Nabokov talks about coming home to KHL, why league isn't 'step back'

KHL President Alexander Medvedev presented Evgeni Nabokov(notes) and Denis Grebeshkov(notes) today to the Russian media. Both will play for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, and will soon be joined by Maxim Afinogenov(notes) who, according to Medvedev, agreed to a five-year contract with the club. SKA is the biggest spending club this postseason. Not long ago Medvedev said SKA is ready to match a 17-year contract offer to Ilya Kovalchuk.

With Grebeshkov and Nabokov sitting next to Medvedev, KHL president said "in order to make this press conference really interesting for you, I would like to let you know that I have just received a message that Maxim Afinogenov agreed to terms of his new contract, which is 5+1 [years], Maxim Afinogenov is coming back to Russia to playfor SKA, together with Evgeni Nabokov and Denis Grebeshkov."

After the press conference Medvedev told a local radio station that "Maxim was obviously underrated in the NHL. Last season he played great. I think he was one of the best players of our national team in the Olympics, and the World Championship, despite the fact that our team overall did not play well. But Maxim was one of the team's leaders. This player has unique skills and now he will play in Russia, and it is very good. I think that there aren't a lot of players left in the NHL who could come back to Russia - and it's good."

The return of Nabokov and Grebeshkov is viewed in Russia as another step to making the KHL a better, stronger league. Nabokov agreed saying "that's the reason we are here now. Don't forget that we're Russians and we want to play at home. And when the right conditions are created, when the treatment of players, their families and the game of hockey is so positive, why not?"

At the same time neither dismissed a thought of coming back to the NHL at some point in the future. Nabokov said that he was "not used to thinking that far ahead. I don't know howeverything will turn out to be. The priority number one right now is to play out this year and then we'll see..."

For Grebeshkov this is not the first time he comes back to Russia after playing a few years in the NHL. He said: "It has already happened to me once when after playing for three years in North America I came back to Russia where I played for Yaroslavl. After that season I managed to come back to the NHL. I do not think this is a step back. It's just another step in a career."

The "step back" question triggered the following conversation between Nabokov and a reporter:

Nabokov: "It's very interesting, why does everyone always think that when you come back it's a step back?"

Reporter: I mean that the level of competition is a little different.

Nabokov: "Let me ask you, would you want to play for the Edmonton Oilers, for example?" [laughter] "Let me tell you that when you have a choice and you have something to choose from, you always want to play for a good team, compete for medals and such. I will speak for myself, but the situation was such that I had no choice of a good team to play for and to play at the high level. To me it was very important to play for a good team, to try to win."

Nabokov also said that he wanted to stay with the Sharks saying "when my contract with the Sharks ended my family and I discussed my career options and decided that if I was offered to stay with San Jose I would definitely have to agree. Overall all NHL teams are full of players so there is nowhere to go, you can say. Before, when a player became a free agent, he had a lot of choices, he was sought for. It all different now ... At the end of June I spoke with the Sharks GM who told me that the club would not be able to keep me. They needed to "fill other holes." It was a difficult decision for the club as well." He added: "the situation is such that clubs' management has to choose whether to sign a second line player or a goalie. That's why right now they are seeking second goalies, younger guys are given a lot more chances. It is a question to GMs."

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