Evgeni Nabokov: Why the Philadelphia Flyers Need Him

Usman ShabbarContributor IFebruary 9, 2012

BRIDGEPORT, CT - OCTOBER 01:  Evgeny Nabokov #20 of the New York Islanders skates against the Boston Bruins at the Webster Bank Arena on October 1, 2011 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Bruins defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the best teams in their division, conference and in the entire league. They have revitalized the "Broad Street Bullies" reputation throughout the league which made the franchise famous in the 1980s. They are a large, physical team that knows how to score and knows how to win games.

The only real area of concern for the Atlantic Division runner-up is in goal.

The Flyers signed unrestricted free agent Ilya Bryzgalov this past offseason to an enormous nine year, $51 million deal, that comes with an annual cap hit of $5.67 million. That is a heck of a lot of money to spend on a good goalie—let alone Bryzgalov.

As we may have seen on HBO's NHL 24/7, which followed the lives of the players of both the Rangers and Flyers leading up to the Winter Classic, Bryzgalov has turned out to be quite the character. Between his discussions on existentialism and his "Candid Camera" moments in front of the media, Bryzgalov has been performing quite poorly both on and off the ice. So much so that he is in jeopardy of—if not already—losing the starting job to sophomore Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bryzgalov has played in 38 games so far this season, and has earned a Goals Against Average of 2.78 along with a save percentage of .900. Bobrovsky has played in 20 games with a GAA of 2.70 and a save percentage of .911. These numbers are not terrible, but they are definitely not the numbers of a Stanley Cup winning team, or even a Stanley Cup Finals team (although I'm sure Michael Leighton would argue that).

The Russian duo have simply not been matching the hard-hitting, high-tempo work ethic of the defencemen and forwards playing in front of them.

It would not surprise many people to find that Philadelphia Flyers' General Manager Paul Holmgren is looking to remedy the situation in net for the team before the trade deadline. The goalies in play in the trade market are not as plentiful as Holmgren would hope for. However, there is one option that the Flyers should seriously consider.

Evgeni Nabokov made his return to the NHL this season. In the 2010 NHL offseason, Nabokov, who was a long-time San Jose Shark, became a free agent. He eventually wound up playing in Russia for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL after signing a $24 million deal.

However, only a couple of months into his contract, he and the team came to a mutual consent to terminate the contract. It was at this time that the Detroit Red Wings signed Nabokov—after several of their goalies were lost due to injuries.

In order to play for the Red Wings, though, Nabokov had to clear waivers. He was picked up on waivers by the New York Islanders, but did not report to the team since he was frustrated he could not play for the club he had signed with.

Finally, by training camp of this season, Nabokov decided he would suit up for the Islanders and has been playing well since his return. In 26 games, he has recorded a Goals Against Average of 2.21 and a save percentage of .925. He has definitely contributed to the successes of the Islanders organization this season.

There are rumors swirling around the league that the Islanders are willing to part with Nabokov for the right price. With the Flyers desperately needing some consistency in goal, Nabokov could be the easy and affordable solution. His salary is up at the end of the season, with a cap hit of only $570,000.

Nabokov is a proven winner, not only in the regular season, but also in the playoffs. In 80 NHL playoff games, Nabokov has a GAA of 2.29 and a save percentage of .914. Also, the Flyers seem to love Russian goalies, so Nabokov would fit in perfectly.

Evgeni Nabokov is back in the NHL with something to prove: He can still win hockey games. Although he is 36 years old, many believe he can still lead a team to the Finals—where they can maybe win it all. Perhaps, that team is in Philadelphia.