Edmonton Oilers and Nikolai Khabibulin: What's The Next Step?

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Edmonton Oilers and Nikolai Khabibulin: What's The Next Step?
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

Edmonton Oilers goalkeeper Nikolai Khabibulin walked out of an Arizona courtroom yesterday with a 30-day prison sentence for “extreme DUI” looming. Khabibulin’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal in the case, keeping him out of prison for the time being.

The appeal process is a slow and arduous one and could drag on for months. While his case is under appeal, Khabibulin plans on attending the Oilers training camp, which begins in Edmonton on September 17. The reality is that the appeals process could drag on for the entire season, allowing Khabibulin to not miss any time with the team.

Instead of spending 30 days in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s tent city prisons, Khabibulin will be in the climate controlled confines of the Oilers training facility. Arpaio is the Sheriff in Maricopa County Arizona and he is famous for his tent city prisons. In these outdoor facilities prisoners are forced to wear old-fashioned prison stripes and pink underwear. The prisoners also go without cigarettes, coffee, salt, or television. The temperature inside the tents can often top 100 degrees. Sheriff Joe does not run a country club prison system.

Khabibulin has deep pockets and can pay for the best lawyers. It is expected that through the appeals process his sentence will be reduced by two thirds and he will eventually serve no more than 10 days in prison.

Khabibulin is doing all the right things to get his sentenced reduced. He has high-powered lawyers working on his case and he is enrolled in the NHL’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

The 37-year old goaltender was stopped for speeding in February 2010. He was clocked doing 70 mph in a 40 mph zone. The officer that stopped Khabibulin smelled alcohol on his breath and administered a sobriety test, which Khabibulin failed. Khabibulin told the officer he had “one glass (of wine).” Later, a blood alcohol test revealed that Khabibulin blood alcohol level was .164, more than double the Arizona legal limit of .080.

Khabibulin was facing up to six months in prison on the charges. The Oilers and their goalkeeper both surely breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the 30-day sentence, but how do both sides move forward on this matter?

In the past, the NHL has seen alcohol related deaths with Pelle Lindbergh, Tim Horton and Steve Chiasson. The Oilers and the NHL cannot come across as soft or accepting on a DUI charge. By the same token, Khabibulin is not a habitual offender so an outright release from the team and/or the league is doubtful.  Where is the happy medium that shows Khabibulin, fans and other players that this is a serious matter?

It will be interesting to watch how a team with deep community ties, such as the Edmonton Oilers, handles this case as it winds its way through the legal system.

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