The Tampa Bay Lightning brought in Evgeni Nabokov as a veteran backup for Ben Bishop this season, just in case they had an injury catastrophe like last season's and were left without an experienced fill-in.
Unfortunately, Nabokov turned out to be a disaster himself.
The 39-year-old netminder went 3-6-2 with an .882 save percentage and a 3.15 GAA in 11 games. So they waived him on Sunday, and recalled AHL standout Andrei Vasilevskiy to become the team’s backup.
So much for the veteran fallback plan …
Is this it for Nabby? He was 15-14-8 with a .905 save percentage for the New York Islanders last season. He turns 40 in July. There are a finite number gigs available for veteran goalies in the NHL; does he have enough left to be a viable option if a team needs an emergency solution to an injury problem?
If this is the end, Nabokov will go down as one of the best regular-season goalies of the last 15 years. He won the Calder in 2001, and is No. 3 among active goalies with 353 victories – No. 18 all-time.
But what separates Nabokov from, say, Chris Osgood is that he was as responsible as anyone for the San Jose Sharks’ postseason disappointments.
He had a career .908 save percentage during his playoff career. He had one great postseason in 2004, with a .935 save percentage a 1.71 GA in 17 games. But the song remained the same for him in the playoffs: Look great here and there, but then lose the game they need to win or give up that one goal they needed stopped.
As for Vasilevskiy, he’s the real deal. The Lightning might not have a veteran option behind Bishop, but they have a better one that Nabokov.