Summer Report Cards: Evgeni Nabokov

Throughout the next month plus, we’ll be reviewing the season that was and over-analyzing the various players that contributed to it. That’s what the offseason is for, after all. This post is part of a series. Read them all here.

nabbyEvgeni Nabokov — G — #20

2.50 and .910 in 41 games

Most often seen: between the pipes, also giving funny interviews with Stan

Contract status: UFA this summer, $2.75M salary in 2012-13 ($2.75M cap hit)

Obligatory YouTube video of: those refs being very questionable

Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:

Thoughts on 2012-13:
 For better or worse, the Islanders rode Evgeni Nabokov for 41 of 48 regular season games plus another six playoff games in 2013. At the beginning of the year, the question was ‘how much can he play in the shortened season?’  The 48-game season was expected to be tough on skaters and goalies alike, given the condensed schedule. That was the same question that was asked of Nabokov three years ago in San Jose, during a season when he played 71 of 82 and another 15 in the post-season.

Clearly, in hindsight, the workload didn’t seem to be the issue.

Nabokov is a workhorse in goal and has been one throughout his career. He has 635 regular season starts through 12 seasons, good for just about 53 starts per year. Plus another 86 career playoff appearances for good measure.

The problem with Nabokov, and it was one this year, is that he is not an elite goaltender in terms of skill. He’s especially good at handling a large workload and is fairly consistent, but in terms of his ability to stop pucks his save percentage leaves something to be desired. He posted .914 and .910 the past two years with the Islanders, right in line with his career mark of .912 which is neither bad nor astounding. If you’re keeping score at home, those numbers are right in line with the NHL average over the past few seasons. In fact, he’s only posted a mark better than .914 once since the 2004 lockout.

All that isn’t to say Nabokov hasn’t been helpful to the Islanders. He has, of course. He’s been a steady presence in net — something that has been missing throughout the rebuild — and has allowed the team to free itself from Rick DiPietro (at least from the NHL roster, anyway).

The problem is that Nabokov was an Achilles heel at times this season and at other times he was the solid netminder that the Islanders needed him to be. He was bad in January and February and there’s really no way around it; he had a sub-.900 save percentage during 11 games in February, while the team went 4-9-1 during the month. When he finally turned things around in April, with a stellar .928, the team went 8-4-1 with every loss coming by only a goal. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but as Nabokov went, so did the team.

It’s hard to put all the blame on Nabokov for the horrendous playoff series he had — 24 goals allowed in 6 games and a sub-DiPietro .842 save percentage — the Penguins do have arguably the most talented forward corps in the NHL.  But a team gets a huge boost in the playoffs based on how its goaltender plays (see: Tukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist) and Nabokov did the Islanders no favors.

Free agency is approaching fast and Nabokov will be unrestricted on July 5, free to sign with any team. It’s hard to tell which way the Islanders will go; whether they bring in an outsider or come back with some combination of Nabokov, Poulin and Nilsson. At this point, it’s clear that Nabokov is not the solution, rather a solution until a better one comes along.

Grade: C+

Add your thoughts and post-season grades in the comments. 

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