Khabibulin signs four-year deal

CHICAGO -- Stanley Cup-winning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin signed a four-year, $27 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, leaving the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Khabibulin played in 55 regular-season games for the Lightning during 2003-04, posting a 28-19-7 record with three shutouts, a 2.33 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

In the playoffs, he was 16-7 with an NHL-best five shutouts. His 1.71 GAA ranked second.

"I'm just going to try to do the best job I can and hopefully help the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup," he said.

The 32-year-old Khabibulin is 209-187-58 in 476 regular-season games with 35 shutouts and a 2.61 GAA for Winnipeg-Phoenix and Tampa Bay during his nine NHL seasons. He is 31-25 with six shutouts in the playoffs.

The Blackhawks, who have reached the playoffs only once in seven seasons, have significantly improved their defense since the free-agent shopping season began Monday.

"This is a big day, a great day for our franchise," general manager Dale Tallon said. "Nik was the No. 1 guy we wanted to get. We fought hard all week to get this done."

Chicago signed former New York Islanders All-Star defenseman Adrian Aucoin to a four-year, $16 million contract on Tuesday. The Blackhawks also signed winger Martin Lapointe to a three-year, $7.2 million deal and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek to a one-year, $2.25 million contract.

The biggest forward taken off the market Friday was former Colorado left winger Paul Kariya. Terms weren't immediately available, but Kariya reportedly signed for two years and $9 million.

Kariya had career lows with 11 goals and 36 points in an injury-plagued season that limited him to just 51 games in his only season in Colorado. He spent eight seasons with Anaheim, helping the Mighty Ducks reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2003.

In other NHL moves Friday, the Avalanche signed forward Brad May to a two-year deal; Edmonton re-signed goaltender Jussi Markkanen and defenseman Igor Ulanov; the Canucks re-signed center Brendan Morrison; Jason Allison signed a one-year contract with Toronto; and the Capitals gave winger Alexander Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, a three-year, entry-level contract.

Khabibulin and his agent, Jay Grossman, talked to several teams this week before choosing the Blackhawks.

"I like what the Blackhawks have done in the last five days," Khabibulin said from Belarus. "I really like the direction they're going, and they're an Original Six team.

"The Blackhawks had the best offer. They have some young talent. I've won the Stanley Cup and I want to do it again," he said.

Both Tallon and coach Trent Yawney are new hires as the Blackhawks have undergone a major makeover trying to erase years of bad hockey and small crowds.

Khabibulin skated for Ak Bars Kazan in the Russian Elite League during the lockout that wiped out last season, appearing in 24 games. He played for Russia at the 2002 Winter Olympics, going 3-2-1 with one shutout and a 2.34 goals-against average.

He will be missed in Tampa Bay.

"When Nik Khabibulin came to this franchise he put the legs under the team," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said. "He gave us the opportunity to win day in and day out.

"Is it a setback? It is," Feaster said.

Feaster added that Tampa Bay will be looking for another goaltender either through the free-agent market or by a trade. Khabibulin's backup with the Lightning, John Grahame, will be given a shot to win the top job.

"John Grahame is licking his chops to compete for that spot," Feaster said.

The Blackhawks might be able to move goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, who was tendered a qualifying offer.

"We got the best goaltender and a Stanley Cup winner," Tallon said. "It wasn't a reflection of Joc, but we wanted to get Khabibulin. [Thibault] has been a class act and we want to do whatever to make things right for him."

Chicago also signed free-agent center Jim Dowd on Friday to a one-year, $525,000 deal. Dowd played in Germany last year after 13 NHL seasons with seven teams.

Tallon said the Blackhawks have 21 players under contract and a total payroll between $34 million and $35 million. The salary cap is set at $39 million for next season.

"We have a good solid hockey team with depth in all positions," he said. "We've got quickness, aggressiveness and a good, solid defensive unit. Now we can throw some kids in the lineup."

Tampa Bay could use the money saved on Khabibulin to try to sign star forward Vincent Lecavalier to a long-term deal. Feaster said he plans to speak Lecavalier's agent on Monday in an attempt to keep the 25-year-old center away from unrestricted free agency next summer.

"It's quite an offer, quite a contract that he received," Feaster said of Khabibulin's deal. "It's something that we couldn't match ... in order for us to try to what we have to do to keep this team together as much as we can."

The Lightning signed defenseman Nolan Pratt to a two-year deal worth $625,000 per season on Friday.