We touched on this in the live rumors chat yesterday, and now it appears the MSM has picked up on the possibility of Nikolai Khabibulin ending up in the KHL, allowing the Chicago Blackhawks to cut the anchor on his $6.75 million salary. From Sportsnet:
If a deal is reached, Chicago could knock the value of the final year on Khabibulin's contract, worth US$6.75 million, off their salary cap. Furthermore, the NHL team could have most if not all of the remaining salary paid by the borrowing club. Sources say negotiations are ongoing and it has not been determined which KHL team would end up with his services. The inside track may belong to HC Dinamo Minsk in Belarus where it's believed Khabibulin has family.
What Sportsnet fails to mention is the obvious precedent for this: Darius Kasparaitis, who was loaned to SKA St. Petersburg of the Russian Super League by the New York Rangers back in 2007.
We asked our official Puck Daddy hockey comrade Dmitry Chesnokov of SovSport how that deal relates to this potential one.
"Same story: waived, cleared waivers, season started, didn't want to play in the minors, interest from a Russian club (SKA). At the time SKA, negotiated with the Rangers directly regarding loaning Kasper," he said. "SKA took over the entire $4 million-plus of Kasper's salary, and he moved to Russia on loan. Then his contract in the NHL expired and he stayed in Russia."
Dmitry points out that this scenario is what the KHL ultimately wants in a "relationship" with the NHL: "No general transfer agreement, but freedom for clubs to negotiate deals themselves."
But what about Khabibulin's KHL prospects, and why are the Blackhawks so determined to get rid of his salary now?
Dmitry said Bulin's KHL choices are limited.
"Khabibulin's salary is over $6 million. There are only a handful of KHL clubs that can offer to take over the payment of his salary from Chicago. Moreover, his condition is to add another three years to his contract of he were to join any particular club. Of course he won't see $6 million, but he wants to ensure his future," said Chesnokov.
"The most obvious club interested in Khabibulin is Metallurg Magnitogorsk. They can afford him. Another team is Lokomotoiv Yaroslavl (Varlamov's former team); they need a goalie. But Lokomotiv's payroll is the highest in the KHL ($19.02 million US). Those two are the most obvious choices."
What about that family connection Sportsnet factored in?
"Dynamo Minsk comes into play because his wife is from Belarus. He does not have his immediate family there, just hers. He spends a lot of time there in the offseason," said Chesnokov. "The problem with Minsk is that they may not have the money to afford him (payroll is just $4.43 million US). Although he might take a discount."
This seemingly desperate move by the Blackhawks to rid themselves of Khabibulin's salary -- waivers didn't work and there's been no takers on trades yet -- is due to their problems at center this preseason following the trade of Robert Lang to the Habs.
As of now, the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp are the pivots. The team hoped rookie Petri Kontiola could win the job, but he looked bad during games and winded at scrimmages -- never a good combination. Kontiola was went down to the AHL yesterday. This team needs a Michael Nylander type, although it's anyone's guess if he'll waive his NTC.
Could a trade still materialize for Khabibulin? If so, it's not going to be to the Colorado Avalanche, who denied interest. The Ottawa Senators claim he's too rich for their blood. And if the Los Angeles Kings went for Sean O'Donnell over Mathieu Schneider, that should tell you how much interested they have in a $6 million goalie.