if “Khabibulous” doesn’t already exist, I’ma (c) it now

“Free Agency Frenzy” is officially upon us and this year has seen some truly surprising, astounding and bloody stupid signings. I’ll address some of those in another post, once I’m through alternately “Laughing my ass off /Weeping about why, exactly, we had to lose half a Season?”

For now, I’ll confine myself to the moves made by the Hawks once Free Agency started and “What It All Means”

First up, in a development as surprising as the St Louis Restauranteurs’ Association voting to ban “All You Can Eat” promotions ten minutes after Ken Hitchcock moved into town, Viktor Stalberg was allowed to leave as a UFA.  Slightly more surprisingly, he joined the Nashville Predators on a 4 Year/$3M per deal. While not seeming like Barry Trotz’ type of player (i.e. can move faster than a Tectonic Plate with a Limp) he is a useful guy and Nashville have added a whole bunch of those this off-season.  As Nashville will be a Conference III rival next year, guess we’ll be seeing plenty of Vik.

Even without Bickell re-signing, I think we all knew that Stalberg was on his way out the door. We’ll probably never know exactly what was behind the healthy scratching in the Playoffs, but it’s clear that the relationship was holed below the waterline. Good luck to him.

 

Also on July 5th, Michal Handzus was retained on a 1 Year/ $1M contract. No complaints here. There seems to be a very high opinion of Zus as a mentor and locker-room presence.  He hasn’t disgraced himself in the various roles that he’s been asked to play. He’s still slow and old, but if that becomes a problem there is more than enough depth in Rockford to alleviate it.

The other Michal, Roszival, was also re-upped to the tune of 2 Years/$2.2M, which looks like another nifty bit of work by Stan Bowman.  Again, this is a low-risk move for the Hawks what with Brookbank hovering on the periphery and Stanton and Olsen in Rockford.  Roszival was another versatile player who did all he was asked and more. Fun Fact: his 12 Reg Season points this year, in 27 games was only one less than his 13 last year in exactly twice as many games.

Ray Emery’s desire to be a starter led to him leaving amicably for Philadelphia. Which shows the guy either has balls of steel or is a legitimate crazy person,or both.. (I think it’s both).  Anyway, we’ll assume he’s going to be the #1 in Philly because he’s now being paid more than Steve Mason and also because Steve Mason. Good luck to him and his bionic hips.. he’s going to need it, as, Mark Streit re-up notwithstanding, the Flyers’ D still honks.

The recently-bought-out Rusty Olesz ended up in Jersey. Again, good luck to a guy who was only ever a necessary burden as part of the Campbell trade. Moving along.

Finally, in a somewhat unexpected move, right at the end of a chaotic day of insanity, the Hawks acquired Nikolai Khabibulin after he was cut loose by Edmonton.  This wrong-footed most of us, but, in hindsight we should maybe have seen a goalie acquistion coming. Carter Hutton had already been allowed to leave for Nashville (them again!) and Henrik Karlsson is headed back to Sweden. Antti Raanta was being touted by many as the potential backup to Corey Crawford next year, but that ignores the fact that a) That would leave only Mac Carruth in the immediate vicinity and b) Stan clearly wants Raanta to spend some time in the Rock, learning the North American game, before putting him into the “Hey, no pressure, just play the best game you can” situation that Hawks goaltending isn’t.

So, Khabbi.. I’ll be honest, the Bulin Wall era predates my Hockey fandom, so I have no particular axe to grind from then.. I’m also aware of the DUI and treatment for alcohol abuse etc. However, his numbers were not bad last year on an Oilers team that thought ‘playing defense’ was something that happened to other people.  1Year/$2M.. which looks like a slight overpayment but not disastrous.  I see this as yet another low-risk move by Stan and an indication that Raanta is firmly next-in-line. If Khabbi is great, then no worries. If he shits the bed or disappears on a bender, then expect to see the Finn step in.

 

All in all, I am unashamed to admit that I am a huge fan of Stan Bowman. He has come out of the Draft, Free Agency and all the moves inbetween with a great deal of credit. Smart, low-risk decisions that have got the right pieces in the right places. Around him, GMs were lighting huge piles of their bosses’ money and frolicking in the ashes. Stan very much got the job done.

To briefly bring soccer into it, Stan reminds me a little of Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal, in that he trusts his own philosophy and will walk away rather than overpay grotesquely for a player. He’s already the most successful GM of the Salary cap era. His careful, considered style may well end up being the blueprint for success in this League