Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Worst Free Agent Signing (At Least So Far)

Earlier this year, I picked Shawn McEachern as the worst regular in the NHL so far as of that point in the year. Since then he has been unimpressive missing some time with back spasms and then coming back and getting an assist. I am uncertain if I would still want to pick him as the worst regular in the NHL (probably I wouldn't but I have not put much thought into it).

Nevertheless, a player like McEachern would be a poor choice for the worst free agent signing in this off season. Even though McEachern has a two year contract, he does not cost a huge amount of money ($1 million a year is significant but not huge). The worst free agent signing would be a player who is signed up longterm for big bucks and is not producing. In today's salary capped NHL a player like that will do a lot to prevent his team from acheiving any success.

Based on what we have seen so far this year, I pick Nikolai Khabibulin as the worst free agent signing this summer. He is signed to a four year $27 million contract in Chicago. Any player making that much money must produce for his team to succeed.

So far this year, his .847 saves percentage is the worst among any goalie who has receievd regualr NHL play. Khabibulin has been bad.

I'm not sure what his problems are. Goaltending has changed somewhat. Pads are smaller. Puckhandling is reduced. I don't see any reason Khabibulin would be negatively affected more strongly than any other goalie by these changes. The biggest change for him is likely the quality of his defence in front of him (as well the rule changes preventing his defenders from physically clearling the front of the net). Chicago has a far worse defence then the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning have. Nevertheless, that is hardly enough to tell the whole story. Khabibulin is too good a goalie to play this poorly behind any defence.

Likely, given time Khabibulin will play himself out of this funk. Chicago really has no choice but to give him this time. His backup Craig Anderson is hardly a proven NHL goalie. The best chance to the Blackhawks to get good goaltending on any given night is to start Khabibulin - regarless of how poorly he played in his previous start - because he has in te past played some very good games. This is precisely why it can hurt the Hawks. If Khabibulin continues to play poorly but they continue to start him anyway, they will likely lose a lot of games.

So far this year, Chicago's signing of Nikolai Khabibulin has been the worst of the summer's free agent signings. He is a good enough goalie to turn things around, but if he doesn't his presence under a salary cap will likely prevent Chicago from ever contending.

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