Evgeni Nabokov had spent his entire 10-year NHL career with San Jose before signing in the KHL last summer. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
The return of former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to the United States earlier this week has several observers anticipating he'll be playing in the NHL again later this season.
Nabokov signed a four-year, $24-million contract with SKA St. Petersburg of Russia's Kontinental League in the summer after failing to find a comparable deal with an NHL team, but family issues (his wife is American and his children were born in the United States) are believed to be the reason he broke his KHL contract after less than a season.
ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported via Twitter that Nabokov's agent said his client is ready to play and he'll be speaking soon with NHL teams.
Several sources believe the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning are likely destinations. Both teams lack an experienced starting goaltender and that’s led to recent musings they'll be shopping for help soon.
Last summer Capitals GM George McPhee opted to stick with youngsters Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, but both have struggled in recent weeks. Coach Bruce Boudreau, however, told the Washington Post his team is not in the market for a veteran goalie.
If neither Washington goalie can turn things around in the coming weeks McPhee will have to reconsider Nabokov if there's nothing available on the trade market provided, of course, the veteran netminder is still there to sign.
The Lightning's goalie needs are more pressing. Their current tandem of Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have the worst combined goals-against average and save percentage in the league and if they fail to improve, the club’s playoff hopes are in jeopardy.
GM Steve Yzerman admitted speaking recently with Nabokov's agent, but told The Sporting News he wouldn't characterize the discussion as having interest in the goalie.
Regardless of which NHL team lands him, Nabokov will probably have to accept a one-year, prorated contract and hope his play garners a better deal next summer.
He'll also have to pass through waivers before joining any team that signs him, which is a risky venture.
Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren recently cleared sufficient cap space to absorb the $1.55-million contract of returning goalie Michael Leighton by placing right winger Ian Laperriere on long-term injury reserve.
Holmgren will also get more cap relief by placing defenseman Matt Walker on LTIR due to hip surgery, which will likely sideline him for weeks.
Ideally, Holmgren would prefer to move a player via trade, but such a move isn't easy at this time of year. CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reported Holmgren had shopped winger Nikolay Zherdev earlier in the season, but couldn't find any takers.
Holmgren will now carry three goalies – Leighton, Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky – for the time being, but at some point he'll have to move either Leighton or Boucher via trade or waivers.
Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently commented on a rumor linking the Blues to disgruntled Ottawa Senators right winger Alex Kovalev, suggesting Blues GM Doug Armstrong would proceed with caution in this year's trade market and won't make a deal just for the sake of doing so.
The injury-ravaged Blues are missing Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and David Perron, but it's believed with their owner seeking a new investor they lack the dollars to take on an expensive veteran like Kovalev.
If Armstrong does make a trade for a veteran he could do better than an aging, expensive winger like Kovalev, whose numbers have been in decline the past three seasons. As Gordon also noted in his article, Armstrong isn't in any rush as his Blues remain very much in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.