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Nabokov era starts in Long Island

Oct 15, 2011, 6:42 PM EDT

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Evgeni Nabokov, Al Montoya

Evgeni Nabokov is set to appear in his first game as a New York Islander when the Rangers travel down the Long Island Railroad tonight. Nabokov was a healthy scratch in the Islanders’ first two games of the season, but was given the back-up nod on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With Isles head coach Jack Capuano giving Al Montoya a night off and Rick DiPietro out (shocker) with an early season concussion, Nabokov will get a chance to show his stuff with new team.

The regular season start is the final step in a crazy path Nabokov has taken over the last 17 months. As part of the San Jose organization, he helped lead the Sharks to the Western Conference finals in 2009-10; only to fall to the eventual Stanley Cup champs in Chicago. After the season, the Sharks chose to go in a different (cheaper) direction and the Russian netminder couldn’t find any takers for his contract demands. He ended up signing a $6 million (per season) contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL—only to leave after only 22 games due to “family circumstances.”

He signed with the Detroit Red Wings to serve as a backup insurance policy for Jimmy Howard. The only catch was that he had to clear re-entry waivers upon returning to the NHL. The struggling Islanders took the opportunity to claim the well-established Nabokov which threw a wrench into everyone’s plans. Nabokov wasn’t coming back to North America to play with just anyone (for $570,000)—he was coming back to play with the Red Wings. He decided that he’d rather sit out of the NHL than play for the Islanders—which means his one-year contract that he signed last season is applied to this season. Long story short, he’s Islanders property this season.

Got all that?

The best case scenario for all parties involved is for Nabokov to perform well to increase his trade value. When DiPietro is healthy (don’t laugh), the Islanders have three NHL goaltenders and only roster space for two. No one will take DiPietro’s contract that expires next decade and Montoya is starting to separate himself as the #1 option. If Nabokov can provide strong backup minutes over the first half of the season, he’d be an ideal candidate to be moved at the trade deadline to a contender that’s looking for goaltending depth. The Islanders did the exact same thing last year when they traded veteran Dwayne Roloson to the Lightning in a mid-season deal.

The first step in the plan is for Nabokov to play well tonight against the rival Rangers.

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