According to public quotes from teammates during his time as a New York Islander, Evgeni Nabokov was a well-liked member of the locker room and an appreciated, guiding voice on the ice. (For fans of a certain tolerance, his exchanges with Stan Fischler were also enjoyable entertainment on cold winter nights.)
Unfortunately, his stats had him near the bottom of the league among starters during his Islanders tenure. The team flirted with replacing him in summer of 2013, before fully pulling the trigger this offseason.
But while on the Island, teammates cited his voice in helping the defense, and perhaps that was one factor in a dropoff in results whenever his backups stepped in. His best stretch as an Islander probably came during the team's surge to a playoff spot during the final quarter of the lockout-shortened 2013-13 season, a surge that brought him back up near the middle of the pack that year (and above some other more highly regarded goalies).
Critically, however, his more expected form in his late 30s appeared during that spring's six-game playoff defeat, a goalie implosion where the Penguins prevailed by virtue of having a good backup to the latest Marc-Andre Fleury meltdown.
In any case, it's always fun to gauge player quotes about new teammates -- the Isles have signed the proven Jaroslav Halak and a new backup in Chad Johnson -- since the praise can be an indirect damning of the former teammates they replace.
Coach Jack Capuano recently tread carefully but honestly around the subject, as the dropoff from the already subpar Nabokov to his two young backups was evident last season:
"November was a tough month for us again. Hopefully that's gonna change. Not to say anything about the goaltenders that stepped in (Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson) or the injuries that we had, but when Nabokov went down, obviously our record wasn't too good for a while. I thought looking at this summer, [general manager] Garth [Snow] obviously targeted that position. As a former goalie, he knows how important it is to have depth."
As often noted, evaluating goalies is partly a voodoo science. The best long-term gauge we have, save percentage, is really only indicative over a lengthy sample like a full season or more. Whereas the traditional gauge of goaltending in the hearts and minds of fans, coaches and teammates alike, is whether the guy makes "big saves" and avoids deflating gaffes at memorable times.
Halak is someone who has repeatedly put up good numbers when healthy in his career, though is sometimes seen as "flaky" in the traditional goalie sense. Nabokov is someone who is respected in the room. Can teammates spot the difference?
The official site recently quoted captain John Tavares, who usually made a point to praise Nabokov, on the new acquisitions:
Halak and Johnson represent a complete overhaul of the Islanders crease, while Grabovski and Kulemin headline an influx of talent and depth up front. The Islanders also signed Cory Conacher, a speedy, skilled forward who will increase the competition at training camp.
"Goaltending was something [General Manager] Garth [Snow] addressed right away. It’s something he wanted to provide more stability with," Tavares said. "I’ve always talked about the presence Evgeni Nabokov had in our lockerroom, but we’re bringing in a pretty young goaltender with some great numbers over his career. Year in and year out, he’s pretty consistent."
The coach and players have noted the goaltending overhaul. They may not have said it in season -- nor should they have -- while being good teammates, but I think they get it.