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By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2001
So what exactly is the Lightning's case against goaltender Kevin Weekes?
There apparently is one because general manager Rick Dudley, in one of the season's worst-kept secrets, is making a big push for Coyotes goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin, 28, has an impressive track record, but he hasn't played in two seasons because of a contract dispute.
Not that Khabibulin wouldn't help the Lightning's cause. It's just that sometimes a goaltender's worth is automatically hitched to a team's record, and maybe that's happened a bit here with Weekes.
No doubt, Weekes is a work in progress. He can let in the soft goal. He needs to improve his puck handling, and though he has improved greatly under the tutelage of goaltenders coach Jeff Reese, he must use his stick to better break up cross-ice passes that skirt the crease.
That said, Weekes' athleticism has allowed him to serve up some spectacular performances -- performances that single-handedly ensured victory. He also has two shutouts in his past four games.
The ups and downs can't be a surprise.
Even Dudley said the day after he acquired Weekes from the Islanders on draft day last June, "You can't say what you've got (in a goaltender) at 22 or 23 is the same as it will be at 25, 26 or 27."
So what has Weekes offered at 25? He is 14-26-3 with a 3.24 goals-against average. More important, though, his .898 save percentage is close to the magic .900 everyone talks about as being the benchmark of a good goaltender.
Breaking that down further: Weekes has a .901 save percentage and a 2.99 goals-against average since Feb. 7, when Dan Cloutier was traded.
Since Jan. 3, when the Lightning began its swan dive, Weekes has a .916 save percentage and a 2.76 goals-against average. Which means this team has problems bigger than any it perceives in net.
There is no question Weekes' numbers would be better if he played for an organization that plays better team defense, a defense that would more consistently clear people from the side of the net and clear rebounds.
Not that we should compare Weekes with Colorado's Patrick Roy, but Roy has played three more games and faced 124 fewer shots.
Dudley has made an issue of Weekes' durability.
The goaltender missed half of training camp with a back problem. A knee injury and two groin injuries have kept him out of nine games.
But among goaltenders born in 1975 or later, only Chicago's Jocelyn Thibault has played more games the past two seasons: Thibault 115, Weekes 104.
This is not an advertisement for Kevin Weekes. But with all the Khabibulin talk going on, Weekes' season needed a closer look.
As does Khabibulin. This guy is asking for a lot of money. He and his agent, Jay Grossman, were demanding three years, $12-million from the Coyotes.
Grossman asks you to compare Khabibulin's 2.13 goals-against average from 1998-99, the last season he played, with those of the NHL's other top goaltenders and then compare salaries.
Buffalo's Dominik Hasek was at 1.87 and makes $7.5-million. Dallas' Eddie Belfour was at 1.99 and makes $5.5-million. New Jersey's Martin Brodeur was at 2.29 and makes $4.47-million. Roy was at 2.29 and makes $7.5-million.
By the way, Khabibulin's save percentage that season was an outstanding .923.
The flaw with all that, of course, is that Khabibulin hasn't played for two seasons. He also has never won a playoff series, not even last season when he played for Long Beach of the IHL.
Is Weekes part of the Khabibulin deal? If not and the Lightning lands Khabibulin, could Weekes be happy as a backup, a role clearly below his ability and potential? Probably not, which means another trade.
Sure, Weekes could be better, but so could his support.
One thing is certain: Having Weekes around just in case Khabibulin falters would not be bad insurance. After all, what you see of a goaltender at age 25 may not be what you see at 26 or 27.