Let’s face it, Evgeni Nabokov and the New York Islanders might be saying all the right things, but it’s pretty tough to imagine the Russian netminder playing in Long Island after he spurned them last season. The situation carries the scent of a blind date gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Yet as awkward as the idea might be, the best way for the Islanders to get their money’s worth – not to mention to justify all the frustration – might just be to call Nabokov’s bluff. I’m not just talking about training camp, either; they should give Nabokov every chance to earn the starting job. If the Islanders really want to justify the murmurs that they could be a dark horse candidate for a playoff run next season, it’s hard to imagine them getting there with Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro as their starting duo.
Nabokov and the Isles might be better off together
Even beyond the immediate returns of adding an experienced, big-name goalie, the Islanders need to accept the fact that they probably won’t receive much value in return for Nabokov if they opt for a trade. (Please scratch this statement from the Internet record if the Islanders find someone as smitten with Nabokov as the Colorado Avalanche were with Semyon Varlamov, though.)
It’s not like there are a ton of better options for Nabokov, either. Would he really be better off fighting fellow aging Russian netminder Nikolai Khabibulin for playing time in Edmonton or trying to replace Ilya Bryzgalov in Phoenix? Barring injuries, Long Island might just be the best place for Nabokov to show off his wares, even if it would just be a glorified audition.
It would also be one of the most interesting stories of the 2011-12 season …
From a purely selfish standpoint, I must point out how inherently fascinating it would be if Nabokov became the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie. Many smart hockey people have wondered if Nabokov’s impressive career numbers came largely because of strong support from some exceptional San Jose Sharks teams, so carrying the Isles to the playoffs would make a heck of an impact on his legacy. It would be an unlikely and delightful underdog story if it actually worked out.
The best part could be that the scenario would be entertaining if the experiment ended up being a failure, too. Sure, that entertainment would be more of the “rubbernecking during a bad traffic accident” variety, but it would be hard to look away from that scene.
Again, it’s most likely that Nabokov’s time with the Islanders will be short. Maybe he’ll make it through training camp or even a few regular season games, but it’s tough to imagine him playing a whole season with the team. That being said, it would be awfully interesting if he did … and the Islanders might actually benefit the most from that option.