The Talented Mr. Nabokov: Overrated and Overblown

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The Talented Mr. Nabokov: Overrated and Overblown
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Evgeni Nabokov appeared in a whopping 77 games last year, winning 46 of them and compiling an impressive 2.14 GAA, and although his save percentage (.910) wasn't exactly paltry, it barely placed him inside the top 20 (based on goaltenders who played in 40 or more games). In laymen's terms, he finished near the bottom third of starting goaltenders when it came to pucks stopped. This year, more of the same.

Which is why this notion—this fabrication, if you will—that Nabokov is somehow an elite goaltender defies any semblance of logic.

Before the San Jose cavalry arrives, let's be clear about one thing: Evgeni Nabokov is a good netminder. I'd even venture to opine that his role in the Sharks' tumultuous playoff setbacks has been overstated, although he deservedly shoulders some of the collective blame.

Furthermore, his team has a very real chance at the Stanley Cup Finals this year and he will play an indispensable role if they manage to get there.

But put Evgeni Nabokov on a middling team and he's reduced to a middling goalie. The 35-plus-win seasons would evaporate, as he wouldn't have the cavalcade of offensive weapons at his disposal. Granted, there are no certainties when it comes to hypotheticals, but it's not outlandish to estimate that his goals against average would also inflate and his save percentage would further dwindle.

Not convinced? A quick comparison for the skeptics.

Let's take St. Louis' Chris Mason. Now, this writer has witnessed Mason since his days tending the twine for the Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars and throughout his journeyman-like career in the big show. At no point throughout that decade-plus has he ever personified the labels "marquee" or "franchise" that have been applied to Nabokov at certain points throughout his career.

Why is it, then, that in 2008-09, Mason has posted remarkably similar numbers to Nabokov?

Both keepers wield similar save percentages, with Mason boasting a slight edge at .915 to .912, and both face roughly the same amount of shots (27) per outing. For his part, Nabokov's 2.39 GAA overshadows Mason's 2.48.

But, to be fair, determinants outside the scope of simple arithmetic must be factored in.

For instance, the Blues have been playing without their captain and No. 1 defenseman, Eric Brewer, since early December, and with due respect to Barret Jackman and Roman Polak, they're not quite Dan Boyle and Rob Blake.

There's also no argument that the depth of the San Jose blue line supersedes that of the Blues', and we can't forget the truly incredible part of all this: St. Louis (no, seriously, the Blues) are only two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

With that in mind, the question looms large over the heads of Nabokov boosters. How can anyone believe that he is even in the same conversation as the NHL's best when he can't separate himself from goalies like Mason, Cam Ward, and Ryan Miller?

Not that there's anything wrong with being in that group. It makes him a solid, talented tender whose artificially swollen win totals have caused media and analysts alike to mistake him for something he is not: one of the best.

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