Evgeni Nabokov is the best goalie in San Jose Sharks history
As a follower of the San Jose Sharks, I have seen Evgeni Nabokov play hundreds of games. While he never won the Stanley Cup for the Sharks, he did put that team on his back in the 2004 playoffs and got them to Game 6 of the conference finals.
Since then, a statistical analysis shows the Sharks' playoff woes were not the fault of goaltending, as fans often contended (just as it is always blamed on the quarterback in football), but on a lack of scoring. Even in his last season in San Jose, he won every game in which he got the goal support he should have.
Nabby might not be the goalie he was when he finished as a 2008 Vezina Trophy finalist, but he is showing he can still get it done at 36 years old. He has a 1-1 record with a 2.54 goals against average and .921 save percentage for the offensively-starved New York Islanders.
But he is a goalie who is most effective when he gets regular work, having four seasons of at least 66 games and two over 70, all with at least a .910 save percentage and 2.43 GAA. Thus, teams that should be most interested in Nabby are those looking for someone to at least compete for a starting spot.
With that in mind, here are 10 teams for whom it would be worth the sacrifices needed to make him a part of the regular goalie rotation...
The Detroit Red Wings are not on this list because they should give up on Ty Conklin. True, he is 1-1 with a 3.50 GAA and .870 save percentage, but two games are not enough of a sample to give up on a guy who is only 35 and finished the 2009-10 season with a .921 save percentage.
However, Conklin is less than a year younger than Nabby and has never been as good. Having presumably fallen not much farther from a higher peak indicates Nabby would be an upgrade, and we already know both parties are interested in the other from their attempted signing last year. So long as the price is not too high, this match still makes sense.
Let us put at least one vote in for Nabokov staying put.
The New York Islanders wanted him for a reason. With constant injuries in net, the Isles can never have enough experienced goalies available.
Heck, right now their other starter has been Al Montoya. He has been very solid, with a .930 save percentage that has brought his career mark up to .923. But he has only played in 29 games over three seasons, and that screams veteran insurance policy.
Nabby has agreed to play there this year, and any carryover reluctance from last year will dissipate if the team is successful.
Kari Lehtonen is off to a tremendous start in Dallas: 6-0 with a 1.48 GAA and .957 save percentage.
Now might not be the time to rock the boat. However, once Lehtonen becomes Lehtonen, this is a trade that should be considered.
Is that even fair? Lehtonen is a solid netminder with a 140-111-28 career record on some questionable teams because he has a .914 save percentage.
True, but he has only played in more than 48 games in a season twice and allowed more than 2.75 goals per game in all of his first five seasons. He was also replaced in his only playoff appearance after just two starts because he gave up 11 goals on just 73 shots, a save percentage of just .849.
This would not make Thomas Greiss happy.
Greiss was briefly Nabokov's backup in 2007-08 and only got three appearances because, by all accounts, the Russian goalie played every game he wanted to. The next season, his German understudy was replaced by Brian Boucher and sent to the minors.
In 2009-10, Greiss finally got his shot to be the team's backup and played in 16 games. The results were uneven, with him usually playing terribly in relief of Nabby (.776 save percentage) but well as a starter (7-3-1 with a .931 save pct).
But management saw enough in Greiss to anoint him the Sharks' backup to Antero Niittymaki in 2010-11 until Antti Niemi became available. Instead, he had to play in Sweden while the Sharks retained his rights.
This season, he was re-signed and finally got his chance when Niittymaki required surgery and was scheduled to be out until Christmas. He even got on the ice when Niemi took a little longer than expected for his recovery.
And now he would be sent back down again?
However, Greiss is still a relatively unknown quantity who could continue to develop within the Sharks' system. When Niitty returns, there is a good chance the Islanders would rather have a younger goalie than an older one, making a trade of the two logical.
Nabby certainly would be welcome back by his former teammates, franchise and their fans, and he could get a chance to be a part of that elusive Cup he wanted in his first stint.
Ondrej Pavelec looks like the goalie of the future for the Winnipeg Jets. Since the 2009-10 season, in which he took over the starting job, the 26-year-old goaltender has a .909 save percentage.
But he has also allowed three goals per game and is 36-44-23 over that span. He is off to a horrendous start in his new home, at 1-3 with a 3.53 GAA and .871 save percentage. He has an underrated blue line in front of him and all the fan support he could ask for behind him.
Thus, if Pavelec continues to falter for another month, it may be time to look for a new starter. Even if he gets it together, Nabokov should still be a better backup than Chris Mason, who might be desirable enough in a trade.
He showed promise in his first season, finishing 16-15-10 with a .902 save percentage and 2.87 GAA on a bad team. But he followed it up with 6-13-2 on a better team last year because his save percentage dipped to .890 and he allowed 3.29 goals per 60 minutes. This year, he is even worse: 1-2 with a 4.88 GAA and .857 save percentage.
The Leafs have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in about a decade, and they can ill afford to screw that up. Coach Ron Wilson, whose job is about as on the line as any NHL coach, knows Nabby and that should make his signing more productive than many places. He would provide veteran leadership and support for developing young goalie James Reimer.
This was the first team I thought of when I was asked to write this piece. With untested 21-year-old goalie Jacob Markstrom shining so far (2-1, 1.29 GAA, .967 save pct.), they might not have the need. However, often opponents adjust to young, talented goalies and they cannot be relied on to carry teams for a whole season.
Florida has another goaltender from the 1994 draft that produced Nabokov who they are relying on in Jose Theodore. He has not been the team's problem so far (3-2-1, 2.62 GAA, .913 save pct.) but has never been the steady net presence Nabby has.
Since the lockout, Theodore has never played in 60 games and has averaged just over 44 per season. His save percentage over that time is just .902, and he has not won a second-round playoff series in his career despite being the higher seed numerous times.
Signing Nabby would give the Panthers the ability to continue to work on their young goalie's development, have two veterans they can decide between in both the short and long term and not take on too much additional salary, obviously a concern for a team hell-bent on staying at the cap floor.
If I were general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Steve Mason infatuation would be over.
The idea that this team came into this season thinking they would be contenders in a competitive division was a joke. The only reason they believed it was because they keep holding out hope Mason will recapture the magic of his rookie season.
In 2008-09, Mason went 33-20-17 with a 2.29 GAA and .916 save percentage, leading the Jackets to their first and only playoff appearance. He met a Detroit Red Wings buzz saw that was not going to let a young team linger and get confidence while it was on the way to winning a Cup. They found a way to get to Mason, who had a 4.27 GAA with a save percentage of just .878.
Since then, he has been closer to his one postseason than his rookie regular season. In 120 games, he is 44-54-25 and has given up more than three goals per game while stopping less than nine in 10. He is 0-7-1 so far this season with a 3.53 GAA and .878 save percentage.
Despite how badly he is playing, he has been in net for all but three of the shots Columbus goalies have faced because his backup is Curtis Sanford. With Nabby as the starter and Mason as the backup, maybe Columbus making the playoffs is not such a pipe dream.
The Ottawa Senators currently have two journeymen in net.
Craig Anderson seemed capable of being the starting goalie on a playoff team when in 2009-10 he back-stopped the Avalanche into the final playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference. He out-played Nabokov in that first round but came away with only two wins.
But that being the only season in which he has started more than 33 for any of his four teams over nine seasons still makes him a journeyman. Between Colorado and Ottawa (two losing teams) last season, he had 51 starts, a 24-20-6 record, .913 save percentage and 2.83 GAA—solid starting numbers.
Still, that is only two good seasons in his NHL career as a starter. So far this year, he is off to a bad start: 3-2 but with an .874 save percentage and 4.06 GAA. If Nabokov were brought in to compete for the starting job, they would have a solid rotation with the loser displacing Alex Auld as the backup.
I have been on record as saying that the Philadelphia Flyers made a mistake counting on Ilya Bryzgalov. But the Phoenix Coyotes, more concerned about the bottom dollar in a market that is the poster child for Gary Bettman's failed expansions, made an even bigger one in letting him go.
Bryzgalov may not be a great playoff goalie, but he is usually fantastic in the regular season. It was primarily because of him that the low-budget Coyotes consistently made the playoffs since his arrival.
Now they have a high-quality career backup in Mike Smith as their starter. So far this year, he is 2-2-1 with a .907 save percentage and 2.80 GAA. But he has never been the goalie of record for more than half his team's games, and the experiment as a starter should have ended in Tampa Bay, where he had a losing record because he gave up 2.86 goals per game and had a mediocre-at-best .906 save percentage.
They also have a questionable backup in Jason LaBarbera. So far this season, the 31-year-old is 2-1-1 with a 3.50 GAA and .883 save percentage. In the previous two years in Phoenix, he was a respectable 15-11-6 with a .918 save percentage and 2.63 GAA, but he clearly will never be a guy who can backstop a team in the playoffs as both Smith and Nabby could do.