Evgeni Nabokov

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman plays down talk about adding Evgeni Nabokov

With the news breaking yesterday that Evgeni Nabokov was returning to North America for personal reasons after signing in Russia in the off-season, speculation began almost immediately about where, if anywhere, Nabokov would end up back in the NHL. One of the teams that was mentioned almost immediately was Tampa Bay where both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have struggled to keep pucks out of the net this season.

Today, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman spoke about Nabokov in a polite manner as to whether or not there’s mutual interest to be had there. Craig Custance of The Sporting News heard from Stevie Y and about what, if anything of importance, was discussed between himself and Nabokov’s North American agent Don Meehan.

“(Meehan’s) got a guy who is an unrestricted free-agent goaltender. It’s safe to assume that he’s going to look around the league at all the clubs where there may be interest and call those teams,” Yzerman told Sporting News. “He’s doing his job.”

While acknowledging the Lightning’s goaltending has to get better, Yzerman said he’s still not counting out improvement from Ellis and Smith as the ultimate solution.

“I have two goalies here working hard every day trying to improve,” he said. “We have to improve. There’s lots of different ways to improve and that includes sticking with our own people.”

Tampa Bay is doing well this year sitting just three points back of Washington in the Southeast Division and they’ve been doing it without getting much help in goal. Both Ellis and Smith’s numbers this season are less-than optimal for a starting goalie in the NHL. Ellis checks in with a .876 save percentage and a 3.23 goals against average with two shutouts through 20 games. Meanwhile, in 15 games Smith has a .872 save percentage and a 3.57 goals against average.

Through 30 games, the Lightning have given up 106 goals, the most in the NHL. If the Lightning plan on being a playoff team, those numbers have to improve either from having Ellis or Smith snap out of their collective funk or by bringing in a guy who can get it done now. At 35 years-old Nabokov has a ton of experience and has the NHL know-how but his season this year with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL was less-than optimal.

In 22 games, Nabokov put up a .888 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against. Those are underwhelming numbers considering the level of competition. Whether the distractions from any possible family issues played into that or if it was just poor play it’s tough to gauge, but at the moment, Tampa Bay certainly looks like a team that could use any kind of help in goal.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.