Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Justice Delayed is A Contract You're Stuck With

(I've written a ton of background on Khabibulin on my own site that I don't particularly feel like rehashing. It should be up sometime tomorrow; search Khabibulin if you're interested.)

One of the things that you don't really realize until you follow a truly horrible team that is an ongoing circus is that you can't really be certain that you won't take a vacation at precisely the wrong time. I figured nothing would really happen when I planned to leave the country in late August and early September and then, lo and behold, Nikolai Khabibulin decides to waive his right to a jury trial on his extreme DUI charge and have a trial by judge alone last Friday. When I step back from that sentence, I can't believe I just wrote it but that is the lot of the Oilers fan in the early days of the teens: hoping against hope that the middling group of bumblers that runs the club somehow stumbles into a way out of their worst mistakes and is lucky enough to avoid any other horrific gaffes with which they might somehow be inspired. That this is more rational than hoping that they get fired and replaced with competent management is too depressing to contemplate, so I try not to think about it.

A lot has happened in the past few days. I thought that the trial was straightforward enough - as I understand things from following the excellent @azc_mclellan on Twitter, Khabby's defence involved calling an expert to give evidence that his blood alcohol was actually .158 +/- 10%. The idea, as I understand it, was to establish that a BAC of below the .15 at which a DUI becomes an Extreme DUI (with more severe penalties) could not be ruled out beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge didn't buy it (hopefully a copy of his reasons turn up somewhere so that we can learn why) and Khabby was convicted.

Over the next few days, we were inundated with a deluge of dumb commentary. The Oilers' statement came out first, so I'll start with it:
“The Edmonton Oilers acknowledge and respect the decision handed down today by the Scottsdale City Court to goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Both Nikolai and the Oilers organization recognize the severity of what has transpired. We plan on meeting with Nikolai, his agent and the National Hockey League in the near future.”

Once sentencing has been imposed on Tuesday, August 31st, Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini will be available to the media.

Edmonton Oilers hockey is presented in part by the Rexall Family of Pharmacies, Molson Canadian, ATB Financial, TELUS, Cenovus Energy and Ford.
You wonder if maybe, just maybe, this wasn't a statement that you tag the list of sponsors onto. Particularly when one of those sponsors is Molson. Of course, if you're going to do it, why not go all the way? "Do you want to be like Nikolai Khabibulin? Spend your fat dividends from Cenovus Energy on a case of Molson, get drunk, drive while impaired in your Ford, make your call to your lawyer from your TELUS cellphone when you get arrested and then get your Antabuse from the Rexall Family of Pharmacies to help you with your problem!" But I digress.

The really curious part in that statement is the suggestion that both Nikolai and the Oilers recognize the severity of what has happened. While I'm not sure what that means - is "severity of what has transpired" the same as "seriousness of the conviction" - I'll come back to that a little later on but I wonder if Khabibulin knew that the Oilers were going to release a statement on his behalf in which he recognizes the severity of what happened.

While some of your more bleeding edge purveyors of Oilers news had kicked around the possibility of the Oilers attempting to void Khabibulin's contract if he was convicted months ago, the conviction itself appears to have been the signal for the more traditional types to start asking questions like "What happens next?" Jim Matheson came up with a column that opened with this:
You often get a second chance to make a first impression, but Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin is having a rough time of it.
That is most unintelligible sentence I've ever read. He not only mangles the common expression ("You never get a second chance to make a first impression") but I'm not sure what relationship the bit before the comma bears to the bit after it. It reads like something Steve Tambellini would say. He follows it up with something that I think has been the consensus amongst most people who've paid attention for at least a few months now:
There are clauses in standard players' contracts for conduct unbecoming to a team that theoretically could void a contract, although the Oilers weren't talking about that on Friday. They certainly aren't happy with Khabibulin's behaviour after he was pulled over in his black Ferrari Feb. 8 in Paradise Valley, a Scottsdale suburb. He faces jail time, possibly a fine and alcohol-related rehabilitation classes.


The agent doesn't believe a team would challenge the conduct clause over impaired driving. If a team did that, the NHL Players' Association would likely file a grievance.

He's quoting an anonymous agent there but the tenor seems to be that the contract probably can't be voided on morality grounds. I think that's probably right, although you never know. The column then proceeds to go back off the rails:

The long-time agent, who is also a lawyer, didn't know how a conviction would weigh on the goalie's ability to cross the border, for example, to perform his goaltending job. But Khabibulin is a professional athlete, who needs to travel from Canada to the U.S. regularly during the season. He would have good cause to need that to work.

"Usually in these situations there is a lot of bargaining that goes on," said the agent. "I don't know how it's going to work out, but the Americans are a lot stricter since 9/11."

There's a great scene in The Hangover where Zach Galafanakis is explaining that counting cards isn't illegal, it's just frowned upon, like masturbating on an airplane. When someone points out that that is also illegal, he replies "Sure, since 9/11. Fucking Bin Laden." The reference to 9/11 is somewhat relevant here, so it's not quite that bad, but it still misses a key issue: is the guy allowed in Canada anymore? Who knows. There's a lot to suggest that that's a real concern but the question apparently doesn't even come to Matheson's mind.

Robin Brownlee came up with this:

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