Evgeni Nabokov: Bringing Veteran Presence to the Tampa Bay Lightning

Evgeni Nabokov has been around the block. The 39 year old goalie saw his first NHL action in the last millennium. Drafted by the San Jose Sharks, Nabokov played in 11 games in the 1999-2000 season for San Jose. He has been a consummate professional since then.

While playing for the New York Islanders the last three seasons, Evgeni Nabokov has averaged 41 games each year. During that span, he has a record of 57 – 44 for a team that only made the playoffs one of those three years. Most impressive, is his goals against average of 2.60.

After the Tampa Bay Lightning signed him, Nabokov said all the right things about playing for a team on the rise. Doing whatever he needs to for the team. The thing is that his comments don’t appear to be disingenuous.

To have a #1 goaltender in Ben Bishop who only has one year under his belt as a #1 NHL goalie, the signing of Evgeni Nabokov is a brilliant move by Bolts G.M. Steve Yzerman. It gives the Lightning a solid backup, especially knowing that Bishop is coming back from two injuries that knocked him out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last April. The dislocated elbow and the wrist surgery had to be on Yzerman’s mind when looking for Bishop’s backup this past off season.

There were several contenders including Anders Lindback, but when the dust settled, getting Nabokov’s John Hancock on a contract was another in a long list of solid moves by Steve Yzerman. First, if anything happens to Bishop, the Lightning won’t miss a beat with Nabokov between the pipes.

Secondly, with two young Eastern Europeans on the depth charts right behind Nabokov in Kristers Gudlevskis from Latvia and Andrey Vasilevskiy from Russia, there is a strong possibility of a solid mentorship between Nabokov and these two young goalies.  I can see Nabokov helping with the development of these two young goaltenders of the future.  Did I mention how brilliant I see this move as being for the organization?

It has been 10 years since Nikolai Khabibulin was in goal for the Bolts and led the team to carrying Lord’s Stanley Cup. Since then, the team has gone through a number of goalies. Some good (Dwayne Roloson), some bad (Mike Smith), some ugly (names withheld). But in that time, of the goalies who manned the net for at least 40 games, no Russians since the Bulin Wall. Maybe, that’s what we needed. If that’s the case, Evgeni Nabokov fits that bill too.

There are a whole lot of reasons to like this goalie tandem. For the first time since the Cup year, I feel real good about the Lightning goalie situation. Ben Bishop is looking to build on his Vezina finalist year last season and Evgeni Nabokov is looking to help wherever and whenever he can to a team he said has a “great chance” to be a success this year.  No doubt, the goaltending will lead the way towards finding that success on the ice.


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