Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman downplayed – but didn’t totally deny – the talk that newly minted free agent goalie Evgeni Nabokov could help the up-and-coming team take a step forward in net.
Simply put, Dan Ellis and Mike Smith are struggling despite the fact that the Lightning are tied with the St. Louis Blues for the league lead in allowing the least amount of shots allowed per game (27.1). Ellis is 8-5-4 with a pitiful 87.6 save percentage and 3.23 goals against average and Smith’s numbers are nearly identical (9-5-0 with an 87.9 save percentage and 3.36 goals against average).
The “Mendoza line” for a starting NHL goalie is around 90 percent and every percentage point is actually a pretty big deal, so it’s obvious that the Lightning are receiving well below average play from their goalies.
Now, there’s also no doubt that Nabokov is having a tough year. While the KHL said that they terminated his contract for “family circumstances,” the goalie clearly wasn’t earning his $6 million pay check. So if an NHL team signs him, it will be with his 10 seasons in San Jose in mind, not his semi-disastrous run in the KHL.
While it might be some time before Nabby returns to pro hockey, we couldn’t help but wonder which team would make the most sense. The Washington Capitals and (his former team) San Jose Sharks earned a lot of votes, but the team that received the most is Tampa Bay.
Obviously, adding Nabokov would develop a crowded situation in the Lightning net.
That being said, the Lightning boast plenty of cap space ($11.35 million, according to CapGeek.com) and their other two goalies might not be that tough to move. Smith is in the last year of a contract that nets an annual $2.2 million cap hit while Ellis has an affordable two-year, $3 million deal. Whether it be through a trade or placing those goalies on waivers, the team could lose one (or both) of Smith and Ellis.
Of course, it all comes down to whether or not Yzerman actually wants to do that. We’ll have to wait and see there, but if you ask PHT readers, Nabokov would make a lot of sense in a bolts uniform.