Evgeni Nabokov is willing to attend Islanders training camp, sets ‘record straight’ about last season

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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.”

(snip)

“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.

Sidney Crosby at 30

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Much like with Lebron James, Sidney Crosby is at the point in his career where the question is no longer “Will he be one of the all-time greats?” After back-to-back Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe wins, the discussion is shifting to where he ranks among the best of all-time.

And, like, with Lebron, there are a number of factors – including era, which is probably an even tougher nut to crack in hockey – that can twist and turn the debate.

Mere moments after Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated as champs, Mike Sullivan made the case for number 87’s greatness.

” … You know, he’s arguably the best player of his generation, and he’s a guy that just knows how to win,” Sullivan said. “And so he’s done it in all different venues, whether it be the NHL and Stanley Cups to the World Cup to the Olympics. And he’s a player that — and I believe this, what separates him from others is his work ethic and his willingness to do what it takes to be the very best.”

It’s mind-blowing to consider the very real possibility that Crosby will be viewed as the best player to skate for the Penguins, edging Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr, and even Mario Lemieux.

It’s also mind-blowing that he just turned 30 on Aug. 7.

When it comes to the Mario vs. Sid debate that may eventually pick up steam, Crosby has some advantages. He matched “The Magnificent One” by getting those back-to-back titles and playoff MVP nods, while he already has three Stanley Cup rings to Lemieux’s two (and four Stanley Cup Final appearances to two).

Crosby already has an iconic moment to his name. Along with Paul Henderson’s goal and “Gretzky to Lemieux,” Crosby’s golden goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics will endear him to Canadian hockey fans for ages.

This list of accolades is honestly dizzying:

But, again, things get tougher when you try to really drill down to Crosby vs. The Greats. Most obviously since he’s far from done right now.

Circling back to the debate that might divide Penguins fans in particular, Crosby might also edge Lemieux if you correct for our modern era, which is so tough on scoring. NHL.com’s Rob Vollman explains Crosby’s place among the most impressive runs before 30:

From this perspective, Crosby is no longer in a block of a dozen players but in more select company. He ranks third at age 30 with an era-adjusted 998 points (377 goals, 622 assists), well ahead of Lemieux, who is in fourth with 899 points (365 goals, 534 assists). Gretzky is in first with 1,479 points (495 goals, 984 assists) in 896 games, followed by Jagr with 1,018 points (414 goals, 604 assists) in 858 games. (Adding to the distinction of being in the top four with Gretzky, Jagr and Lemieux: Those are the only three players to win the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s top scorer in the 21 seasons from 1980-81 to 2000-01.)  

Interesting. (This quick document has a bit more to chew on.)

Vollman also makes the point that even the all-timers tend to stop locking down the biggest awards once they turn 30. There’s an obvious barrier in Connor McDavid (just check the Hart Trophy odds) and possibly some other bright young players, so for all we know, most of our peak memories of Crosby may already be in the past.

That said, much like Lemieux, injuries have limited some of the stats Crosby’s been able to put up.

Crosby’s concussion history could conceivably prompt him to retire agonizingly early, but what if he instead gets better luck? We’ve seen cases, such as Patrice Bergeron, in which such issues become less of a concern over time. For all we know, Crosby might defy expectations and actually play until he’s 40.

(Hey, he already emulates Jaromir Jagr in being an inanely good puck protector.)

It’s been a special run already for Crosby, who’s already a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. At this point, it’s about padding that resume.

Though, to Crosby’s credit, it’s still probably all about winning.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons: two years, $3.2M

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The Buffalo Sabres basically wrapped up their mandatory summer moves by signing RFA Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year, $3.2 million contract on Thursday.

That translates to a cap hit of $1.6M per year; the team confirmed those terms.

The 23-year-old was selected 14th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Sabres. He went two picks after the Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko, whose claim to fame is being part of the package that helped them nab Ryan O'Reilly. (Feel free to cringe at who went next, though hindsight seems especially convenient considering how long it takes to get to some of the whoppers.)

In Girgensons’ case, it’s still been a work in progress. His best years actually came early, particularly a sophomore season where he posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (30) despite being limited to 61 games. He enjoyed significantly higher ice time (19:05 per game) during that 2014-15, then came right back down.

If nothing else, Girgensons already has ample NHL experience, as he’s already played in 277 regular-season games.

Buffalo has about $7 million in cap space left, according to Cap Friendly, so there’s theoretically room to make more moves. Girgensons was their last remaining loose end of note, however.

Devils’ Zajac out 4-6 months after pectoral surgery

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As much as the New Jersey Devils have made gains in trading for Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson, they’ll still need some familiar faces to fight their way out of the cellar.

It looks almost certain* that they’ll begin the 2017-18 season without one common fixture, as the Devils announced that Travis Zajac will miss about four-to-six months after undergoing surgery on his left pectoral muscle.

The injury occurred during Zajac’s off-season training; the Devils didn’t share exactly how that occurred, though.

Zajac, 32, has generally been quite sturdy for the Devils. He played in 80 games in 2016-17, collecting 45 points. He also appeared in 80 games in 2013-14 while playing 74 in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. He also played all 82 games for four straight seasons early in his career, so this must be frustrating for the veteran center.

* – Yes, four-to-six months would mean missing a significant chunk of the regular season … but sometimes hockey players make downright shocking recoveries. Just saying.

Lightning join effort to move Confederate monument

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The Tampa Bay Lightning joined the Rays and Buccaneers in releasing a joint statement regarding their efforts to help move Confederate monument Memoria in Aeterna from downtown Tampa following last weekend’s awful events in Charlottesville, Va.

This effort gained steam as Hillsborough County government officials announced that $150K in private funds would be needed to make the change, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Go Fund Me drive is currently over $50K as of this writing. If funding goes through, the monument would reportedly move from downtown Tampa Bay to a family cemetery.

Here’s that joint statement:

As Shutdown Corner’s Jay Busbee reports, it’s likely that former NFL head coach Tony Dungy brought wider attention to the matter, challenging sports teams to contribute while donating $5K himself.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith reports that Lightning forward J.T. Brown has personally donated $1,500. The donation was inspired in part by the birth of his daughter Lily.

“How would I explain why someone doesn’t like her?” Brown said, via Smith. “Or why is this going on in the world?”

This is what the monument looks like:

This isn’t the only case of NHL teams being connected to those tragic events, as the Detroit Red Wings and NHL announced that they may pursue legal action after the Red Wings’ logo was used by white nationalists during the weekend.

Busbee has more on the Tampa Bay monument situation here.