Khabibulin and the Domino Effect
The Point After from the St. Petersburg Times, a joint effort by columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton, featured this post about... well, basically skimming a reflection on circumstances that led to the Lightning losing goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to the Chicago Blackhawks in the post-lockout 2005 offseason. That, and basically not lamenting the lose, even though Khabibulin is in the Western Conference final with the Chicago Blackhawks this year.
Any why not? Well, the previous couple of years of Khabby with the Blackhawks:
Before taking the Blackhawks to the conference final this season, he had been a bust in Chicago. He had never been in the top 20 in goals-against average, and he had a losing record for the previous three seasons. Some of that could be attributed to a weak roster around him, but Khabibulin was being paid to be a star, and he wasn't close.
Romano's post made me think of the domino effect with the Lightning. The loss of Khabibulin could be seen as the first domino falling, but it easily could be attributed to an earlier decision, or a later one... It all played out like an addiction to gambling: losses and then covering for losses.
The earlier situation in my mind that started the dominos falling -- even though it would also help the Lightning ultimately win the Stanley Cup, was Jay Feaster picking up goaltender John Grahame from Boston. Grahame played well as the #2 goaltender for the Bolts and Feaster was big on him.
The problem is, John Grahame was only that: a number two goaltender. Feaster held him in such high regard that Grahame was given the #1 role upon Khabibulin's departure (backed up by veteran NHL Goalie Sean Burke).
Then Grahame departed the Bolts and what happened? Feaster decided to cover the loss and secure another goaltender that would prove to be the big-time backstop the Lightning needed... But at a cost that would hasten the dominos falling...
I'm talking the deal that sent LW Fredrik Modin to Columbus in return for Marc Denis. I don't need to speak of Denis' tenure in Tampa, what I do think needs noting is that the Lightning's Penalty Kill alone fell to the very bottom of the league after the loss of Modin. The Stanley Cup winning season of 2003-04 produced a 10th ranked PK, 2005-06 led to a 20th ranked PK... And after Modin's departure? 28th. It ruined the perception of the Lightning as a two-line offensive threat as well.
In the end, thoughts of the what-if regarding Khabibulin remaining with the Lightning are akin to dreaming if Darren Puppa's back had held up in 1996, or perhaps if Adrian Aucoin hadn't been traded away to the Islanders for Kristian Kudroc. It'd result in dominos falling in an entirely different direction, and the Lightning's destiny going in an entirely different course.
What woudl the Lightning be like if Martin St. Louis -- reigning Hart Trophy winner -- had been dismissed in favor of Nikolai's payday? How would Feaster have dealt with that loss? And what happens if Khabibulin puts up numbers comparable to what was cited earlier in this article? Would he have been run out of town and the cover-loses effect still have taken hold?
All transactions are gambling... It's part of the reason why you make the most informed decision possible with trades, signings or releases. You make the informed choice and then hold out hope that it will hold up over time.