Evgeni Nabokov: For Love of The Game or For Love of The $$$?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJuly 8, 2010

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 18:  Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the San Jose Sharks looks on while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 18, 2010 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As frequent San Jose Sharks Bleacher Report readers already know, yours truly has consistently been a critic of the now-former Shark goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

Now sure, when I was younger (during the early part of Nabokov's career) I would chant Nabby's name when attending Sharks games at the HP Pavilion.

But since beginning to play the game competitively in high school, and now into college, I have become much more analytical about the game and consequently much less of a supporter of Nabokov's game.

While being a fan means hoping for every player wearing the jersey to play well, it was only too easy to be negative-minded when it came to the Sharks' No. 1 netminder.

Despite being consistently dominant from year to year in the regular season over his career, his performances in the playoffs and in international play have been anything but consistent.

To be fair, Nabokov's career post-season marks of a .913 save percentage and 2.29 GAA are smidges better than his career regular season marks of .912 and 2.39; the playoff version of Nabokov was essentially Jeckyll and Hyde.

During the 2001, 2002, 2008, 2009, and 2010 playoffs, Nabokov turned in save percentages of .903, .904, .907, .890, and .907, respectively.

Five different playoff years with his save percentage significantly lower than his career playoff average of .913.

How does that make any sense?

Well, because his two other playoff seasons saw the Russian netminder post incredible marks of .920 and .935 in five combined playoff series over those two seasons.

Therefore, in reality, Nabokov's career playoff marks are skewed. He really had five amazing playoff series over two years, and nine sub-par playoff series' over five years. They are incredibly inconsistent playoff numbers compared to his consistent dominance in the regular season.

And those inconsistencies are magnified, when adding in his mediocre play for Team Russia. He dominated at times during World Championships, but was hideously awful in the 2010 Olympics.

But it wasn't just his poor play in big games that left fans scratching their heads, but also the tendency to allow the soft goal.

Often times, the softies were direct results of lapses in concentration. Too many times, it would seem like Nabokov would get caught sleeping and not maxing out 100 percent effort to make saves.

And when fans see players, like Jeremy Roenick and Dan Boyle, fighting for every inch of ice and looking vehemently pissed off after a loss, it makes fans question those, like Nabokov, who don't look like they care nearly as much as their teammates.

Now I have never been in the Sharks locker room and I play more roller hockey than I do ice hockey.

I don't claim to be the expert source on how much players care about winning compared to making money.

However, from what has developed amongst the Sharks franchise over the years, it is difficult not to believe that players like Boyle and Roenick have had a larger desire to win the Stanley Cup than a player like Nabokov.

Furthermore, since Nabokov has now inked a four-year deal to play closer to his Russian roots in the KHL, it only heightens the questions about his desire to win the Stanley Cup.

The four-year contract essentially means that Nabokov has ended his NHL career.

And it begs the question, just how motivated was Nabokov to win the Stanley Cup? Was it his life long dream?

If he were in Jeremy Roenick's shoes when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup this year, would he cry because he "never got to do that?"

To me, the players GM's should want on their team are players that wouldn't give up on the dream of winning a Stanley Cup just because they could make more money overseas.

GM's should want players that would rather win one Stanley Cup in a 10-year, injury-shortened career than a player who would rather play for a healthy 20 years without a Stanley Cup.

From an outside perspective, it wouldn't surprise me if Nabokov would prefer the 20-year career without a Stanley Cup.

Since he has now all but given up on the chance at winning the Cup, it makes all too much sense.

Nabokov loves money more than winning. Sure, he enjoys winning, but he doesn't love it. Losing a game versus winning it to him isn't a big difference.

Being paid what he thinks he deserves is much more important.

Despite being quoted after the Sharks' season ended that he wanted to return and be a a part of the first Sharks team to win the Stanley Cup, Nabokov also went on to say that his coming back to the Sharks wasn't up to him.

And those marks couldn't be any further from the truth. You can bet that the Sharks organization would have loved to have Nabokov back had Nabokov offered to shed about half his salary due to his age and the team needing to better the club in other areas.

Had Nabokov truly wanted to come back to the Sharks (regardless of money) for another chance at the Cup with the only NHL franchise he's ever known, San Jose would have signed him in an instant at the price and years they felt appropriate for a 35-year-old starting netminder.

But Nabokov has decided to play for the highest bidder, SKA St. Petersburg, a franchise in the KHL which has zero chance at winning the Stanley Cup.

Now tell me a professional athlete in their right mind that would give up on their dream when that dream is still a definite possibility? (aka, the athlete still has plenty of game left in the tank).

There isn't one.

In other words, winning the Stanley Cup wasn't Nabokov's dream.

Sure, he would have enjoyed winning it, but it isn't his lifelong dream as it is for Boyle and Roenick.

And since I am convinced that Nabokov didn't want the Cup as bad as most other NHL players, I say good riddance from San Jose.



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