Please recall injured Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin's(notes) arrest on Feb. 8 near Phoenix for "extreme DUI" and speeding; charges that have been contested because Khabibulin's lawyer claims the field sobriety test was unfair to someone rehabbing an injured back.
The trial was set for Wednesday, but the docket was too cluttered and it was rescheduled for July 21. According to the Edmonton Journal, "If found guilty, Khabibulin could face a minimum 30-day jail sentence."
Khabibulin is entering the second year of a four-year contract, with a $3.75 million cap hit that many Oilers fans wouldn't mind seeing disappear.
Blogger Tyler Dellow has been doing some fantastic digging on Khabibulin this month, first with court documents that show his back surgery rehab is disconcertingly off schedule (something general manager Steve Tambellini denied) and then by asking a question that grows more pertinent the closer this trial gets to the season:
Can the Oilers get out from under this contract if he's convicted and has jail time during the 2010-11 campaign?
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.
The collision between Khabibulin's legal problems and his injury, as Dellow points out, muddles the case that he's in violation of the Standard Player's Contract "conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club" morals clause — the NHLPA response to a team terminating the contract of an injured player for a conduct violation would be emphatic. (Assuming their house is in enough order to counter-punch.)
Injury or no injury, as Dellow also notes, these clauses aren't exactly easy to enforce. Pitcher Denny Neagle, for example, was one of the only athletes to have his contract terminated via the morals clause back in 2004. And that was for soliciting a prostitute.
Well, as The Joker once said: If you gotta go, go with a smile.