If you were surprised when Evgeni Nabokov signed with a KHL team this past summer, you were not alone. Nabokov was widely considered one of the premier goalies in the NHL, constantly leading the San Jose Sharks to success, season after season. SKA St. Petersburg, Nabokov's KHL team, terminated his four year contract earlier today citing family problem. Sources tell me that those problems stem from his family, who remained in North America (his Children were born in the States), being unable to adjust to a Russian lifestyle.
So Nabokov is on his way to North America as I write this and everyone I speak to believes his immediate future is in the NHL. But where will the prized Russian netminder end up?
The leading contender is Tampa Bay, who have allowed a league high 106 goals. The Bolts are currently going with a Mike Smith / Dan Ellis platoon, but it's become clear that both are unable to carry this team where they want to go. Mike Smith's best days appear to be behind him in Dallas, while it's becoming quite clear that Dan Ellis' past success likely had more to do with Nashville's defensive system than his skill.
While burrying one of this two in the minors (assuming they are both untradeable, which seems to be the case) would be a risky move for GM Yzerman, It's probably the right one. Nabokov would give this team it's best goalie since Khabibulin and would transform Tampa Bay from a fringe team to a legitimate contender.
But getting Nabokov won't be easy. Because of the NHL's waiver rules, wherever Nabokov signs, he must pass through waivers before joining any team. Tampa isn't the only team with interest.
Sources tell Hockeyleaks.com that as many as five teams could have interest in Russian olympian, including Washington, who have lost six straight, and Ottawa, who are getting fed up with "Starter" Pascal Leclaire's injuries.
So keep an eye of Evgeni Nabokov over the next couple of weeks. There is significant interest around the NHL in the former all-star goalie and all bets are on him being on an NHL roster before long. He really could be the difference maker for a team like Tampa Bay or Washington, who have all the offense they need but a big hole between the pipes.