Evgeni Nabokov Sees Islanders' Challenge Only Getting Harder

"I wish Stan were here." - Justin K. Aller

Exhibiting the proverbial "veteran presence," and being reminded of Euro sports media's gossipy tactics.

Evgeni Nabokov's Olympic camp interview with R-Sport was picked up in several places with various foci on his discussion of Olympic topics, as well as the subtext of Nabakov's interviews always being entertaining.

But for Islanders fans, the main interest beyond bemusement at his blunt answers may be how he sees the Islanders season ahead:

Yes, the season was very positive for the team. It was short, but dynamic. We fulfilled one of our tasks—we made it to the playoffs. The Islanders took a great step forward. However, now we are facing greater challenges, and it will be much more difficult to take the next step. We will have to make the playoffs again, but the tasks will be very different this time. I think that this season will be much more difficult for us than the previous one.

Of course you can read this answer as "well that's what he's supposed to say." But it's a good bet his sort of grounded approach, the "never get too high on yourself" -- some file it under "veteran presence" -- is exactly why the Islanders players and management appreciate his presence and calming influence on the mostly young roster.

These are the intangibles or whatever you call them -- a dreaded, deceptive word for those who take the most calculated approach to the game, but a fact of life for those who have more room for the role of group dynamics and psychological effects.

Key Islanders players like John Tavares and Travis Hamonic have professed appreciation for this aspect that Nabokov brings. (This too could be filed under "what he's supposed to say," but it sounds sincere.) While I'd argue this influence can't be more helpful than a goalie who stops more pucks, the nature of such "intangibles" is that they aren't quantifiable but do matter in the eye of the beholder.

In this case, the beholders are some key young Islanders players.

So what real impact, if any, does it mean for the Islanders? In other words: what difference does it make versus a goalie of the same on-ice talent who is a headcase or a pouter? Hopefully it means they have an on-ice and in-room mentor who will not panic when things get dicey. A reassuring voice that keeps bad moments into spiraling into hopeless losses. One who keeps them from getting ahead of themselves in the good times. And another voice reminding them that last season's playoff appearance -- a first-round loss, mind you -- is nothing to rest on.

If the Isles won't, or can't yet, take a risk with a potentially better but volatile "unproven" young goalie, they should at least get that influence out of the deal. And if this sentiment is true to the core, it should mean that if and when Nabokov is no longer the Isles' best option between the pipes, he remains a positive influence rather than a sudden malcontent.

Bonus Nabby Fun: Yes, They Wrote This

Another underrated part of Nabokov's excellent R-Sport interview: How he deals with some of the Russian sports media's more gossipy nature. His answer to "rumors" about his return to the KHL was classic Nabby:

To the KHL!? Did someone seriously write this? I have never heard of this until now. To be honest, I have never even considered the possibility of returning. These rumors are mere gossip. In addition to the Islanders, I have other options in the NHL; but, after signing of a new contract, it is pointless to speak about this.

That wasn't the only part of the interview where he sounded blindsided by Russian sports media's Page 6-like approach -- and it's worth noting that the headline of this largely Olympics-focused interview was "Will Nabokov Leave the Islanders for Russia?"

That kind of deceptive lens is common in European sports media and in North American click-baiting outlets. In New York, for better or worse the questions he faces should continue to focus on how often he can stop the puck.

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