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Evgeni Nabokov’s KHL contract terminated for ‘family circumstances’; which NHL teams might be interested?

Dec 13, 2010, 1:12 PM EST

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From the “who would have thought?” department comes a bit of a KHL shocker: former San Jose Sharks standout goalie Evgeni Nabokov’s contract has been terminated for “family circumstances.”

Of course, it’s difficult to avoid being a little skeptical that “family circumstances” is a PR-friendly way of saying “he’s been a huge bust” but perhaps it’s true that there have been some events in the Russian goalie’s life that are causing him some issues.

Looking at his numbers, it’s tough to say that SKA St. Petersburg was getting its $6 million worth with Nabby. His stats are below average (at least for what’s expected at the NHL-level), with an 8-8-5 record, 88.8 save percentage and 3.02 goals against average in 22 games in the KHL this season. Compare that numbers to 10 seasons with the Sharks, where Nabokov went 293-178-66 with a 91.2 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average.

Various sources, including ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, note that this makes Nabokov a free agent and that he’s ready to come back to the world’s premiere hockey league.

So let’s have some purely speculative fun and ask: who might want to nab Nabokov?

San Jose

Ah, yes, the most obvious choice: his old team in San Jose. Antti Niemi’s save percentage is below 90 and his GAA is above 3 while the team doesn’t have full confidence in Antero Niittymaki. Of course, those two goalies are making a substantial sum of cash, so it would take some maneuvering … but wouldn’t it be interesting to see Nabokov back in teal?

Chicago

The Sharks turned the knife on Chicago twice this off-season; once by trying to sign Niklas Hjalmarsson with an offer sheet and then by signing Niemi. The Hawks could gain sweet vengeance and also give Corey Crawford insurance as Marty Turco struggles by adding Nabokov.

Tampa Bay

With both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith struggling mightily, the offensively potent Lightning could really use some stability in net. After all, the last time the team had a mercurial Russian netminder (Nikolai Khabibulin), they won the Stanley Cup.

Philadelphia

Actually, I think that they’re already covered in the “Russian” category (with Sergei Bobrovsky) and also find themselves in an awkward “Three’s Company” in net. I had to mention it, though, by Secret Blogging Code.

Washington

… Much like I must mention the Capitals, who seem like they might make a bit more sense than the Flyers. After all, there are these reasons:

1. The Capitals love Russians.

2. They are on a six-game losing streak, so their confidence in Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth might be shaken a bit (at least in the short term).

3. It would give media and fans ample opportunities to make “they both choke in the playoffs!” jokes.

Toronto

Another team I felt the need to mention mainly because of reflex. Yes, the Leafs have invested in Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but Toronto loves flashy moves and neither goalie distinguished themselves as a strong starter. (Giguere is an especially expensive waste.)

***

So now that I threw some darts at the wall, I couldn’t help but ask: where do you think Nabokov might end up? Vote in the poll. If you choose “other”, please let us know which team you decided in the comments.

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