BUYING IN: Nabokov, Islanders Have Come a Long Way

A few months back, when Evgeni Nabokov was in the midst of playing very well and eating up starts – 15 of 16 games at one point in early 2012 – I went on a bit of a Twitter rampage, digging up old tweets from naysayers of when the Islanders claimed Nabokov on waivers. It was mainly against those in the media who, after completing their usual Rick DiPietro jokes, couldn’t help but vomit into their computers about ‘how dare the Islanders take Detroit’s goalie’ or ‘what do the Islanders need another goalie for?’

It was a fun exercise and it went to emphasize the point that no matter the issue, no matter the situation, outsiders still do not understand the New York Islanders organization. Heck, some days those of us who follow the team on a daily basis don’t understand all that goes on. But the Islanders have slowly built up a legion of converts from the players that they have brought in and that trend continues with Nabokov.

Front and center on the list is John “Toronto” Tavares with the six-year extension. Then there are Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner with matching 5-year deals (which don’t look quite as rosy after this season, but still). Most recently the always underrated Frans Nielsen got a four-year deal. And now there’s Evgeni Nabokov.

Sure, it’s only a one-year deal and took nearly a month to hammer out, with negotiations plausibly beginning in earnest near the trade deadline with his, uh, “flu.” But the point is the man who famously rejected the Islanders and declined to show up — to the delight of the aforementioned Twitterers — has been convinced to stay another year.

Nabokov came to camp this season doing and saying all the right things after a public spat that saw him not report and the Islanders playing right back, tolling the contract they claimed off waivers. Then there was that time he was traded by the media to Columbus for Fedor Tyutin (how long a stretch Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson would have had to play during the second half is an eye-opening alternate reality). Oh and he was also showcased in Boston in November but that didn’t go very well. But Nabokov kept his cool and paid his penance for non-reporting by serving his year in purgatory, which just happened to be located west of Eisenhower Park. And yet, here we are.

It took a nice chunk of change – $2.75M – but Nabokov didn’t even come close to reaching free agency. The contract length is obviously nothing compared to the extension John Tavares signed but Tavares is an RFA and has been on board with the organization since day one. The Islanders managed to take a player who didn’t want to come here, assumedly didn’t want to stay here and got him to hang around for a bit. The one-year deal works out for both player and team, allowing each to part ways relatively easy when their desires change; Nabokov for a contender and the Islanders for a younger netminder. Poulin and Nilsson are the future of the Islanders in goal but – for the time being at least – instead of chasing a championship Nabokov is going to help be the bridge to that future. Who would have thought?