Jon Swenson of Sharkspage doesn't usually make with the nonsense when it comes to inside info, and he reported Monday that Nabby could be back between the pipes for San Jose rather than departing as an unrestricted free agent:
To throw a rumor out into the ether, sources inside the Sharks organization and outside of San Jose proper, all have said independently of one another that the Sharks are leaning heavily towards bringing goaltender Evgeni Nabokov back. Sharks President/CEO Greg Jamison said Thursday on Chronicle Live that the team was still in the planning and evaluation phase, conducting individual meetings with players and coaches to chart a course for the future.
It also should be noted what Greg Jamison said about Nabokov on KNBR in April, "Evgeni Nabokov, if he is not the best goaltender in the league, he is in the top three. We have great faith in him. He has played well, he has fought. He takes some criticism, for a game or two, but he always comes back."
He does? Any evaluation of a Sharks player should begin in the postseason, and Nabokov's been the constant through a decade of flops, fails and frustrations in the Western Conference.
It's not that he's a bad goaltender in the playoffs; it's that he struggles at the most inopportune times, picking his lowlights with sniper-like accuracy. He's Nabokov The Momentum Killer.
In 2006, after an OT loss that evened the series, Nabokov gave up four goals in a Game 5 loss at the Detroit Red Wings in the semifinals, misplaying the puck on Pavel Datsyuk's(notes) eventual game-winner.
He surrendered four goals in the elimination game vs. the Anaheim Ducks in 2009, with an .890 save percentage in the first-round choke.
He had a 3.15 GAA after the nine games he played after the first round in the 2010 playoffs, including another four-goal effort in Game 2 at home against Chicago.
So why keep him? Well, there's no arguing his regular-season numbers, and the fact remains that the Sharks have finished first or second in their division every year save for one while Nabby's been the primary keeper. That's a Brodeur-level run of success for a goaltender — minus the rings.
Which is to say that there may be no alternative that can give you what Nabokov gives you in the regular season. He's the elite name in the unrestricted free-agent pool; the restricted free agents are sexier (Niemi, Halak) but nothing's guaranteed in actually acquiring them.
Because of that and Nabokov's success, Fear The Fin sees the question coming down to one of money and cap space, as Nabokov ate up $5.375 million last season. From FTF:
What he can't do, however, is eat up salary cap space relative to the rest of his unrestricted free agent brethren. With most logical estimates pegging Dan Ellis(notes) at $2.25-3.0MM per year, that is the compensation level Nabokov will have to accept if he wishes to log another minute under the roof of HP Pavilion. The fact of the matter is that San Jose needs to turn to a different salary allocation model than the one they have implemented in years past-- a blockbuster $5.375MM deal is well off the mark for Nabokov, and one that should never even enter the conversation.
Furthermore, anything that stretches into the multi-year range should also be avoided at all costs. A 35 year old is not someone you want committed on the cap for multiple years, especially when a young and talented pipeline of goaltenders is coming up through the system.
The "Nabby-or-nada" mindset is understandable. Change is scary when the recipe for success in the regular season is so consistent, and you know you can squeeze a few more years out of Nabokov before he ages out.
But also consistent: That Nabokov will, no matter how many hero moments he has in the playoff, break the hearts of the teal-clad masses. It's been a decade; change is risky, but sometimes a necessity.