Published January 22, 2011
| Associated Press
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Evgeni Nabokov left Russia hoping to land back in the NHL with a competitive team.
The contending Detroit Red Wings gave Nabokov that chance, signing him to a one-year contract, but those plans were upset when the struggling New York Islanders swooped in to claim him off waivers Saturday.
Nabokov, though, doesn't plan to show up.
The 35-year-old goaltender has decided he won't report to the Islanders, a person familiar with his plans told the Associated Press on Saturday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Nabokov hadn't announced his decision.
Several hours after claiming him, Islanders general manager Garth Snow said he hadn't been told Nabokov wouldn't report and was waiting for him to return a call.
The former San Jose standout started the season in Russia. After being released by his KHL club, he had to clear waivers before joining an NHL team.
While he might have dreamed of making a long playoff run with Detroit, which is among the Western Conference leaders, he apparently doesn't have any interest in playing out the string with the Islanders, who have the third fewest points in the league, ahead of only Edmonton and New Jersey.
Snow, though, made a move that was in the best interest of the franchise he's trying to turn around.
"This was a good opportunity to get a quality goaltender with a proven track record," Snow told the AP.
However, several reports surfaced that Nabokov wouldn't report.
"That's news to me," Snow said. "We got a player who has a standard player contract and we are looking forward to having him join our organization."
The Islanders nabbed Nabokov two days after he signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings. He had spent this season with SKA St. Petersburg of the Russian KHL and hadn't yet played for Detroit. The NHL's collective bargaining agreement states that anyone who plays in a professional league before signing an NHL contract must clear waivers.
Snow said the Islanders have an airline ticket for Nabokov to fly from Oakland, Calif., to New York on Sunday when the Islanders will face the Buffalo Sabres in an afternoon game.
Nabokov's new deal contains a no-move clause.
"When I put the claim in, I had no intention to claim him to move him by any means," Snow said.
It is the third time in recent weeks that a player returning to the NHL from the KHL was plucked off waivers. The St. Louis Blues were victimized by the process twice when they lost right wing Marek Svatos to the Nashville Predators and center Kyle Wellwood to the San Jose Sharks.
"I wasn't surprised that he got picked by another team," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We saw St. Louis try to sign two players and they got picked up right away. We knew that was a possibility."
The Islanders were burned by the waiver rule in January 2009 when they tried to bring goalie Wade Dubielewicz back to the organization after he played for Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL. After signing a deal with New York, Dubielewicz was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Islanders (15-24-7) have struggled in goal because of the absence of injured Rick DiPietro and the trade of Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning this month. New York has been going with rookies Kevin Poulin and Nathan Lawson in place of DiPietro, who has missed several games recently because of lingering knee trouble and a case of the flu.
Lawson was forced out of Friday night's win at Buffalo after one period by a knee sprain. The 20-year-old Poulin played the final two periods and earned the win. DiPietro is in the fifth season of a landmark 15-year deal with the Islanders.
Detroit was looking for help in net because backup Chris Osgood is expected to be out until March after having hernia surgery and starter Jimmy Howard has been bothered by a bruised right knee.
"I thought he would've been a good pickup for us if he came here — even though it could've affected me," Osgood said. "I think it was a great pickup for the Islanders. They have Ricky (DiPietro) and some good, young goalies. I would imagine there were five or six other teams that would've wanted him, too. I didn't think he'd end up here, but it was a good move that Kenny (Holland) made because it would've made us better.
"I'm surprised he wasn't in the league this year because he is a great goalie."
After the Sharks chose not to re-sign Nabokov, he was 8-8-5 with a 3.02 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage in 22 games with St. Petersburg. He became a free agent in December after he was released by the KHL club in the first season of a four-year deal.
Nabokov went 44-16-10 with a 2.43 GAA last season with the Sharks and helped the Sharks reach the Western Conference finals against eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
After being chosen in the ninth round of the 1994 NHL draft, Nabokov went on to a 293-178-29-37 mark with a 2.39 GAA and a .912 save percentage in parts of 10 seasons with the Sharks. He was 40-38 with a 2.29 GAA and .913 save percentage in 80 career postseason games.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.