[Note: The initial Nabby contract news discussion thread continues in this FanShot.]
Facing a rash of injuries that forced them to go six goalies deep, when the New York Islanders claimed Evgeni Nabokov off waivers the move was met with derision and "what's the point?" commentary from national media who wanted a better story.
A year later, they've got their story.
Somehow, in a year Nabokov has gone from unwilling guest -- the Isles readied his nameplate and locker right away -- to preseason trade bait (according to outside speculators and fans like us), to workhorse starter emerging from a crowded crease and, finally, to a guy that has willfully chosen to re-sign for another year despite unrestricted free agency beckoning just around the corner.
Many have noted that it sure can be hard to coax free agents (and waiver claims, in this case) to the Island, but once they arrive the desire to stay persists. Must be something in the Coliseum water.
GM Garth Snow's first move on Nabokov -- claiming him for free -- was a no-brainer, regardless of what was said by those who seemed to think from Russia to Detroit was Nabby's God-given right. (It may be, in higher power circles. But the CBA bows to no god.)
Snow's decision to toll the contract after Nabokov refused to report was potentially contentious, but also a no-brainer, and one Nabokov eventually embraced for the opportunity it provided.
Snow's decision to keep Nabokov past the trade deadline -- the last chance to fetch something before Nabokov could at last free himself of the Long Island shackles outsiders were certain incarcerated him -- now that was a risky one, though the lack of goaltender movement and Nabokov's no-movement clause didn't exactly create many options.
Rolling the Dice at the Deadline on a Would-Be Rental
Regardless, Snow rolled the dice and won this one. It's far from a huge win, but it's far from what anyone imagined last January. At a reported $2.75 million salary, it's probably a slightly high (but tradeable) number for a generally average goalie, but it comes with the reward of elusive continuity, a known quantity in hand versus the morass of pending free agent goalies in the bush. Whether from performance or experience or injury or a combination of the three, the Islanders appear to have chosen Nabokov over Al Montoya -- who probably would sign for less, but who's mixed NHL experience and health is the counterargument to Nabokov's own age and health.
As if smelling a disturbance in the force, yesterday this Isles-centric website saw some intense and huffy debate in comments about what to do with Nabokov. But at heart most of it centered around the risk of committing two years (and at what price?) to an older, average goalie, who's had his share of injuries in the last year since leaving the KHL. Nabokov signed for one.
Since the 2009 draft's selection of a pair of towering Nordics, the Islanders have obviously been preparing for a world in which Rick DiPietro never regains NHL-caliber health. They have two goalie prospects in Bridgeport who have each won an AHL Goaltender of the Month award as well as had an ugly night or two in the NHL. Odds are that one of Anders Nilsson, Kevin Poulin or perhaps Mikko Koskinen (on loan in Finland, but a pending RFA) will be ready soon, but having Nabokov on board provides the insurance, and the psychological comfort, of a steady hand who's "been there" and who frankly expects more of his teammates than just being happy to be in the NHL.
And yet, there's Nabokov: Happy to be here. If things go kaput, both parties will enter 2013 with the same opportunity for escape. If things go right, it's an extension of a surprisingly happy marriage.
One year ago -- when we made jokes each game about why Nabokov was a scratch -- who would've expected this?