Inside the Nabokov Mess

The mess continues on Long Island…Isles GM Garth Snow attempted to improve his club by claiming former Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov off waivers from the Red Wings. Unfortunately, the move blew up in his face when the Russian netminder refused to report to the Islanders.  The embarrassment was compounded when Nabokov allegedly hung up on Snow when the GM called him and ignored phone calls from Isles owner Charles Wang.

First, a few observations about the immediate situation:

Nabokov has not handled this too well. He knew he would have to pass through waivers when he signed with the Red Wings. Those are the rules according to the CBA. Several teams besides the Wings need goaltending help at this point in the season. Nabokov’s salary for the rest of this season was reasonable and despite the no movement clause the Wings put in Nabby’s contract, the goalie had to know it was very possible some other team would put in a claim for him.  If it wasn’t the Isles, it could have been one of several other teams.

Nabokov then acted unprofessionally after the Islanders claimed him. Sure, Long Island may not be his first choice but at most, he’d finish this season with the Islanders and be a free agent this summer. At the very least, he owes Snow and Wang the common courtesy of a return phone call to tell them what his position is before making his announcement through the press. He could have also asked his agent to call the Islanders brass on his behalf. Having the Islanders learn about his refusal to report through a report on ESPN was just plain rude.

To make matters worse, Nabokov indicated that he has not been skating since he was released from his KHL contract in December. At the very least, he was not in game shape and ready to play right away.

As a professional who is looking to sign a contract, you would think Nabby would have himself ready to make a contribution. After all, he’s 35, not exactly young for a goalie. It would be in his best interest to be prepared to play the game as soon as possible.

Nabokov indicated that the Wings knew he needed time to get back into shape and were willing to give him that time before he returned to the lineup. Since he refused to even talk to them, he has no idea if the Islanders are willing to give him the same “courtesy.”

Meanwhile, some of the criticism being leveled at Snow is ridiculous. Some fans on Twitter, for example, were angry at Snow for claiming Nabokov on waivers. Their argument was that since the Islanders were out of contention for the playoffs already and signing Nabokov wouldn’t change that, why bother to claim him.

Let’s get real. Snow’s job is to improve the Islanders any way he can. His team presently has a goalie who is often injured (Rick DiPietro), a 27-year-old AHL vet who is not considered an NHL prospect and is now out 1-2 weeks (Nathan Lawson) and a 20-year-old goalie who most scouts feel is a future NHLer, but needs more AHL seasoning before being ready for prime time (Kevin Poulin). Nabokov will get a chance to play on Long Island if he reports. At the very least, he’d split time with a healthy DiPietro. He would represent either a short term or a long term asset to the Islanders depending on how the situation unravels.

There are only so many outcomes that are possible if Nabokov reports to the Isles. None of them are truly bad for the former Sharks star.

1. Nabokov joins the Islanders and likes it there. He decides to sign an extension to stay with the Isles in 2011-12 and becomes a part of their rebuilding program.  In this case, Snow helps the Isles improve and Nabokov finds a new NHL home.

2. The Islanders trade Nabokov at or before the trade deadline. He plays maybe 10-12 games for New York, gets back into shape and is showcased for contending teams right before the stretch drive (including possibly Detroit). The Islanders turn a waiver pickup into an asset for their rebuilding program, whether it’s a draft pick, a prospect or an established player.

3. After joining the Islanders, Nabokov decides he hates it on Long Island.   Garth Snow is unable to get fair value for Nabby in a trade. At the end of the season, Nabokov becomes a genuine free agent and can sign with any time in the league without passing through waivers. As long as Nabokov gives an honest effort and plays reasonably well, his value will not be hurt by playing for the Isles. It certainly didn’t hurt Dwayne Roloson’s value and Rollie is about six years older than Nabokov.

The only way Nabokov’s value is hurt is if he becomes a cancer in the Isles locker room or if he can’t play at a high level anymore. The attitude aspect is completely within the goalie’s control. If he no longer has NHL ability, the Wings won’t have much use for him come the playoffs anyway.

By refusing to report, Nabokov will come off as a malcontent and the Islanders would be within their rights to toll his contract and end his season now. The Isles would then retain his rights for next season. Neither the Isles nor Nabokov gain anything if that happens.

The entire scenario hasn’t played out yet. The Islanders are still convinced Nabby will eventually decide to report to the team when all is said and done. We’ll see what the final outcome is, but if both sides play their cards right, this situation can still be mutually beneficial for both Nabokov and the Islanders.

Follow Brad Kurtzberg on Twitter @sealshockey


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2 Responses to “Inside the Nabokov Mess”

  1. dan
    January 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    he would have to clear waivers before he could be traded this season.

  2. Barbara Apple-Allen
    January 25, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    I think Nabokov should relize he’s only as good as team that wants him. When Philadelphia Flyers Goalie Michael Leighton came back from surgery and was told by GM holmgren to report to AHL Phantoms, he came back from “reconditioning” making no bones about disliking his time there. As the Flyers couldnt carry 3 goalies, Holmgren sent Leighton back to the Phantoms. Leighton “manned-up” and went. Nabokov should man-up and go where he can play and do what he’s contractually obligated to do. He knew this was a possibility, and his attitude and general lack of fitness makes it surprising anyone even wants him.