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Khabibulin the new main man in Edmonton

by Dan Rosen / Edmonton Oilers
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin makes a save during the first period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series at GM Place in Vancouver, Saturday, May 9, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)
Nikolai Khabibulin is leaving Chicago and will replace Dwayne Roloson in Edmonton.

On Wednesday, Khabibulin, 36, who helped the Blackhawks reach the Western Conference Final this past season, signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $15 million to be the Oilers' new starting goalie.

As a key backstop behind the Hawks' resurgence, Khabibulin, 36, spent the last four seasons in Chicago, posting a 25-8-7 record with a 2.33 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and three shutouts this past season. He was the starting goalie in the playoffs and helped the Hawks beat both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.

"Nikolai is a world-class goaltender who has proven himself throughout his career as one of the best in the game," Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini said. "He has had success at many levels of hockey and we’re looking forward to seeing him continue that success here in Edmonton."

Khabibulin was supposed to be on his way out of the Windy City at this time last year when Chicago General Manager Dale Tallon signed Cristobal Huet to a four-year contract worth more than $20 million. Instead of trading Khabibulin, Tallon, who first placed Khabibulin on waivers in September, decided to keep him and essentially created, arguably, the best goalie tandem in the NHL.

"I want to wish Marty (Havlat) and Nik all the best," Tallon said after announcing the signings of Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky earlier in the day. "They were tremendous assets and great Blackhawks, but we're turning the page and moving forward."

Now, Khabibulin is returning to a Canadian market for the first time since 1995-96, when he played for the Winnipeg Jets. He left Winnipeg with the franchise and stayed in Phoenix for the next three seasons.

After sitting out the 1999-2000 season and most of 2000-01 in a contract dispute, Khabibulin was traded to Tampa Bay. He helped the Lightning with the Stanley Cup in 2004 and signed a four-year deal with the Blackhawks after the work stoppage.

His early days in Chicago were difficult as the team struggled and he battled injuries and inconsistent play, but his last two seasons were solid and he posted his best GAA and save percentage as a Blackhawks in 2008-09 while being pushed for playing time by Huet.

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