Chicago Blackhawks

Why Chicago Blackhawks May Bring Back Nikolai Khabibulin

CHICAGO - MAY 11:  Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin #39 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after the Blackhawks won 7-5 against the Vancouver Canucks during Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 11, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Joe FaviaCorrespondent IIJuly 21, 2010

The Blackhawks are looking to return to the position to be back-to-back as champions next season, and to do this many believe they will need a goalie that has won the big prize before.

Though many want the goalie who was between the pipes for the magical run last season—Antti Niemi—that may not come to fruition.

Another Stanley Cup-winning goaltender may be starting for the Blackhawks when the season starts in a couple of months, and that may be none other than former Hawk Nikolai Khabibulin.

It is becoming more clear by the day that the chances of Niemi returning are going steadily down. The re-signing of defensive future All-Star Niklas Hjalmarsson was a clear indication that he was the more important of the two in the hockey club's eyes for the future.

Niemi is going to get around $4 or $5 million from a new contract and after making the decision to keep Patrick Sharp for another season it looks as if his days in Chicago are numbered.

But what then for the goalie situation for the Blackhawks?

Cristobal Huet seems to be on the back burner and will be placed in Rockford if he is not traded, which would be a miracle in terms of helping the Blackhawks' cap situation. Also, regardless of what happens it appears Corey Crawford has the most job security of any Blackhawk being penciled in as the backup.

But, who will be the starter if Niemi does in fact move on to a different team?

I feel that Nikolai Khibibulin could be the player who will return, and be in net for the Blackhawks.

He is coming back after a difficult season which included a disappointing 7-9 record, and missed most of the second half of the season with a back injury for the miserable Oilers. He also had his suspected DUI incident in February to add to the bad year.

All of this occurred to Khabibulin one season after leading the Blackhawks to the Western Conference Finals. He had his best season as a Blackhawk in 2008-2009 with a 25-8 record, and posting a brilliant 2.33 goals against average; his best since his Stanley Cup year with Tampa Bay.

Khabibulin may be 37 years old, but he may be what the Hawks' need if Niemi were to leave as much of the veterans will be gone, and his presence could be needed. Also, it cannot be counted out that Khabibulin has a very strong relationship with Blackhawks goalie coach Stephane Waite, which could be a factor in Stan Bowman's decision-making process.

There are other options available in the event of a Niemi departure.

Jose Theodore

Marty Turco

Steve Mason

 

All of these players could be very good in the role of starting goaltender for the Hawks as no one expected at the beginning of last season that Niemi would lead the team to the top of the mountain.

Who's to say that if the Blackhawks were to make a trade with the Oilers to acquire Khabibulin that he cannot give the team one or two more solid years before giving the reigns to Crawford or up-and-comers Hannu Toivonen or Joe Palmer.

The Oilers want to make a deal, and moving the three years remaining on Khabibulin's contract would be a good move for them as they begin the Taylor Hall-Era.

Regardless of the speculation of these rumors most Blackhawks fans would like to see Antti Niemi in net next season simply because so many of the names and numbers from last season are gone, and they do not want to see the most integral piece gone as well.

But, if and probably when he is not apart of the organization anymore; wouldn't Blackhawks fans want to see someone in net that they know can do the job.

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