While his career decisions didn’t create an Ilya Kovalchuk-type stir, it’s not crazy to say that Evgeni Nabokov might have been the biggest unrestricted free agent of the summer. Sure, he’s had his fair share of struggles when the spotlight intensifies – whether that’s a fault of the Russian Olympic team’s spotty defense or the San Jose Sharks’ core players is another discussion for another day – but Nabokov was a rock in net for the Sharks for 10 years. It’s actually a bit surprising that more wasn’t made of the six year, $24 million deal he signed to play in the KHL.
Perhaps the reaction was muted by the sparse amount of interviews and press provided by Nabokov and the Sharks, though. The Russian goalie spoke at a press conference with fellow defector defenseman Denis Grebeshkov today and Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov captured the scene. Grebeshkov and Nabokov both made statements that denied the notion that going back to Russian meant taking a step back but Nabby’s statements might qualify as another slight on the Edmonton Oilers.
The “step back” question triggered the following conversation between Nabokov and a reporter:
Nabokov: “It’s very interesting, why does everyone always think that when you come back it’s a step back?”
Reporter: I mean that the level of competition is a little different.
Nabokov: “Let me ask you, would you want to play for the Edmonton Oilers, for example?” [laughter] “Let me tell you that when you have a choice and you have something to choose from, you always want to play for a good team, compete for medals and such. I will speak for myself, but the situation was such that I had no choice of a good team to play for and to play at the high level. To me it was very important to play for a good team, to try to win.”
Ouch. Poor, cold Edmonton … must they always be the Exhibit A whenever a hockey player discusses Where Not to Play?
The press conference also featured an announcement that another NHL player (former Atlanta Thrashers forward Maxim Afinogenov) would join Nabokov and Grebeshkov on a deep-pocketed SKA St. Petersburg team that also employs occasional punchline Alexei Yashin. If there is a single KHL team for NHL fans to watch, SKA seems to be that club.