Time to Sell on Evgeni Nabokov

Editor's Note: FanPost front-paged for this hot topic of the next two weeks.

Evgeni Nabakov has been amazing for the Isles over the past few weeks, and he's certainly been responsible for the wins against LA and Philly in the last week. If he could continue to play like this, the Isles MIGHT have a shot at the playoffs.

And yet the Islanders need to trade Nabokov for a prospect/draft pick. Preferably soon.

There are two reasons for this. The first is less important, but is easier to understand so I'll start with that:

1. Nabokov's high SV% is not REAL - it's a facade caused by luck on special teams that is likely to crumble. Nabokov has essentially been the 22nd best goalie in the league this year - NOT the 7th best as his ordinary SV% suggests. He is NOT an elite goalie (though he is certainly average) and the longer he plays for the Isles, the more likely his true talent will cause his results to drop, and lower his trade value.

How can I say this? Well, SV% is a decent statistic at judging goalies, and is far better than say the older Goals Against Average. But it has one key flaw - it treats Even Strength, Power Play, and Penalty Kill minutes as if they're all the same.

But of course, they're not...a goalie's SV% on the Penalty Kill is dramatically lower than his SV% at Even Strength. You can't combine the two as they're essentially separate skills, but SV% does just that.

In addition, the amount of time a goalie spends on the penalty kill is far lower than it is at even strength, meaning fluke results can cause a goalies penalty kill SV% to be extremely high or extremely low, simply as the result of small sample size (If a goalie faces 40 minutes of PK and stops 120 shots, he has a PKSV% of 1.000, but you wouldn't use that to judge him a great goalie on the that's essentially like using 3 games of even strength data to judge a player.). In other words, Penalty Killing SV% is EXTREMELY variable, and that has basically nothing to do with goalie skill - the sample size is too small for us to really know how much is the goalie's own talent.* The end result is that regular SV% includes as a part of it a highly variable and basically useless statistic, which can cause it to appear higher or lower than it really should based upon a goalie's true talent.

*Before anyone suggests otherwise, no one denies that stopping shots on the PK is a skill for goalies. But measuring this skill is basically impossible, and including PK SV% data is essentially including 99% luck and 1% skill.

As a result, Hockey statisticians rely instead upon Even Strength Save % (ESSV%) to judge goalies, as that way we eliminate the problems caused by including Special teams Data. And by this measure, Nabokov is actually 22nd in the league among NHL goalies with 20 games or more played (.925 SV%). The Reason why Nabokov is 7th in overall SV% is simple: He's gotten insanely lucky on the Islanders PK, with a .951 PKSV% (2nd in the league)! Before anyone asks, this is nowhere near anything Nabokov has done in his career, where he usually has PK SV%s of .880 or so.

None of this should be surprising to any of you - Nabokov's current SV% would be his career high at age 36 and far above his .913 carer average.

Long story short, Nabokov's #s are a good deal smoke and mirrors - and are far far more likely to get worse than go up. Better to strike now and sell high while his value is as much as possible than to sit and wait it out.

Of course, that' s actually the least important reason why the Isles need to trade Nabokov. The real reason they need to do is this:

2. Nabokov has no long-term future on this team, he has value and we'll lose him at the end of this year. As a Small-Market Team, we need to ensure we get something for that value.

I've talked about this before, but the Isles are essentially a small market team due to their financial situation. We can't afford to go much higher if at all above the cap floor, which is why we don't end up signing many free agents. We sign our prospects, sure, because those are cheap investments we have for long term, and we sign those players we have who have unique talents (Nielsen) who we can't find elsewhere.

But if a player would leave the team at the end of the year and the team cannot re-sign that player or that player HAS VALUE but does NOT HAVE A PLACE IN THE TEAM'S FUTURE, the team needs to trade that player to get something for that value.

Nabokov is this type of player. His contract runs to the end of the season. Moreover, he's 36. Even if he wanted to sign with the Islanders again, he's probably on his last legs and he's 6th oldest in the NHL right now. At best the Islanders could expect from him to repeat his career average (not this current performance) next year, and more likely he'll get worse. No one escapes from aging.

And even if we did want to re-sign him, it'd be only as a short-term stopgap measure. You can't commit multiple years to Nabokov, another aging goalie. And the Islanders HAVE goalies to plug the hole. Al Montoya is still on the roster and can be signed for much cheaper. Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson are showing lots of promise in Bridgeport. Mikko Koskinen is still in the system. And the Islanders could of course pick another goalie with a late round pick in case these goalies don't pan out.

There's no reason to waste money for next year on an aging goalie when the Islanders are in their current situation. As a small market team therefore, the Islanders need to trade him and get what hey can for him.

"BUT, BUT, PLAYOFFS!" - You Cry!

Let's be realistic here guys. First off, as I detailed above, Nabokov's performance is likely to drop a decent amount as his PK luck falls down to earth. The performances lately are the EXCEPTION, not the rule. It's not clear that Nabokov is better than Al Montoya. So even keeping Nabokov likely doesn't give the Isles a much better shot at the playoffs.

But even if it did, we have to be realistic. Let's assume that 90 points gets you into the playoffs (Probably need 92, but I'm doing this for easier math). The Isles would thus need to accumulate 36 more points this season, with 28 games remaining. That's a pace of 1.285 points per game. Essentially the Islanders would have to play like a 105 point team the rest of the way to pull that off (essentially they'd need to go 18-10 for a 64% winning percentage). They'd need to perform like a top top - Elite - team in hockey. And I don't think ANY of us thinks that the Islanders are currently an elite team - at best we're middle of the pack in talent. And that's with a low target of 90 points, when we'd probably need more.

This is why the playoff odds sites give us basically around 5% odds of making the playoffs - this is why someone came up with the historical note that no team at this point of the season under the current system has managed to make the playoffs from more than 5 points back. It's practically impossible.

The playoffs are a dream, one that every one of us would love, but is FAR from realistic. The Islanders cannot jeopardize their future to chase that dream. Keeping Nabokov jeopardize their future - it results in the Islanders losing a good valuable asset for nothing, something a small market team CANNOT do if it wants to get to the top and then STAY there.

Garth Snow, Please Trade Evgeni Nabokov. And do it soon.


EDIT: A response to some very predictable comments:


Thats unfair to say…What I see is a totally relaxed goalie who has closed the holes in his game…

You know, I hear this sort of thing in baseball, hockey, basketball….basically every sport. We don’t like to believe that when a player’s performance dramatically improves, it’s not a real improvement. It’s our nature – human beings like to believe improvements are skill and that luck plays a minimal role in these competitions. Even the players on the team do this – of course they have good reason to believe this, as its their own future that is affected by their teammates’ performance.

But it plays a HUGE role. It’s why a player who’s 36 suddenly starts playing better than he has EVER played in his NHL Career for a full season. Guys, players don’t suddenly improve in the final stage of their career. It DOES NOT HAPPEN.

In addition, as pointed out above, we can see where the shoe is going to drop. No goalie in the NHL can maintain a SV% of .950 on the PK – and NO GOALIE HAS! Seriously, check out every season’s stats in the NHL website ( Generally the top in the league is .919 or so on the PK in each season, and I’ll tell you right now that if you look at the top players on the PK SV% each year, they don’t repeat that feat the next year.

PKSV% numbers are extremely variable and prone to luck-based swings. That’s all Nabakov has had. It CANNOT last.


Jeopardizing their future by not adding an additional late third round pick?
The bottom line is you don’t just always trade someone just for the sake of trading someone…

You guys are misunderstanding how a small market team has to work. It’s GREAT to see the team with a top notch prospect system. We should be thrilled with this, especially because we’re the type of team that needs to get talent from within and cheaply.

But systems do not remain good though-out time just out of doing nothing. As guys are promoted, the system gets worse. Now if the promoted guys succeed, then you don’t feel this pain for a few years, as the team is good (If the promoted guys fail, well you’ll feel the pain immediately).

But once again, we are a small market team – or essentially are run like one due to the fact we take a persistent loss. A small market team has trouble hanging onto its own homegrown talent, who eventually WILL leave elsewhere. I know this is hard to believe living in NY – hell, the Isles just signed Tavares, Moulson, Grabner, and Nielsen! But these are quite solid exceptions – Tavares and Grabner were RFAs when they signed, meaning they had little leverage on the matter (And Tavares’ contract ends with him still at a decent age, meaning he could easily then leave for elsewhere) and Moulson has intervening circumstances (friend of Tavares). Nielsen is the only signing that is perhaps a surprise, but that’s mitigated by the fact that Nielsen is basically one of the two best defensive forwards in the game.*

*You’ll note Parenteau hasn’t signed yet. He might sign with the team, but his comments recently expressed an interest in possibly testing Free Agency. We might see that happen (or more likely, if the team can’t come to a deal with him, he’ll be traded)

It is not trading for trades sake, even if the return is just a 3rd rounder (I expect a higher return by the way). It is trading for the sake of maintaining a good team in the future. The Isles are likely to become good, due to their system, over the next few years. But if you don’t maintain the system, which you do by acquiring as many picks as possible, then it’ll just be a bump – the Isles will be good for a few years and then return to rebuilding. That’s unacceptable.

(Incidentally, if you’re all Mets fans, the Jose Reyes situation should be illustrative. It hurt the Mets a lot that they got basically nothing for him – but of course, unlike hockey, at least in baseball the Mets will get compensatory draft picks. The situation isn’t directly comparable as the Mets ARE able to spend some money, but it’s still a good example on this point.0


The fact that the playoffs are a "possibility" to us fans is insane. Now I know the hurdles we have to climb, and it’s doubtful we’ll climb them all. But if you trade Nabokov for anything less than a high-end
prospect or an NHL defensemen, you’re telling the fans you don’t believe in your own team.

My point is, if we want to keep this team on Long Island or in the New York area, we’re gonna need fans to show up

Trading a player hurts. But I’d doubt heavily (and i have no research on this) that it would affect attendance at this point. Islander attendance has sat at 11-12K for the last few years, and it’s there again this year. The team simply isn’t good enough for it to cause more casual fans to show up than they already do.

Moreover, Nabokov is NOT a player the Islanders have advertised or staked their claim to being a good view about. The Isles don’t advertise with him, they advertise with the young forwards. Those are the guys the people come to see, not Nabokov – the casual fan doesn’t really know much about who our goalie is (They’ve heard of him). Attendance won’t be hurt that much.

Moreover, you’re telling the fans that you’re not sure that THIS team can make the playoffs THIS YEAR. But if you, as expected, go on to make the playoffs next year, then this really won’t resonate in fans’ minds.

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