Let’s not kid ourselves: this is basically a G20/Nikolai Khabibulin blog. While Dalton McGuinty was telling his cabinet not to worry about civil liberties and invoking the political strategies of Richard Nixon, Khabibulin was on the docket list in a Phoenix courtroom today. It didn’t get very far.
Nikolai Khabibulin caught a break in Arizona court as he faces impaired driving charges.
The Oiler’s goaltender appeared in court Wednesday, but had his case put over to July 21, according to the Scottsdale City Court.
I’m not sure how the Sun concluded that delaying his trial was in his interest. As I understand it, there was a crowded docket list and Khabibulin was too low on the list to have his matter heard. One point of note – I’ve been saying that I don’t think that there’s going to be a plea bargain based on what’s happening, something I’ve based entirely on what little knowledge I’ve accumulated about how the courts operate. I would have thought, if there was a plea here, it might have been dealt with today. Courts are generally pretty happy to deal with consent matters on the date they’re called; you usually get put over only if you’re going to be consuming some court time. Incidentally, it’s not clear to me that the July 21 date is a trial date, as opposed to a date to set a date.
There’s been a lot of speculation that the Oilers might be able to somehow get out from under Khabibulin’s contract if he’s found guilty of this. I haven’t really been that impressed with the idea. Morals clauses in sports contracts are notoriously difficult to enforce. Where this might get interesting is if Khabibulin is unable to report to camp or if he’s convicted and has to do some jail time during the season. In that case, the player contract is very clear and you don’t have to get into issues about whether his conduct meets some standard. The SPC provides that a team can terminate the agreement if the player fails to render his services hereunder or in any other manner materially breaches the SPC. Failing to attend games because you’re in jail (or because you’re in Phoenix at a trial) would seem to me to be pretty clear cut.
Would the Oilers do it? I don’t know. I’ve thought that everything Tambellini has done so far has been pretty easy. It’s easier to recognize and clean up someone else’s mistakes than it is your own. He gave Khabibulin a pretty strong show of support at the end of the season. This is, or should be, a contract that the Oilers want no part of going forward. If he were to be handed such an opportunity on a platter, Tambellini would be insane not to grab it. It’ll be an interesting test of managerial competence if it comes to pass.
Oddly, you could argue that it’s not in Khabibulin’s interest to be cleared medically. If he’s medically unable to play when he’s in jail, the case for material breach probably gets a lot greyer. He might be wise to milk that back problem until there’s been a resolution to his impaired driving charge.
Clarification: I see that this item has been picked up by both Puck Daddy and Pro Hockey Talk. I seem not to have been clear enough though as they both focus on the morals clause. To be perfectly clear: I think that the morals clause is a dead end. People who have been focusing on it as a possible out are wasting their time, I think. Failing to show up for games though – that’s a breach of contract that doesn’t require delving into the murky waters of what falls below the expected level of conduct. This is a far more real problem for Khabibulin and a far cleaner shot for the Oilers, if Tambo can stomach cutting his 2009-10 MVP.