Isles Bad Guys In Nabokov Situation
As a Rangers fan I try not to ever be too critical of other organizations; especially those that are division rivals. You've heard the cliche about those that live in glass houses, haven't you? The Rangers have certainly made more than their fair share of player personnel errors so I try to avoid speaking ill of other teams. The Islanders recent mishandling of they Evgeni Nabokov situation is a different matter.
Truth is I have a lot of respect for Islanders fans. They are passionate and loyal despite the many years without much on-ice success. Unfortunately the Islanders organization has done little to reward that loyalty.
Before I light into Islanders management, specifically GM Garth Snow and owner Charles Wang, let me acknowledge the positive news created by extending LW Matt Moulson. Moulson has worked hard to turn himself into a pretty good player and he deserves every penny he will get. Of course Snow and Wang needed to do something to make them look good because what they did to Nabokov was neither fair nor professional.
Nabokov, as we all know, left the NHL to sign in the KHL last summer when it became clear he wouldn't get the free agent contract he was looking for in North America. After a few months in Russia, Nabokov decided he wanted to return home to North America. He and his KHL club came to an agreement to terminate his contract so he could return to the NHL as an unrestricted free agent. Except he really wasn't an unrestricted free agent.
The Detroit Red Wings, seeking help in goal with the loss of veteran back-stop Chris Osgood and looking ahead to competing for another Stanley Cup championship, agreed to terms with Nabokov. Unfortunately, due to a provision in the collective bargaining agreement, Nabokov first had to clear waivers before joining Detroit. That's when the Isles stepped in.
First, let's look at why this provision was included in the CBA to begin with. During the Oilers dynasty of the mid to late 1980's, defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen had a habit of reappearing late in the year in time to win a Stanley Cup with Edmonton. He was a member of 1986-1987 and 1989-1990 Oilers teams that won championships. Both seasons he began the year in Europe before signing on with Edmonton as a free agent. Ruotsalainen played a total of 26 regular season games with the Oilers scoring 21 points (6 g, 15 a) but appeared in 43 postseason contests for the Oil.
Obviously it didn't seem fair to other teams that the Oilers could add an all-star caliber player for the stretch run at no cost. The player wanted to play in Europe for a majority of the season, whether to be closer to home or for more money, but made himself available just in the nick of time to get his name engraved on 2 cups. The rule was eventually instituted to keep this from happening.
After Nabokov agreed to terms on a contract, he had to pass through waivers first. Every team in the NHL had a chance to place a claim on the veteran net minder with highest priority given to the team with the worst record. The Islanders, with the 3rd worst record in the NHL at the time and also needing help in net following the trade of Dwayne Roloson, placed a claim and Nabokov was awarded to them.
It's important to note that Nabokov's agent, Don Meehan, sent a letter to each team in the league stating Nabokov's desire to play only for the Wings and attempting to discourage anyone else from claiming him. St. Louis had already been burned twice with Nashville claiming F Marek Svatos and San Jose grabbing Kyle Wellwood. Meehan tried to keep the same thing from happening with Nabokov. It didn't work.
I understand Nabokov's position. He wanted to play for a team with postseason aspirations, a team that would be playing meaningful games in the spring. He wanted to rebuild his value in advance of hitting free agency this summer. I completely get why Detroit would be appealing and Long Island wouldn't be.
I also understand the Islanders didn't do anything technically wrong by claiming Nabokov. They have a legitimate need for an experienced goalie and were within their rights to claim him according to the CBA. Still, look at the position they put Nabokov in.
Nabokov had 2 choices; show up and play the remainder of the season for a team going nowhere and a club he didn't want to go to or not report. He chose the latter.
The Islanders were then presented with 2 options of their own; suspend Nabokov and potentially block him from playing in the NHL until the 2012-2013 season or put him back on waivers again. They chose the former and now Nabokov may not be able to play in the NHL, except for with the Islanders, for a year and a half. And I thought he was a free agent; free to sign with anyone he wanted. Guess I was wrong.
To me the Islanders look really bad here. By claiming Nabokov, they put him in a bad situation and now he may not be able to play the game he loves in the league he wants to ever again. If he doesn't play next season, he will be 37 in the summer of 2012 when he possibly may again be free to join any team he wishes to. How much interest will there be in a guy who hasn't suited up in the NHL for 2 years and is 37? Probably none.
I could have understood had a team in the Western Conference playoff picture claimed him to prevent the Wings from improving. In that situation it would have been good strategy to block Nabokov from going to Detroit if the claiming team was fighting for playoff positioning or didn't want to face Nabokov and the Wings in the postseason. That isn't the case with the Islanders.
The Islanders were already in a tough position when it comes to attracting free agents or keeping their own players long term. I can't see this helping make Long Island an attractive place to play. They have the worst home arena, according to many, in the league. Their ownership hasn't demonstrated the ability or willingness to spend to the cap ceiling (and before you say they had the best offer on the table to Paul Martin last summer and that's proof they're committed to spending what it takes, it's easy to make the best offer when you know the player won't take it. It makes for good publicity though). Now they've possibly prematurely ended the NHL career of Nabokov. If I am a free agent or a current Islanders player, these factors would weigh heavily in my decision to sign on Long Island.
Remember what I said earlier about glass houses? Well, I haven't either. I know anyone that disagrees with me will point at the Rangers demotion of Wade Redden as similar to what the Islanders have done to Nabokov. That isn't the case though. The Rangers demoted a player that wasn't performing to the level of his contract. Redden's choices were better than Nabokov's. Redden could go to Hartford and still collect his money or he could have refused to report and been granted free agency. He then would have been free to go anywhere he wanted and play in the NHL and the Rangers would have been freed of the financial burden.
Nabokov could play for the Islanders or..... well, or play for no one.
Back to the Islanders having a need for a reliable veteran goalie. Nabokov wasn't the only option out there. Chances are a few veterans were available via trade. Mathieu Garon comes to mind. Ray Emery is ready to test out his hip in the AHL and he likely would have jumped at the chance to join the Islanders. They didn't need to try to convince Nabokov to change his mind about coming to Long Island.
At the end of the day Nabokov isn't playing in the NHL, the Islanders still haven't added a veteran goalie and now they look like the bad guys in one of the NHL's strangest story lines of the year.