At the trade deadline, New York Islanders starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov was not ready to re-sign with his current organization. Nabokov was just a month removed from a stellar January– one he likely felt would earn him a raise and a shiny new contract. He followed that showing up by winning five of nine February starts, posting close-to career highs across the board.
Then the deadline passed, and so did most of Nabokov’s fantasy hockey value. Over seven starts this month, he’s averaged over 3.5 goals per game while dropping a half-a-point off his save percentage. Without any inside knowledge on the situation, we can only assume the 36-year-old hit a wall. Last season, Nabokov played only 22 games, in Russia. Adjusting to the big rinks for St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL didn’t bode well for Nabokov as he finished with a very marginal 3.02 GAA and .888 SV%.
Therefore at the 33-game mark, we understand that Nabokov might not play the best hockey of his career. This year is lost. We know that; the Isles likely know that from head to toe. Having said that, will Nabby rebound for next season and post a sub 2.30 GAA or higher than a .910 save percentage? The answer to that question likely depends on his surrounding variables.
After this season, his backup Al Montoya will be an unrestricted free agent which essentially removes the possibility of a three-headed monster. Montoya was a nice story last season but probably isn’t more than an NHL backup with a decent post-hype ceiling. He might catch on with a middling team like Curtis Sanford did with the Columbus Blue Jackets but his days as a NHL starting goalie in this league are probably over.
That leaves Rick DiPietro as well as up-and-comers Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin with Mikko Koskinen likely staying across the pond. And while DiPietro is an injury risk, he’s also a huge factor in Nabokov’s ice time. Despite only playing eight games this year, he found his way into 26 last year. Should he play 25 games next season, that would put Nabokov in the 55-game range– a small stipend of playing time for a team’s starter. We’re also assuming Nabokov stays healthy all year which he was unable to do this season. Furthermore, the team might want to give extended looks to both Nilsson and Poulin as tryouts for the possibly-vacated role in 2013-2014. If that happens, Nabokov could be looking at closer to 45 games– totals he figures to finish around this season.
One huge thing working in his favor, however, is the continued improvement of franchise player John Tavares. We all witnessed Alex Ovechkin turn around the Washington Capitals and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane bring the Chicago Blackhawks back to respectability. With Tavares looking very much like a top 25 player, the Isles could be just a few pieces away from legitimately contending. Should that be the case, Nabokov would then be looking at 25-30 wins which would be tolerable with the peripherals he’s currently holding — 2.56 GAA, .912 SV%, two shutouts.
Nevertheless, expecting a 37-year-old netminder to stand on his head is a huge risk. Marty Turco is actually a month younger than Nabokov which should put that statement in perspective. These factors should be known around your league which would drop his value into the later rounds, especially with DiPietro still looming. So is using a 13th round pick on a guy who could be a serviceable number three goalie really a risk?
Well, considering that I still need to ask the question, yes. Will you take the plunge next season?