5:40 pm: Although there were credible reports from Newsday as early as Thursday stating the Islanders’ interest in Evgeni Nabokov, his representatives never reached out to the club during the waiver process, a pair of sources have confirmed to Point Blank.
Nabokov’s agent, Don Meehan, never contacted the Islanders to request the professional courtesy of not claiming the goalie off the waiver wire. There were no calls to suggest that Nabokov would not report to the Islanders if they selected him. There was only word, sent out via the national hockey media, that Nabakov wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender somewhere.
So the Islanders, with one injured goalie (Nathan Lawson), one still attempting a comeback (Rick DiPietro) and one top prospect better served in the minors (Kevin Poulin), claimed Nabokov. He did not report. Nabokov is within his rights to blow off the Islanders, but he could have handled this better.
Two other issues regarding Nabokov: calling a member of the media and taking a shot at a team – “I was like, ‘Wow, what’s the point”? he told Pierre Lebrun of ESPN about the NYI claiming him – before speaking with Garth Snow was bad form from a solid professional. Also, the goalie told Lebrun that he hasn’t skated in a while. He hasn’t played since November. He is 35. When, exactly, is he going to be ready to help the Islanders or any other NHL team? It’s almost February.
Of course, Nabokov has every chance to make it right should he decide to report to the Islanders this week.
If the Nashville Predators or Florida Panthers or Minnesota Wild claimed Evgeni Nabokov on waivers yesterday and the goalie blew them off, the news would hardly register as any big deal at all. But it just so happened that the news came out of Islanders Country, with all its recent history of quirky moments, negativity and a lot of losses in hockey games, so a series of easy punchlines were drawn.
But a funny thing happened on the way to deciphering the Nabokov mess: Garth Snow and the Islanders earned respect.
- From other general managers, who thought Snow displayed brass ones by keeping Nabokov from the charmed life of quitting the KHL only to compete for a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings. (Some also appreciated him keeping Nabokov away from West contenders)
- From some of the key players in the national media, whom Snow wisely made a point of returning calls to get his message across.
- From his own players, grateful to Snow for trying to add a legitimate No. 1 goaltender to the lineup with more than 30 games left and injuries ravaging the roster.
- From Islander fans, many now preferring to see Nabokov sit on his rear and retire than Snow waive him or flip him in a complicated trade for a mid-round draft pick.
There will come a point when it will look foolish to have Nabokov’s stall at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum prepared for him, as it was today before the Islanders’ game against the Buffalo Sabres. If the goalie doesn’t show up, the players on the team who do show up day after day will eventually begin to find the dressed-up locker more than a little odd.
But from the beginning of this mini-drama until now, Snow has played this perfectly. The fifth-year general manager has done everything within his rights to make his hockey club better. He is doing what he can so his best netminding prospect can develop more properly in the AHL. In his public comments, he has been respectful of the process and the player, even as Nabokov did not show the basic courtesy of returning calls by Snow and Charles Wang until today.
If Nabokov does not show up in Uniondale by Monday, January 31 – the report date after the All-Star break – the Islanders must seriously consider turning the page. The franchise does not need a 35-year-old goaltender who quit the KHL in his native Russia earlier this season as its main topic of discussion.
For now, however, Snow and the Islanders have played this well, with purpose and with dignity.
The Islanders split a pair of games against the Sabres this weekend, winning 5-2 in Buffalo on Friday and losing 5-3 in a matinee today at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Michael Grabner scored two goals on Friday and continues to impress on offense, despite usually getting less than 14 minutes of playing time each game (today he played 14:05). Matt Moulson scored two goals today, giving him 17 on the season. After not scoring in his first 27 games, Jack Hillen has three goals in his last six games. Josh Bailey has not scored a goal in his last 12 games. In the absence of the injured Derek Roy, small forwards Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis have looked terrific for the Sabres.
Although they have played well on the road of late, the Islanders have won only one of their last six games at home. They are 15-25-7, 18 points behind eighth-place Atlanta with four games in hand. They are also just two points ahead of last-place New Jersey and Edmonton in the league standings.
Your feedback on today’s game and the Nabokov saga is welcomed in Comments. I’ll see you tomorrow with an interview we just recorded at SNY.