For at least one day in August, the New York Islanders are dominating hockey news. Of course, the biggest story is still unfolding as polls for the team’s new arena referendum are reportedly expected to close around 9 pm ET. (We will keep an eye on that situation for you, by the way.) Today’s news also featured some aftershocks from the team’s trade with the New Jersey Devils, as their regional rivals waived Trent Hunter, the player the Devils received in exchange for Brian Rolston’s bloated cap hit.
Those two bits weren’t the only interesting Islanders-related stories, though.
Earlier this summer, we shared word from Evgeni Nabokov’s agent that the goalie is willing to play for the New York Islanders, the team he spurned in January. While that statement seemed like a promising sign that Nabokov might be willing to play ball, it means a lot more to hear it from the man himself. Nabokov confirmed those thoughts by telling Newsday’s Katie Strang that he is willing to attend Islanders training camp (subscription required).
“Yes I do plan on attending,” Nabokov told Newsday. “Now I will have full preparation for the season.”
Of course, it might come down to whether or not the Islanders want Nabokov to be a part of their team (or more precisely, what they can get for him). Even at 36 years old and one shaky season removed from the NHL, Nabokov should carry at least some trade value for teams who might want some goalie insurance. It’s quite possible that he might benefit the Islanders more via trade than anything he could accomplish on their team. That’s especially true in this case, considering the possibility that their might be some awkward feelings on the Islanders’ side.
Nabokov didn’t just confirm that he’s willing to play for the team in that article. He also discussed that uncomfortable situation from last season, saying that it was a little more complicated than a simple rejection of the Islanders.
“I want to set the record straight,” Nabokov said from his home in Northern California. “A lot of people speculated that I didn’t want to go to the organization but that’s totally not true.”
“What made me make that decision is that I hadn’t skated for a month-and-a-half when they claimed me. They were out of the playoffs, but battling to get in and, as a goalie, I know the goalie position is important when fighting for position [in the standings],” Nabokov said. “I didn’t feel that I could help them to get to the playoffs. I needed three to four weeks to get ready and the season would’ve been over.”
“I was not feeling the strongest and Detroit was in a totally different position,” Nabokov said. “They were going to the playoffs and willing to wait. The Islanders needed help then.”
If you ask me, Nabokov still made a mistake when he decided not to use the Islanders as a glorified free agent audition. With Rick DiPietro in his perpetual injury cycle and Dwayne Roloson recently traded away, the Islanders had a gaping hole at net, so it seemed like the perfect time for Nabby to nab some starts. Then again, maybe Nabokov was just being self-aware rather than difficult. If there really was an understanding that the Red Wings would have allowed him to work back into his ideal shape, then perhaps it was a more complex decision than it seemed at the time.
That being said, by denying that opportunity, the aging netminder lost a valuable thing: time. There’s always the chance that he might follow in Tomas Vokoun’s footsteps by joining a contender for a season, but it’s just as likely that he will have to play for the Islanders or another underdog team. Hopefully he’s more fit for that type of challenge now than he was in January.