January 24, 2011
In claiming a high-profile player on waivers and then having him refuse to report, it's like we've seen a microcosm of Garth's offseason free-agent negotiations, which have to be like watching the owner of a used Kia dealership trying to lure customers from the neighboring BMW and Mercedes lots.
On top of Nabokov reaffirming the franchise as the Long Island of Last Resort with his current stance, Snow had to deal with the public indignity of discussing how Nabokov hung up on him, via the Associated Press on Sunday:
Snow said when he identified himself on the phone, Nabokov immediately hung up.
Snow finally talked to Nabokov on Sunday and was told that Nabokov didn't realize who he was speaking to when abruptly ending the call. Snow relayed the story to Nabokov's agent, Don Meehan, on Saturday and was told that he would discuss the matter with his client.
"He called me back 15 or 20 minutes later," Snow said of Meehan. "Donnie said, ‘He didn't know it was you. He was on two or three different phones, and people from the media were calling him.' I just gave him the benefit of the doubt and I said to Donnie, ‘Do me a favor. When he gets done with all his phone calls, give him my number and get back to me."
What other general manager would be compelled to divulge that a potential player hung up on him, even if it was an anecdotal moment of surreal comedy? OK, Dean Lombardi would, because he's a chronic over-sharer (and bless him for that). And Bryan Murray would too, because it could afford him another moment of woe-is-Ottawa martyrdom.
The Islanders knew this could happen with Nabokov when they claimed him on waivers, but they also knew they'd have him by the pucks should he deny them.
Nabokov, on the other hand, appears to have followed a bad business decision with a stance that could cost him professionally and image-wise.
As reader Adam W. pointed out, the Islanders are approaching the Nabokov situation as if he's part of the team. From the game notes in Sunday's home match against the Buffalo Sabres:
"Why wouldn't he show up? I'm still expecting him," Islanders owner Charles Wang said of Nabokov in a rare press conference yesterday afternoon before the Isles' 5-3 loss to the Sabres at Nassau Coliseum. "Flights are booked. If you go into the locker room, the locker stall is prepared, his uniform is prepared. If you look at the notes for [yesterday's] game, his name is on it."
"Here is somebody the Islanders want that wants to play [and] has a contract with the NHL," Wang said. "So, we're waiting for him and looking forward to having him."
Nabokov told Pierre LeBrun of ESPN that he's sticking with his decision not to report, because "I'm at the point in my career where I want to help a team win in the playoffs."
Gee, that must be why he kept his salary demands high enough to turn off playoff teams that needed goaltending last summer, opting to cash out with the KHL. You know, that burning desire to be on a playoff team ... in Russia.
So what now? LeBrun writes:
The Islanders can suspend Nabokov for not reporting. They can also put him back on waivers with the intention of trying to trade him, although it's highly doubtful he would clear waivers before a trade could be done. Nabokov also has a no-movement clause
"I don't know what's going to happen," Nabokov said. "I just hope they will understand where I'm coming from. That's all."
The very fact that Nabokov had to settle for the KHL over summer 2010 shows that he's misjudged the UFA market once; perhaps history will repeat itself this upcoming summer. The sensible thing to do, even if he his heart wasn't totally in it, would be to report to the Islanders, get in as many games as possible, then have the following conversation with GM Garth Snow in a few weeks:
Nabokov: So Garth, you're probably not making the playoffs this year.
Snow: That's an astute observation, Nabby.
Nabokov: Then it'd probably make sense to trade me and get something in return, right?
Snow: Very good point. Let me call a playoff team and see what I can get back.
Nabokov: Sounds good. In the meantime, I'll play hard to try and prove my worth.
Nabokov gets NHL time under his belt until he gets traded to a playoff team, the Islanders get an asset in return for something that wasn't even there a few weeks ago, and Nabokov's new team gets a veteran NHL experience for the playoff run.
Instead, writes Chen, Nabokov has "established himself in almost a diva-like fashion, unwilling to work through the situation until the solution presents itself."
(Ed. Note: Thought this was clear with the LeBrun quote from above, but Chen's plan doesn't include the fact that Nabby has to pass through waivers again. Just thought it was an interesting take.)
Is he a diva? Not really. He's just making chronically bad decisions as he career nears the sunset, which isn't anything all that unusual for veteran players who have (a) made a lot of money and (b) have waited a decade to leave the only franchise they've ever played for.
Nabokov is a like a guy who never dated in high school expecting to get laid in college, despite never having understood how the game works.
Meanwhile, you have Nabokov doing what's within his rights as a player to counter Snow doing what's within his rights as a GM when it comes to a waiver claim. There's no question who comes off better, as Chris Botta of NYI Point Blank writes about Snow's gaining the following measures of respect:
From other general managers, who thought Snow displayed brass ones by keeping Nabokov from the charmed life of quitting the KHL only to compete for a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings. (Some also appreciated him keeping Nabokov away from West contenders)
From some of the key players in the national media, whom Snow wisely made a point of returning calls to get his message across.
From his own players, grateful to Snow for trying to add a legitimate No. 1 goaltender to the lineup with more than 30 games left and injuries ravaging the roster.
From Islander fans, many now preferring to see Nabokov sit on his rear and retire than Snow waive him or flip him in a complicated trade for a mid-round draft pick.
Question is: Who budges first in this battle?