Nabokov in Plans for Bolts?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA. AUGUST 6, 2010. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov at a news conference on signing a contract with HC SKA. (Photo ITAR-TASS / Stanislav Krasilnikov) Photo via Newscom

As each game Tampa Bay Lightning game passes by, the number of soft goals being allowed continues ot mount.

While Dan Ellis has been solid for the most part, his contests have been marred by a goal of two that one would believe he knows that he should have made the save.

Mike Smith has struggled to the point that Ellis has gotten the past four starts.  Smith has not seen game action since being pulled in an 8-1 anhilation at the hands of the Boston Bruins on December 2nd.

Tampa hasn’t had too much to consider with regards to options for their netminding woes – until today that is, when it was announced that wayward NHL goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is leaving the KHL and returning to North America.

The story from Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov is that Nabokov had his contract contract voided due to “family reasons”.  Those reasons were not spelled out and there is no reason to speculate.

All that matters is that it seems certain that the former San Jose Shark star is headed back to the NHL.

And that could end up being excellent news for a Lightning club that has the worst team save percentage and the most goals allowed in the entire league.

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 14: Dan Ellis of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 14, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ellis, signed to a two-year deal as an unrestricted free agent this past July, has an 8-5-4 record, with a 3.23 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage.

Smith, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, is 8-5-0, with a 3.57 GAA, and an.872 save percentage.

Ellis has recorded the only two Tampa Bay shutouts this year.

In 30 games thus far in the 2010-11 campaign, the Lightning are the only team to give up in excess of 100 goals (104), and hold the worst team GAA in the NHL at 3.47.  Something to consider by comparison – the Boston Bruins have given up just 53 goals in two fewer games played for an average of 1.89.

Despite these numbers, Tampa Bay has been able to outscore their opponents for the most part.  Their 94 goals scored is fifth-highest in the Eastern Conference, and ninth overall in the league.

The Bolts have been able to be successful in spite of their netminding, as well as their schedule.  The team has been stellar at home, going 7-2-2 in just 11 contests at St. Pete Times Forum, and also has a winning record on the road (9-8-2).

But they will not be considered a playoff threat until the leaky crease is given some kind of attention.

The good news for GM Steve Yzerman is that he has a big number left in his salary cap limit.  According to CapGeek.com, Tampa has nearly $11 million in available space for this season.

While Yzerman will need to make sure that he has enough room going into next season to be able to re-sign pending restricted free agent Steven Stamkos, it is rumored that the cap will also actually experience a decent increase if the network television deal with ESPN becomes a reality.  There should be plenty to go around for all of the re-signings and still be able to bring in an elite goaltender of Nabokov’s stature.

CHICAGO - MAY 21: Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the San Jose Sharks in net in overtime while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 21, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In ten seasons in the National Hockey League – all with San Jose – Nabokov has a career record of 293-178-29-37, with a 2.39 GAA and a .912 save percentage, and reached the 50 career shutout milestone last year.

While his age (35) is one of the bigger (and possibly only) detractions to bringing him in, it should be noted that Nabokov posted his best numbers in the NHL in the last three seasons.  In each of those three, he won over 40 games per year.

In the last three seasons, Nabokov was an amazing 131-49-26, while picking up 16 shutouts along the way.

As the NHL headed into this past summer’s free agent market, it was thought that Nabokov would be one of the most sought after players to be available.  But the native Russian took himself out of the running early, deciding instead to ink a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.

According to Hockeydb.com, Nabokov had a record of 8-8-5 with a 3.02 GAA and an .888 save percentage, with two shutouts in 22 games with St. Petersburg this year.

Now that he is apparently heading back to the NHL, it remains to be seen if Yzerman will entertain any thoughts of signing “Nabby”.  The goaltender’s agent, Don Meehan, told ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun that “Nabokov is prepared to play, and will begin speaking with teams” (as posted on Twitter by Lebrun).

And maybe, just maybe, one of those teams will be the Lightning.  We shall see.

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Tags: Dan Ellis Evgeni Nabokov Khl Kontinental Hockey League Mike Smith National Hockey League NHL Steve Yzerman Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning

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