When goaltender Ray Emery headed back to the Philadelphia Flyers with a chance to become a starter again, the Chicago Blackhawks were in need of a backup again. They filled that need with a familiar face.
[More: Ray Emery signs with Flyers]
The Blackhawks agreed to terms with Nikolai Khabibulin to a one-year deal, their sole acquisition as the first day of free agency wrapped up on Friday. According to his agent Jay Grossman, via Twitter, Khabibulin will earn $1.7 million, plus $300,000 based on games played. It’s Khabibulin’s second stint with the Blackhawks, as he played here from 2005-2009.
The 40-year-old Khabibulin moved into a backup role with the Edmonton Oilers last season, as Devan Dubnyk played a bulk of the games. Khabibulin played in 12 games last season, going 4-6-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average. But general manager Stan Bowman said Khabibulin is ready to rediscover his game, and do it with the Blackhawks.
“We’ve got a goaltender who has an accomplished career and has a lot of game left in him,” Bowman said. “He doesn’t want to just lay a few games; he wants a chance to help our team, to try to come back with a strong season. And for that reason, it was very appealing for both sides. We have familiarity with Nik. He was a good goaltender for us and helps us get back on track. It’s nice to have him here now.”
Friday’s pickup was the latest change to a Blackhawks goaltending department that’s had plenty of them in the past two days. Goaltending coach Stephane Waite took the same post with the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Bowman said the Blackhawks will address that vacancy soon.
[More: Waite leaves Blackhawks for Canadiens]
As for that backup vacancy, the Blackhawks found themselves in the market for another goaltender when Emery signed a one-year deal with the Flyers for $1.65 million today. They wanted another veteran presence. The Blackhawks signed Antti Raanta in June, but the Finnish goaltender may need time to adjust to North American ice and Bowman has said previously that he didn’t want to rush that.
Khabibulin has had his struggles. But he’ll be playing for a defending Cup team with a strong defense. The Blackhawks hope Khabibulin forms a bond with Crawford like Emery did, and also give Crawford some nights off like Emery did.
“He knows Corey’s the guy here, but he’ll support him,” Bowman said of Khabibulin. “One of the things that was so evident last year is we had two top-notch goaltenders. The team never had to change its style. They played the same way every night because both goalies were excellent. Corey was great this year, and one of the things that helped him is he didn’t have to play every single game. We had confidence in Ray last year, and the same with Nik this year. This won’t wear Corey out, so he can be prepared come late in the season.”
The Blackhawks know what they get with Khabibulin from his previous time here. They’re hoping he can provide the support they need to continue their successful run.