Goalie Search 2011 – Evgeni Nabokov

The Chairman has spoken, the goalie carousel has come to an end!

With Ed Snider’s announcement that the goaltending problem has to be fixed this offseason, it’s time to begin looking ahead to just what goaltender the Flyers brass will bring in to slam the door on the age-old question: when will the Flyers finally invest in a quality goaltender?

Because of this, I have decided to take the possible goaltenders the Flyers may pursue, be it via free agency or trade. Every day I will analyze a new goaltender in an attempt to determine the best fit for the Philadelphia Flyers. And so, without further ado…

So far we have explored to free agent options to solving the Flyers goaltending “vacancy”, but there are also trade options out there in the goaltending ether. For a team as salary cap-strapped as the Orange and Black, there’s a certain charm to a dirt cheap, yet valuable option. It isn’t often that one finds such a quality starting goaltender trapped in the midst of a $570,000 contract as Evgeni Nabokov, but there he is. The second Russian goaltender of our series either has a distaste for the Long Island weather, doesn’t like taking tips from former goaltender Garth Snow, or doesn’t want to spend the next year pretending that Rick DiPietro is a number one guy. Whatever the reason may be, Nabokov wants nothing to do with the New York Islanders and, because of this very widely known piece of knowledge, doubtless some teams have been clamoring to as Snow just how much Nabokov is worth to him. And with his NHL track record, why wouldn’t there be interest?

Evgeni Nabokov was drafted by San Jose in the 9th round of the 1994 Entry Draft. After several years in the NHL, Nabokov proceeded to crack the Sharks roster in 2000. His first start came on January 19th of that year, a game in which he stopped 39 shots in a 0-0 tie with the great Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche. This would be a harbinger of things to come.

In the 2000-2001 season, Nabokov took over early in the season for an injured Steve Shields (in lieu of Miikka Kiprusoff, to whom the Sharks wanted to give more time in the AHL) and ran away with the job, starting 66 games, posting a 2.19 GAA and .915 SV%, and pitching 6 shutouts en route to the Calder Trophy for the league’s top rookie.

Over the next four seasons until the NHL lockout, which erased the 2004-05 season, Nabokov never played fewer than 55 games, winning 119 games and pitching 25 shutouts while leading the Sharks to 3 playoff appearances. These playoff appearances included a trip to the 2003-04 Western Conference Finals during which Nabokov posted 3 shutouts and led all playoff goaltenders with a 1.71 GAA and .935 SV%. The Sharks rewarded him with a new contract worth $4.425 million over two years.

Unfortunately for Nabokov, his return to the NHL after the lockout was not nearly as successful as his departure had been. He had a sub-.900 SV% and a GAA over 3 in losing his starting job to hot backup Vesa Toskala. However this did not deter the Sharks from providing Nabokov with a new 4-year contract to remain with the club.

For the remaining four years of his tenure with San Jose, Nabokov returned to form. The Russian started a minimum of 50 games (in an injury-shortened 2006-07 season) for each of the next four seasons, his save percentages bottoming out at .910 and his goals against never rising higher than 2.44. He also pitched 23 shutouts over that same time period.

Nabokov’s regular season efforts placed him near the top of the leaderboard in every San Jose goaltending category, including the team’s all-time lead in games played (563), wins (293), and shutouts (50). However it was never Nabokov’s regular season play that people complained about. During his tenure in San Jose, the Sharks were considered perennial playoff chokers. Despite finishing at or near the top of the NHL standings for several years with Nabokov between the pipes, the Sharks never got past the second round of the playoffs until 2009-10 when they bowed out to eventual Stanley Cup winning Chicago in a 4 game sweep. San Jose fans and management sought out a scapegoat for the team’s playoff struggles, many pointing to Joe Thornton’s inability to perform in the pressure cooker of the playoffs. However Sharks GM Doug Wilson decided that Nabokov would not be re-signed, possibly considering the size of Nabokov’s possible contract demands in a salary cap league.

This all led to Nabokov’s pricing himself out of a contract and deciding to move to the KHL (a move which we Flyers fans are quite familiar with), and to make a long story short led to his current predicament on the Island.

PROS:

Evgeni Nabokov has a wealth of experience at the NHL level, and that is not empty experience. Even taking into account his dreadful 2005-06 season, Nabokov’s composite statistics are very impressive. He is a workhorse, playing 60+ games in 5 of his 9 full NHL seasons and only missing significant time due to injury in one of those off-years. Simply put, he is one of the best regular season goaltenders of the previous decade.
Perhaps this is only a partial “pro” but Nabokov is Russian which could lead to him being a mentor for Sergei Bobrovsky. The main strike against this is his contract status, which is up after this year. Also some might not want Bobrovsky to be mentored by a man who many consider to be a playoff choker

He costs next to nothing and has to play well this year to earn a reasonable contract in the future. The
Flyers have all the leverage.

He is durable.

CONS:

He is 35 years old, ancient for an NHL goaltender, especially for one who relies so much on reflexes.

Nabokov has held out twice during his career, including his current stalemate with the Islanders. Does this show that Nabokov is a bad teammate? Maybe. Does it show that he is a me-first guy? Perhaps. Do we want to find out at the possible detriment to our team and our goaltender of the future? That’s for you to decide.

Despite playing on a team full of playoff underachievers, Nabokov has been named the chief of this nefarious tribe. In spite of having good composite stats and two trips to the Conference Finals under his belt, Nabokov is often written off as a guy who you don’t want to be your playoff starter. He hasn’t been great in big moments in his career, but I find it silly to put the blame entirely on him. Because his replacement in San Jose was so great in this year’s playoffs. [/sarcasm]

VERDICT:

I don’t know why Garth Snow would send a more than serviceable NHL goaltender to a division rival, and I don’t know what he would expect in return (Matt Carle anyone?), but Nabokov coming to Philadelphia seems a bit farfetched. However, all things being equal, I would be one fan who would love to see Nabokov in orange for this coming season. Low-risk, high-reward. Take him.

  • http://flyersfaithful.com/ Dan A

    I was just kidding about trading Carle for Nabokov, by the way. Not that I wouldn’t consider it but it wouldn’t be my first option.

  • http://flyersfaithful.com/ Dan A

    I was just kidding about trading Carle for Nabokov, by the way. Not that I wouldn’t consider it but it wouldn’t be my first option.