San Jose Sharks Announce They Will Not Re-Sign Evgeni Nabokov

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJune 24, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 23:  Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the San Jose Sharks looks on while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 23, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We all knew it was coming, but it is still a sad day for San Jose Sharks fans.

Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks officially said they would not be bringing back Evgeni Nabokov. Next season will be the goalie's first in another NHL uniform.

Sure, there might be a few out there who blame Nabby for the team's playoff failures. It is only natural: Nabokov has been the guy in net for the playoffs in all but one season over the last decade. The team's failures are his.

True, Patrick Marleau has been on the ice for those failures, too. He has even been the team's captain for most of them. And the reality is he has more playoff failures.

But there is no position in all of sports as important as the goalie. They are the only players assigned a record for wins and losses, and always get too much credit and too much blame.

More than that, their failures are magnified. In a game in which scoring chances often number more than two dozen, they are expected to allow fewer than three goals.

Thus, the spotlight shines on every goal scored, and any mistakes are dissected. No goalie is perfect, and even 50-foot wrist shots will go in occasionally when a player sees enough of them.

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Instead of seeing that a save missed was preceded by dozens of similar ones made, the emotion of fans in critical moments sees only the disappointment of the one that got through. The reality that Nabby made more great saves than he missed is lost on some.

Meanwhile, the shooter is not expected to score, so his failure to convert a scoring opportunity does not get met with the same scrutiny. Such was the fate of Nabby in the past four seasons.

In each of the last six playoff appearances, the Sharks scoring was lower than in the regular season; in five of those post-seasons, Nabby's save percentage and goals against average was better than they had been in the regular season. (See more on this in my interview with Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn, as well as my companion article to view the statistical comparison in more detail).

In other words, he stepped up and his goal support stepped out. But that happens every playoffs, right?

Wrong. In the 2010 playoffs, six of 30 teams managed a GSA of three-plus (one in five), while in the playoffs eight teams did it (one in two).

Overall, scoring was up about 25 percent over the regular season in the Western Conference. but the Sharks scoring average was down 13 percent.

A one-year trend? Hardly.

In 2005-2006, the Sharks had a GSA of 3.23 in the regular season and managed just 2.64 per game in the playoffs. This was a higher drop than the league average, but not as bad as the next year when their regular season GSA was 3.12 and just 2.27 during the playoffs.

In 2007-08, the Sharks were more of a defensive team, with a regular season GSA of just 2.63. This makes their 2.31 GSA in the playoffs seem decent, except that it was in a season when just one in six teams had a three-plus GSA in the regular season and one in four did so in the playoffs.

In the 2009 playoffs, the percentage of teams with a GSA of three-plus was almost identical in the regular season and the playoffs (30 percent vs. 31.3 percent, respectively), but the Sharks scoring dipped 54.5 percent.

An anomaly from one shut-down goalie? Maybe, but series against the Sharks have been the best for every goalie who has played in more than one over the last four years.

That is five straight goalies who have played in 14 other series over that time. Only two of those teams came into those playoff seasons with a better scoring average than the Sharks (Detroit in 2008 vs. Dallas and Vancouver in 2010 vs. Chicago).

Do not get me wrong: I agree with the team's decision. The reality is someone will pay Nabby good money to backstop them, and bargain goalies are found every year. That is a necessary roll of the dice for a team that will have trouble re-signing players there is less chance of replacing for less.

It is just that I feel sorry for the disappointment awaiting those fans naive enough to think things to be better without Nabby. But not as sorry as I feel for Nabby, who deserved better from his teammates even though he would never acknowledge it.