away from securing a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Well, technically speaking it was more like half of a second.

Just before the final horn sounded to end the game, Wild forward Dany Heatley picked up a loose puck along the side of the net and somehow managed to find enough of an opening to slip it in past Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to send the game to overtime. Neither team scored in the extra period while Minnesota was able to secure the 2-1 in the tie-breaking shootout thanks to a goal from Matt Cullen and a couple of misses by Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (he shot the puck over the net) and Eric Belanger (he had Niklas Backstrom beat, but fired the puck off the post).

The fact it was Heatley that scored the goal for Minnesota to ruin Edmonton's night had to make it even worse for Oilers fans. Heatley has been public enemy No. 1 in Oil Country for a couple of years now due to his refusal to waive his no-trade clause when he was traded by the Ottawa Senators. After refusing to go to Edmonton the Senators eventually traded him to San Jose where he spent the past two seasons before being traded to Minnesota over the summer in exchange for Martin Havlat.

Elsewhere in the Province of Alberta, the New York Rangers managed to secure a 3-2 overtime win against the Calgary Flames when defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored his second goal of the season when he happened to be in the right place at the right time to play a random bounce off the board and deposit it into an empty net, also with less than a second remaining on the clock.

Rough night for the teams in Alberta, and another reminder that it only takes less than a second to score a goal.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: August 24, 2011 5:04 pm
Edited on: August 24, 2011 10:35 pm
 

Is Dubnyk ready to start for Edmonton?

dd1

By: Adam Gretz

Preventing goals has been an issue for the Edmonton Oilers the past two seasons. Last year only two teams surrendered more goals than the Oilers 260, which was a slight improvement from the 278 they allowed during the 2009-10 season, which was the most in the NHL.

Many of those struggles can be attributed to the fact they've been a rebuilding team short on talent, especially on the blue line. Goaltending hasn't exactly been an area of strength, either, finishing 28th and 29th in save percentage the last two years. They're returning the same two goaltenders from last season, a duo that is made up of veteran Nikolai Khabibulin and former first-round Pick Devan Dubnyk, who will be entering his third season in the NHL.

To hear Oilers coach Tom Renney talk, it sounds as if Dubnyk will soon be Edmonton's No. 1 option in the crease after appearing in 35 games last season.

Renney spoke to Dan Tencer of CHED on Tuesday night (via David Staples of the Edmonton Journal) and said that he expects Dubynk to be a No. 1 starter in the NHL sooner rather than later, and also pointed out that he doesn't quite know what to expect from Khabibulin this season in terms of the number of of games he'll be able to start. Khabibulin, of course, just spent a couple of weeks serving some jail time (as well as time on house arrest) due to a DUI arrest in Arizona last season.

There's also the fact that he's going to turn 39 this season and is coming off what was one of the worst seasons of his 15-year career, recording a .890 save percentage in his 47 appearances, while also taking the loss in a league-leading 32. He probably shouldn't be counted on to be much better this season.

A couple of weeks ago the folks at The Copper and Blue looked at the performances of goaltenders in recent NHL history that played over the age of 38, and the results weren't exactly encouraging, with the majority of them posting a save percentage below the league average.

That leaves the 25-year-old Dubnyk. In the second half of last season he started most of Edmonton's games and seemed to play well, especially given the young team and sketchy defense that surrounded him. His .916 save percentage was not only a solid improvement from his debut during the 2009-10 season (it was also 17th out of the 43 qualified goaltenders in the NHL), but was also significantly better than what Khabibulin was able to do with the same team.

Given the way Dubnyk improved over the second half of the season, which followed the struggles of Khabibulin who will of course be another year older, why not plan on going with the younger Dubnyk for the bulk of the playing time? The Oilers are going to struggle to win games this season anyway, and they already know what they have in Khabibulin. So why not find out for sure what they have in a former first-round pick that's shown some some improvement from year one to year two? Yes, there will be some growing pains, especially playing behind a defense with some holes, but there is more long-term upside than what another year of Khabibulin in the No. 1 role to start the season would provide.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.


Posted on: August 19, 2011 6:00 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 6:05 pm
 

Debating which 80s dynasty returns first

80sDynasty

By: Adam Gretz and Brian Stubits

Even though they've struggled in recent years, the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders were the two most dominant teams in the NHL during the 1980s. Adam Gretz and Brian Stubits debate which one of these franchises with promising young talent returns to glory first.

Adam Gretz: The Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders were the two most dominant teams of the 1980s. How dominant? Between 1980 and 1990 they combined to win nine of the 11 Stanley Cups, with Edmonton winning five (and owning the last half of the decade) and the Islanders winning four (and owning the first half of the decade). Recently the two teams have fallen on some tougher times. Both teams are looking for new buildings, and postseason success has been few and far between, as have actual trips to the postseason. The Islanders haven't won a playoff series since 1993 with only four playoff appearances since then, while Edmonton, outside of its Stanley Cup Final trip in 2005-06, hasn't advanced past the first round since 1998.

I don't think, at this point, either one of these teams are a playoff team right now, but which one do you think returns to glory first? Or is closest?

Brian Stubits: I'm not convinced the Islanders aren't a playoff team this year. They will be in contention to the end is my guess at this point. I am really liking the nucleus they are putting together. As for Edmonton, I don't see a team that's ready to battle for the playoffs yet. In their rebuilding phases, I think the Isles are ahead of the Oilers, as you would expect considering they had a slight head start in the bad seasons department.

Gretz: I think the Islanders might be closer (or more likely) to simply earning a playoff spot this season because the Eastern Conference is probably a bit easier for them to potentially sneak in than the Western Conference is for Edmonton. But I still like Edmonton's group of forwards and think, at this point, they have a bit more upside, especially with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Hall looks like he's on his way to being a player, and assuming Nugent-Hopkins becomes the player he's expected to become, that's quite a core. Add in players Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and, heck, even an older (relatively speaking, as he's still only 28) player like Ales Hemsky who is close to a point-per-game player when he's healthy (and that always seems to be the key for him) and that's an impressive group. You win with impact players, and Edmonton has quite a few impact players up front.

Stubits: We think they have impact players. Hall and Nugent-Hopkins have a long way to go to get to that level. I agree, it looks like the Oilers are future impact players, but there are no guarantees of that, especially seeing as though Nugent-Hopkins hasn't skated in an NHL game yet. Don't forget the Islanders have been drafting high, including getting the No. 1 spot themselves in recent years. John Tavares is showing he too has a bright future ahead of him, leading the team in points last season with 67. The Isles had six players total more than any Oiler, who were led by Jordan Eberle at 43 points. But New York has a trio of 30-goal scorers now (well, 29-plus) in Tavares (29 last season), Michael Grabner (34 goals) and Matt Moulson (31). Plus, the organization feels like they drafted a winner in Ryan Strome earlier this summer. I know you remember his skills, Adam, considering this post you put up. There is impact on the island, too.

Gretz: Yes, potential impact, that's obviously what I meant. I mean, a lot of this is talking about upside and projection because both teams are dealing with potential and question marks. The one thing I will say is both teams seem to have some concerns on the back end with their defense and goaltending. The Islanders are locked into Rick DiPietro for what seems like forever, while the Oilers have Nikolai Khabibulin and a bunch of question marks behind him. Devan Dubynk was a first-round pick back in 2004, and had a solid sophomore campaign last season, but no matter which guy is between the pipes, the defense in front of them is going to struggle this year. It needs a serious upgrade.

Again, I don't expect the Oilers to be a playoff team this season (in fact, they'll probably be near the bottom of the conference again, which could lead to another potential impact player in the 2012 draft, which will only help the future -- and yes, eventually you want to stop picking at the top of the draft), but that's not really what I'm looking for here: I'm looking at which team becomes a true contender for the Stanley Cup, not just simply making the playoffs, and I just think their core group of forwards offers a bit more potential and upside and the ability to help turn a franchise around than the Islanders core.

Stubits: I think you might be underrating the Islanders' organizational depth. In July, puckprospectus.com proclaimed the Islanders the second best in talent in the system, highlighting Kiril Kabonov and Matt Donovan in addition to recent draft picks Strome and Scott Mayfield. I understand the concerns in net, but this is a team that has one luxury: it has three goaltenders on the payroll that there's a decent chance one of them can be good enough to play behind an improving and maturing defense.

The team's biggest obstacle right now isn't cultivating talent, it's being appealing to free agents. A team can usually build the core of it's franchise through the draft, but it's the final free-agent and trade pieces that put a team over the top. Until the Isles get their arena situation squared away, that won't happen. Nobody wants to make a commitment to an organization that they don't know its whereabouts in four years. The sooner they can resolve this issue, the better, because I believe they have a very nice foundation at this point to win. As already stated, I think the Islanders will be a borderline playoff team this year, and by following logic they grow from there. It's a very young roster. That's why I like them to get back to that elite level first, they should continue to grow together and I think there are some very talented prospects in there.

Gretz: Yes, the Islanders certainly have a strong group, and you may be right that I'm underrating what they have, but I guess at the end of the day, for me, it simply comes down to thinking the Oilers players (particularly Hall and Nugent-Hopkins as top overall picks) have a bit more upside, and we've seen with other teams how much of an impact two young players like that can make. Granted, they need the complementary players around them and an upgrade on defense, but I still really like what Edmonton is building up front and the potential they have. Maybe not this year, but soon.

Stubits: Not that I have any reason to whatsoever, but I feel like Garth Snow has built himself a solid enough core. It's shocking to type that. I guess we'll find out in a couple of years.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: August 13, 2011 9:17 am
Edited on: August 13, 2011 12:56 pm
 

Daily Skate: Khabibulin to start house arrest

By: Adam Gretz

KHABIBULIN TO START HOUSE ARREST Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who has been serviving a jail sentence from last February's DUI arrest in Arizona, is scheduled to start serving the house arrest portion of his sentence on Sunday according to Dan Tencer of CHED 630 AM on Twitter. Khabibulin's agent says he's handled the situation "fine" and is looking forward to camp.

HARTNELL LOOKING TO BE MORE OF A LEADER The Philadelphia Flyers re-tooled their lineup this summer, and with absence of veterans and top-scorers Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino, veteran forward Scott Hartnell is looking to be more of a leader for the young roster and all of its new players.

SWEATT RETIRES FROM HOCKEY
Free agent defenseman Lee Sweat signed a two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators this offseason, and on Friday surprisingly announced his retirement from hockey before the start of training camp. According to his agent he's looking to pursue outside business interests. The 25-year-old defenseman appeared in three games with the Vancouver Canucks last season and scored one goal to go with one assist, and scored five goals in 41 games with the Manitoba Moose at the AHL level.

GRETZKY SERVES AS AGENT The Chicago Cubs finalized a contract with Trevor Gretzky on Friday, their seventh round draft pick from this year and the son of NHL legend Wayne Gretzy. The interesting part of the story here, because the signing had been reported as likely to happen several weeks ago, is that Gretzky (Wayne) served as the agent for his son and negotiated the contract that will pay a signing bonus of $375,000.

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Posted on: July 26, 2011 7:43 pm
 

Khabibulin withdraws appeal, sentenced

By: Adam Gretz

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was arrested for DUI last February after being pulled over in Arizona. He was issued a field sobriety test after he was stopped for going 70 MPH in a 45 MPH zone, and was facing a 30-day jail sentence as a result of a guilty verdict.

He had been in the process of appealing that decision until ultimately dropping the appeal on Tuesday, and as a result will spend 15 days in prison and another 15 days at home with an electronic monitoring device.

His agent, Mark DuBiel, told Craig Custance of the Sporting News that the appeal would have gone into the regular season and Khabibulin did not want that to happen.

Oilers general manager Steve Tambelini and Khabibulin both released statements, via the team's official website.

Said Tambellini: "The Edmonton Oilers respectfully accept the Court's order and expect Nikolai to fulfill all of his required obligations prior to Training Camp."

Khabibulin, 38, is under contract for two more years with the Oilers and carries a cap hit of $3.75 million. He signed a four-year deal with the Oilers prior to the 2009-10 season. He appeared in 47 games with Edmonton last season and finished with a 10-32-4 record to go with a .890 save percentage.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
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