Evgeni Nabokov will ‘stick things out’ in NHL this season, even if it’s with the Islanders

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Every once and a while, a pattern forms to give a day a “theme.” If this Friday is any indication, then today might be “Big name KHL export returns to the NHL via Long Island Day.” (We might need a little time to work out the kinks in that title, though.)

Moments ago, we discussed Alexei Yashin’s possible reunion with the New York Islanders. That situation has a long way to go before it becomes anything more than a clever negotiating ploy, but one other possible return of a KHL defector brings extra validity for a simple reason: that guy is already under contract with the Isles.

In case the headline didn’t give it away, we’re talking about former San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. James Mirle reports that the goalie’s agent Don Meehan confirmed what was discussed in May: Nabokov is primed to play in the NHL during the 2011-12 season … even in the unlikely case that he’ll play in net for the Islanders.

“He will be in the NHL this season,” Meehan said.

Where he will play, however, remains the biggest question.

The Islanders already have veterans Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro and youngsters Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson and Mikko Koiskinen all vying for roles in the organization. Given his contract and experience, Nabokov would seem to be a good fit with plenty of other teams and could have some trade value, which appears to be the route the Islanders will go.

That said, if DiPietro’s health remains a question and they want to keep their young netminders in the minors, Nabokov could play on Long Island after snubbing the organization.

Mirtle’s thought process regarding the unlikelihood of Nabokov playing for the Islanders is sound, but I wonder if DiPietro’s health would be the only reason he might play for the team who received his cold shoulder last season. It wouldn’t be shocking if he played at least a handful of games in Long Island as an “audition” for teams who want to make sure that Nabby hasn’t lost too many steps after what was a dreadful aborted campaign in the KHL.

Who might be most interested in Nabokov

Nabokov’s track record and affordable one-year, $750K deal make him an intriguing trade target at this moment in time, though. The first team that might be awfully interested is the Anaheim Ducks. They have a lot of uncertainty at the position considering Jonas Hiller’s struggles with vertigo, the franchise must be very familiar with Nabokov from his time as a cross-state rival in San Jose and his contract wouldn’t damage their fragile budget too badly. The Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets are two other teams who might want to take a long look at Nabby as a possible starter (especially if the Jets’ new organization isn’t too keen on Ondrej Pavelec).

Nabokov could also be a reasonable insurance policy for a number of teams, including the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets. Even the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs have enough questions in net to at least give Nabby some thought.

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While bringing Yashin back into the Islanders fold could rank as a wild move, Nabokov is more of a wild card. It’s tough to shake the notion that the two-time All-Star and three-time 40+ win man benefited greatly – perhaps deceptively – from his time playing behind a strong team in San Jose. Still, at one year and such a small salary, Nabokov ranks as a smart gamble for a solid chunk of teams. It’s not out of line to wonder if he could help a team go from a playoff outsider to a playoff contender, if nothing else.

Oddly enough, he might even make some sense for the Islanders, too.