Is there some plague in Russia specifically targeting hockey players that we don’t know about? If there is we imagine it would be very biblical in its gradual take down of the Russian hockey hierarchy, and it would be a green oozing air that spreads across the land.
Only Charlton Heston can save players from its wrath, which explains why Jaromir Jagr has bolted from the KHL to Philadelphia, why Alexei Yashin is considering a comeback, and why the Islanders are actually entertaining the idea of bringing Yashin back.
The exodus will continue with Evgeni Nabokov, the banished former Sharks goalie who tried to escape last year but was blocked by the Islanders.
Earlier today the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle asked Nabokov’s agent Don Meehan the question inquiring minds (his readers) wanted to know. Will Nabokov play in the NHL next year?
The answer was simple and direct, with Meehan saying “he will be in the NHL next season.”
Nabokov played 22 games in the KHL last year after he became a free agent and spent a summer basically being told by the NHL that he’s too old and slow for this young man’s game. He then picked up his hockey sticks and went home, albeit briefly. The 35-year-old played just 22 games for SKA St. Petersburg, posting a GAA of 3.02 and a save percentage of .888. Those are very old man numbers, but reading into them too deeply is difficult and foolish given the short sample size.
In January the Nabokov carnival continued when he signed a $570,000 contract with Detroit, a deal that was meant to only last the rest of the season and would have given the Red Wings a reliable veteran presence behind Jimmy Howard with Chris Osgood injured. But he had to clear waivers, which is when the Islanders intervened, and when Nabokov told the Islanders to screw off.
Now he’s ready to return, and although he’s still the property of the Islanders right now, a trade seems likely given the log jam in the crease on Long Island (Al Montoya, Rick Dipietro, Kevin Poulin). Nabokov began to experience the gradual decline and regression of a goalie approaching the wrong side of 35 during his last NHL season, but the rumours of his fall from the league’s upper echelon were greatly exaggerated.
In his final year with San Jose, Nabokov finished with a .922 save percentage and a GAA of 2.43 while winning 44 games (the previous season he had a .910 save percentage, and a 2.43 GAA). His lack of employment opportunities last summer was a product of both the few goaltending vacancies around the league, and teams–including the Sharks–being unwilling to pay anything close to the $5.375 million annual value of his expiring contract.
That price tag has now plummeted, and Meehan told Mirtle that his client is done bolting for the KHL, and that he’s willing to play an entire season under the $570,000 contract he agreed to with Detriot. That’s lower than a basement price for a veteran goalie who should have plenty of life left. So let’s start making predictions doomed to be wrong about his destination.
Well, it’s too bad the Panthers already committed to two other mediocre veterans (Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen) and have an unproven Jacob Markstrom behind them. We may actually start to talk about playoff hockey in Florida if that goaltending mess is addressed.
A young Oilers team likely has little desire to misfire on another aging goalie, but Nabokov would be an upgrade over Nikolai Knabibulin. The most likely landing spot is with the Blackhawks, a team that had a lingering question mark in goal even during its cup run last year, and wouldn’t mind a proven veteran to play behind a promising and maturing Corey Crawford.