Update, Jan. 23 afternoon: Via ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, Nabokov "thinks" he is staying home. Doesn't understand "the point" of the Isles claiming him. Just wanted to play for the Wings, it seems. But Katie Strang says Snow has had contact with Nabokov.
Update, Jan. 24: And on the fourth day, they suspended his arse. As well they should. I have to imagine other GM's thank them, as they hang on to leverage for all teams.
Oh dear, if you had a quiet unconnected Saturday, where to begin? Although there were rumors of Islanders interest in claiming Evgeni Nabokov off waivers this week, the real momentum began last night when Nathan Lawson left the game versus the Sabres with a knee injury. Per Newsday's Katie Strang, Lawson had an MRI today, results pending. As today's noon deadline loomed, speculation increased about Nabokov stepping in -- particularly with the 30th-place Devils already having stated they wouldn't claim him.
Then all hell broke loose.
You can follow the initial reactions and commentary in the earlier FanShot, but the updates were getting so long and frequent I thought we'd need a full rehash here. (Disclaimer: It also makes things easier to find when we one day look back in the archives for this strange day.)
What follows is where we've been and where we stand (as of this posting, anyway). It is a tale of injury, of inflated sense of market worth, of discovering maybe fleeing to Russia wasn't so grand. It involves a former Islanders goalie-turned-GM working the waiver wire once again; it involves his former Islanders creasemate being horribly misquoted -- and seething at the news; and it involves a would-be new Islanders goalie completely misreading the NHL goalie market for the second time in seven months.
Where this goes from here is anyone's guess. Let's go back to the beginning, shall we?
Evgeni Nabokov is a Decent Goalie
He's by no means great, but he's had some good years with some good Sharks teams and is a little above league average. His KHL numbers were not impressive at all -- maybe "family issues" weighed him down -- but the old version of Nabokov would help the Wings, and the Islanders. His credentials have been written about quite a bit before [This comment gives you a quick look; this Behind the Net post gives you a little more]. I'm not even getting into the playoff reputation or the "choke" yada yada yada argument -- if you are a believer in the Church of Playoff Credentials, great. But you don't need that to determine Nabokov is not a world-beater, but hardly an awful goalie.
However, Nabokov had an unusually good year (for him) with the Sharks last season, his walk year. Normally that's ideal timing, except...
...Evgeni Nabokov (or his agent) Failed to Realize He Hit UFA at the Wrong Time
The Sharks were a cap-pushing team at a time when average NHL goalies were not only winning Cups, they were readily available. With money tied up in expensive forwards and more young forwards due for raises, the writing was on the wall that the Sharks would not keep Nabokov at the old "#1 goalie" rate of his previous contract ($5.3+ million cap hit). Somehow, Nabokov (or his agent) didn't see that coming.
Worse, Nabokov was hitting the market at this time of goalie market correction -- over-correction, even -- when lots of goalies were hitting unrestricted free agency without a lot of job openings. Supply, demand, over-correction -- holy cow, sign where you can, man!
Evgeni Nabokov Found the Money He Sought in the KHL. Except...
Well, he signed where he could alright. Four years and $24 million is apparently what it took to make Nabokov happy. Great. Even granting that he probably needed some sort of premium to jump from the NHL to the KHL, that is just insane. No NHL team would come close to offering that kind of money/term combo to the 35-year-old. (I realize that some NHL GMs are still foolish or will still make panic big buys, but they are getting rarer.)
Yet apparently money doesn't buy happiness. (Who knew?!) After putting up very pedestrian numbers (.888 save%, 3.02 GAA) in the KHL, Nabokov and his KHL team agreed to part ways and terminate that contract. "Family reasons" is what was cited -- which might be a hint that the player was in a new frame of mind. All cheap shots and fan complaints aside, you can certainly understand that.
Injuries, They Happen
So Nabokov lucks out, as the perennial contender Red Wings see not one, but two injuries to their average goaltenders. They reach an agreement on a deal with Nabokov. It has a No-Movement Clause -- meaning the holder of Nabokov's contract can't even put him back on waivers without his permission. However...
Per the CBA, players who start the year in Europe have to clear waivers if they sign with an NHL club mid-season. You had to know where this was going: Why, two ex-Euros Marek Svatos and Kyle Wellwood were claimed off waivers through this same process earlier this month. With other teams facing goalie issues -- even Nabokov's former Sharks saw an injury in their crease -- the chances of Nabokov actually making it to the Wings were somewhere between hell and no.
Did he not see this coming?
In Which the Agent Sends the Boilerplate Quote. Which was B.S.
Apparently he didn't, or his agent didn't prepare him, or they continued to misunderstand each other, because Nabokov's agent Don Meehan was widely quoted as saying Nabokov would report to whatever team claimed him.
Sure enough, Lawson gets hurt last night and the Islanders are back to two goalies with health issues plus impressive 20-year-old Kevin Poulin, who would ideally continue his seasoning in the AHL. This morning word filters through that Garth Snow has claimed Nabokov.
But Nabokov's agent confirms to media that he won't report.
Snow Says: Let's Talk Goalie to Goalie, GM to Player, You Islander You
Snow dismissed any notions that Nabokov would not report indicating the clear rule that Nabokov has a standard player’s contract, making him the property of the Islanders. By late Saturday afternoon, Snow was waiting for Nabokov to return messages.
"Every thing is on the up-and-up," Snow said. "I am waiting to speak to the player, but we have spoken to his agent Don Meehan and, as a veteran in this business he knows what is to come next."
As per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, if a player claimed off waivers in this situation does not report to the team he was claimed by, he will not be permitted* to play for another team in the NHL that season.
*Note: I have not found that final statement in the CBA, but that doesn't mean it's not somewhere in that gargantuan document.
Yeah, baby. It's called a Standard Player Contract, and you signed one after deciding you didn't want to sign one last summer.
Wisely, rather than just take Meehan's word for it and being done with it, Snow reached out to Nabokov and wanted to talk to him personally. You know, like you do when someone is being foolish, and they might be making the wrong decision, so you want to at least hear them tell it to your face rather than through an intermediary?
If Snow has any chance of getting Nabokov to report, it's probably through some one-on-one dialog about the opportunity for him with the Isles. If Nabokov has any true desire to play NHL hockey again -- and considering the low sum he signed for, apparently this ain't about the money -- he'd report to the NHL team that holds his contract and that see what happens.
"We haven't talked to the player yet, we've left messages," Snow said. "We've booked him a flight out of Oakland and we look forward to having him be a part of our organization."
Well played. Keep things on the up-and-up. Don't go Lombardi on anyone.
In Which Chris Osgood Trashes his Former Team and Buddy, Except Not Really
It just wouldn't be a typical Islanders drama if in addition to the off-ice intrigue there wasn't another mini-drama to get fans all pissed off within a 15-minute period.
Cue Larry Lage, an AP writer who apparently horribly, horribly misattributed -- not even misquoted -- comments to Chris Osgood. (The original story under Lage's byline was here, but that story has since been totally revised and resubmitted by AP writer Ira Podell.
The original misquotes to Osgood -- quotes that supposedly the reporter heard in the Wings room but misattributed to Osgood, the former Islanders goalie and Snow creasemate, the goalie whom the Isles claimed off waivers a decade ago as he promptly led them to the playoffs:
"I haven’t put much thought into it, but the Islanders are terrible so I’m not sure why they did that," said Osgood, a former New York goalie.
The "seething" corrections, via the Twitter feed of Katie Strang of Newsday:
"Absolutely ridiculous," Osgood said
Said he absolutely did not say that and is outraged since he always sticks up for Islanders and his good buddy Garth Snow when ppl rip org
Said he has already discussed situation with DET reporter, who apparently overheard someone else say it around scrum and attributed to him
Osgood said he loved his time on LI and that’s why he gets so mad when people discount the team; said Nabokov would’ve been great pickup
The (actual) quotes from Osgood as reported by Podell:
"I thought he would’ve been a good pickup for us if he came here—even though it could’ve affected me," Osgood said. "I think it was a great pickup for the Islanders. They have Ricky (DiPietro) and some good, young goalies. I would imagine there were five or six other teams that would’ve wanted him, too. I didn’t think he’d end up here, but it was a good move that Kenny (Holland) made because it would’ve made us better.
"I’m surprised he wasn’t in the league this year because he is a great goalie."
Amazing how quickly drama spreads in our gadget-at-the-hip world today, isn't it?
This is exactly why I try to turn the gadgets off and enjoy my Saturdays. Until the guy next to me in our post-hockey buffet nudges me after reading his phone and says, "Hey, your Isles claimed Nabokov."
Sure they did. But here on Saturday night, I don't know what that means for tomorrow. Regardless, DiPietro is scheduled to start, and surely Poulin is available to back him up.
This post will probably be outdated as soon as it goes live. But at least I've got a record now of that bizarre day in January 2011, when the Isles claimed a goalie from the Wings off waivers, but he wouldn't report, and the goalie the Isles claimed from the Wings a decade prior said nice things about the whole thing...once someone reported what he actually said.