Khabibulin was wrong but he deserves leniency

Oh Nikolai Khabibulin, what a mess you have created for yourself.

The 37-year-old Edmonton Oilers netminder was recently sentenced to 30 days in jail, stemming from his drunken driving conviction in Arizona.

Because Khabibulin was convicted of “extreme DUI”, he must serve at least a month in prison under Arizona state laws, and that, understandably, has some in Oilers management worried about the status of their number one goalie.

Khabibulin has already filed notice of appeal, and plans to attend Oilers training camp, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this issue has hung over the club like a dark cloud ever since the former Winnipeg Jet was first arrested back in February after getting caught speeding in his black Ferrari, leading to the DUI arrest.

Fan reaction has been mixed, with some saying Khabibulin did nothing wrong, and others saying the Oilers should sever ties with the 37-year-old and use the conviction to void the remaining three years on his contract, under the “personal conduct” section of the deal.

Yeah, because that wouldn’t stir up a hornets nest with the NHL Players Association.

There’s no way the NHLPA would allow the Oilers to void the deal without a fight, nor do I think this is the way the Oilers want to handle it.

Remember, Khabibulin remains general manager Steve Tambellini’s biggest free agent signing to date, and the former New York Islander has said repeatedly that the club will stand behind their beleaguered netminder.

“We support Nik through this,” Tambellini told reporters after the sentence was handed down.

“He’s made a mistake. But this organization is treating this very seriously. The players are role models for many people and we expect our organization to act as such.”

After taking some time to digest the decision, I don’t really know where I stand on the issue.

I know that I am not in favour of anyone getting off with a slap on the wrist for an issue as serious as drunk driving, but on the other hand, Khabibulin should not be lumped in with some of the other idiots out there who have indulged with a bevy or two, then gotten behind the wheel and killed someone.

That’s actually one of the only things Khabibulin has going for him in this instance.

No one got hurt, unlike the case involving former San Jose Shark and Toronto Maple Leaf Mark Bell.

Back in September of 2006, Bell was charged with hit and run and driving under the influence in California after plowing his rented vehicle into the back of a pick up truck, leaving the driver of the truck with multiple head, back and leg injuries.

After pleading no contest in court, Bell was sentenced to six months in jail, which was to be served at the end of the 2007-2008 NHL season.

He ended up working at a California prison for about two months that summer, fulfilling the requirements of his sentence.

Bell was also suspended for 15 games by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and told to enter the league’s substance abuse program.

Since first joining the league back in the 70’s, the Oilers have always been known as an organization that is more than willing to hand out second chances.

I mean, this is the same club that signed Craig MacTavish to a contract in 1985, weeks after he finished serving a one year term in jail for killing a woman while driving drunk.

At the end of the day though, I think Khabibulin needs to man up, serve his time, admit that he was wrong and publicly apologize for it.

That, ideally, would be followed by some community service, where he would maybe tour schools, talking to young kids about the dangers of drinking and driving…the same kids that look up to him as a role model.

Those actions would go a long way towards restoring his image in the eyes of many, mine included.

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