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Oilers' reputation growing amongst free agents

Player agent Jay Grossman of Puck Agency discusses the Khabibulin signing & more

Friday, 29.06.2012 / 1:15 AM / Features
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
Nikolai Khabibulin signed with the Oilers on Jul. 1, 2009.
Edmonton, AB - Whether it's money, location or opportunity motivating an unrestricted free agent on Jul. 1, it's a wild, high-octane day of quick decisions and blunt phone calls peppering the hockey world until agreements are reached.

As quickly as some signings are made, preparation is laid out weeks (if not months) in advance to assemble a game plan and answer some pivotal questions.

Player agent Jay Grossman of Puck Agency has been through it all. And he was on scene on Jul. 1, 2009 when the Oilers inked one of his clients, Nikolai Khabibulin, to a four-year, $15 million contract.

"Nik's a very sharp guy," Grossman said. "He kept asking me throughout the season, 'If I'm not going to re-sign [in Chicago], who do you think is going to be interested?' He and I had worked together for 20 years, so we read each other's minds at times.

"There were times when I didn't have a good answer for him. I didn't know which teams would or wouldn't be looking for a goaltender. I thought there might be three or four teams max that would have interest. I went through every one of them with him, which included the Islanders, Oilers and a couple others."

Originally hurt by an exodus in 2006 and spurred by losing records since, Edmonton's reputation as a hot destination was nearly non-existent at the time.

"With respect to Edmonton, the thing I needed to know from him is, did he actually want to go to Edmonton. Some players didn't want to," Grossman explained. "I didn't know in absolute terms at the time of our discussion, but I thought Edmonton might be one of the teams that would be interested in Nik."

Dwayne Roloson was the Oilers' starting goalie in 2008-09. In 63 games, he posted a 28-24-9 record, along with a 2.77 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. But when push came to shove, he and the Oilers were too distant when it came to dollar and term. As a result, he signed a deal with the Islanders and vacated Edmonton's crease mere minutes into the day.

Not only were the Oilers in need of a replacement, but one possible destination had also been checked off Khabibulin's list. In being honest with the situation and critical about the client's ability, options narrowed.

Even then, it still wasn't a slam-dunk.

"It was a question I had to have answered by him," Grossman said. "He'd moved around and played in various cities, so I had to get a good idea of where he was willing to go. I said, 'Look, this could be a very quick situation because there aren't many spots available and there are a limited number of goalies in play.' Some players didn't want to [go to Edmonton] at the time.

"But it's like musical chairs. You don't want to be the odd one out. If someone signs within 15 minutes and you see them as a comparable -- and Roloson was -- it gives you a good measuring stick in terms of what the market is like. The movement was as quick as we'd expected."

Khabibulin's career in Edmonton can't be considered a rousing success with the team coming in 30th, 30th and 29th since his arrival. Still, it's helped the Oilers assemble a sensational crop of highly skilled and equally as motivated young superstars.

While the Oilers' placement in the NHL's league-wide standings hasn't improved since 2009, the team's (and the city's) reputation certainly has. Bringing in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and now Nail Yakupov will do that.

"If a young player came to me and said, 'What do you think about playing in Edmonton?' I'd say it's a place with a lot of great players for him to play with, that the team is on the rise and it's certainly a place where you'd want to be," Grossman said. "I can't make the decision for individual players, but that's the input I'd give.

"Teams that create the right environment, create the right culture and certainly teams that have the opportunity to win along with the right coaches -- they're a player's top destination.

"There are teams with a more negative reputation than others -- several reasons go into it, but Edmonton isn't one of them. Especially now."

With Jul. 1 quickly approaching, it should be interesting to see how the Oilers' revamped reputation continues to play a role -- particularly with the summer's hottest commodity, Justin Schultz, pitting each team against one another in a bidding war of opportunity.

What's the beauty of it? It's an advantage not exclusive to the Schultz situation going forward.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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