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Easy call: Khabibulin's option picked up

GM Jay Feaster ensures the veteran goaltender will stay in Tampa Bay.

By TOM JONES
Published June 18, 2004

TAMPA - Lightning general manager Jay Feaster laughed when he heard the question.

Did he, at any point last season, consider trading goalie Nikolai Khabibulin?

"Never," Feaster said. "We had the best goaltending tandem in the NHL in Nik and John Grahame."

It appears as if that tandem will be back next season.

Calling it a "no-brainer decision," Feaster locked up Khabibulin for another season, picking up the $6.5-million option on his contract for 2004-05.

"Nik's performance throughout our Stanley Cup run only reinforced how valuable he is to our hockey club," Feaster said.

Khabibulin, 31, played perhaps the best hockey of his career during the two-month postseason when he went 16-7 with a 1.71 goals-against average to backstop the Lightning to its first Stanley Cup championship.

But flash back to the midway point of the season when Khabibulin was struggling and still had a shaky postseason resume.

In the weeks before the March trading deadline, there was speculation the Lightning, with Khabibulin's hefty option looming in the summer, would trade him and turn the goaltending reins over to Grahame. But Feaster said he never considered a scenario in which Khabibulin was not a member of the Lightning. That went for last season and next season.

"My philosophy is we have to win right now," Feaster said. "And Nik and John Grahame in goal gave us the best chance to win right now, so why would I have turned around and traded Nik? The popular wisdom out there was that we were worried about the money, but that never entered my mind. I wasn't going to worry about what might happen in the summer. I was only worried about winning right now."

To win, Feaster believed, Khabibulin had to shine in goal.

Khabibulin did just that to silence the critics who said he wasn't steady enough to win a Cup. Khabibulin, who declined an interview request Thursday, isn't getting much of a raise, at least by NHL standards. His base salary in 2003-04 was $4.5-million and he earned another $1-million in bonuses. There are no bonus clauses in next season's deal, meaning Khabibulin will earn $1-million more next season than he did this past season. If the Lightning had declined the option, it would have owed Khabibulin $2-million.

Feaster, of course, never considered that last option.

Hasek, Red Wings part

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Goaltender Dominik Hasek won't play for Detroit next season. Hasek said Ottawa is one team he would be interested in and added he wants to win another Stanley Cup.

"The decision should be taken ... no later than the beginning of July," he said. "At the moment, I can only confirm that I won't be in Detroit next season."

Hasek ended a one-year retirement last season to rejoin the Red Wings, but a groin injury limited him to 14 games. Hasek, 39, had surgery in April.

AVALANCHE: Forward Steve Konowalchuk re-signed for three years. In 82 games, six with Washington, he had 19 goals.

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

[Last modified June 18, 2004, 01:13:22]

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