December 13, 2010

Despite Posting Mediocre Numbers in Russia, Nabokov Clearly Needed in NHL

"Aaaaahhh! Something's pulling me! Aaaaahhh! I don't want to go back. It's cold there!"
Evgeni Nabokov’s inevitable return to the NHL should be met with cheers, especially from out of Tampa Bay, where it’s no big secret the Lightning are in desperate need of a goalie that can stop a puck, even if it’s only a regular-season puck.

Right now, the Lightning are in such dire straits goaltending-wise that head-coach Guy Boucher has the unenviable decision of trying to decide every night between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Dee being the goalie that was sent packing out of “Big D” and has crumpled under the pressure of having to be a starter in the hockey hotbed that is Florida, and Dum being the one that can’t keep it together for 140 characters at a time, let alone 60 minutes.

In Mike Smith’s defense, there aren’t many goalies out there that can competently replace a Johan Holmqvist, at least not at the ECHL level. In Dan Ellis’s defense, I don’t think commenting on Twitter about Edmonton Oiler Linus Omark’s shootout winner against him would have been the way to go, even if he still had his account, considering what he had to say in person:

"It's embarrassing for him. You come into a league, a respectful league like this, and you try a little move like that. It's not a very classy thing. That's just the kind of person he is."

Since the shootout is a display of skill and constitutes attempt after attempt at trying to deke out and outsmart the opposing goalie, consider Omark’s pseudo spin-o-rama (because it really was just a wrist shot through the five-hole with some added flash) well within the rules of the game and proper NHL etiquette.

Honestly, he didn’t need to do it, but that’s only because he could have beaten Ellis with a straight-up wrister, since that’s just the kind of goalie he is (3.23 goals-against average, .876 save percentage). I don’t know where Ellis gets off saying “that’s just the kind of person he is” without ever being on the same team as the dude (wait, did Ellis ever play for the Lulea junior team in Sweden???), but his words say more about him than they do about Omark.

The bottom line is that Omark deserves props for pulling out that “little move”, because had he missed he would likely have heard it from the coaching staff afterwards for trying to show up an opponent and maybe have been sent down. That’s the risk he took, and it paid off for him. As it happens, Omark scored, showed huge balls in so doing, won the game, and helped to make the Lightning players look like quite the whiny bunch, because, let’s face it: they contributed a little themselves in that regard. And the Lightning is back to where it’s been every year since the start of the lockout, without a true number-one goalie.

Nabokov may not be the ideal choice for a starter, but he is most definitely better than either one of the two Tampa currently has on-roster. It’s like deciding between Taco Bell and Chinese food as take-out. The Taco Bell proves quite the bang for your buck, is relatively tasty, and satisfying as a meal in general. However, when it comes time for the “postmeal”, shall we say, you’re in for quite the unpleasant experience. Meanwhile, the Chinese looks good on paper, but just ends up leaving you more hungry 15 minutes after the fact. Individual periods are 20 minutes long, so you do the math.

There’s little disputing that other teams are in need of goalies as well (although you can strike the New York Islanders off that list, because their on-ice problems really begin and end with their defense), but consider the Lightning the most viable fit for Nabokov, who, should he decide to come back, would have to go through waivers, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement states in article 13.23: 

“In the event a professional or former professional Player plays in a league outside North America after the start of the NHL Regular Season, other than on Loan from his Club, he may thereafter play in the NHL, during that Playing Season... only if he has first either cleared or been obtained via waivers...”

"I'm getting the sneaking suspicion I'm not well-liked."
Tampa is pretty far down the priority list at 19th, with the Islanders first. The Lightning has $10,859,459 in cap space. The Islanders have $16,751,920. The other teams ahead of Tampa Bay that may be construed as having goaltending issues to address are: the Ottawa Senators ($1,512,186) and the Chicago Blackhawks ($498,904).

It should be pointed out that Nabokov wasn’t exactly lights out in the KHL, where he had a 3.02 GAA and a .888 save percentage, numbers that are still better than those of Tampa’s goalies, so let’s assume the Lightning is game. But is Nabokov? That right there is the question of the week. Don’t expect an answer all that soon, because last week’s “if Omark’s goal is embarrassing for him, just what embarrasses Dan Ellis?” has yet to be answered.

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