Former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov signs 4-year, $24M contract with KHL club SKA St. Petersburg

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - Save & Share - 4 Comments

Former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov signed a 4 year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL

Former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov agreed to a 4-year, $24M contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League according to reports. His Russian agent, Sergei Isakov, confirmed news of the signing to Sovetsky Sport today. “Nabokov is coming to Russia in early August with his whole family,” a translated version of said.

Alexander Medvedev, head of the natural gas giant Gazprom and president of the KHL and SKA St. Petersburg, said Monday that negotiations with Nabokov were ongoing despite a Russian news report that they were over. According to Yahoo’s Dmitry Chesnokov, on Tuesday SKA St. Petersburg GM Andrei Tochinsky noted negotiations with Nabokov and the KHL were continuing. “It’s just we couldn’t reach an agreement on certain issues by Tuesday.”

It turns out one of the issues Nabokov wanted to nail down was the approval of his family for a move to Russia. “I would not make a decision like this without my family supporting me,” Nabokov told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun this afternoon. “They supported me 100 percent. That’s probably the biggest reason I’m going there, because my family supported it.”

“I think it will be a lot tougher on the cultural, everyday life level. For an American person, his wife, it will be very different,” Russian television reporter Pavel Krepkiy told Sharkspage. “I am sure he worked out something where it will be as comfortable as possible, it will still not be as stable and calm as it was in San Jose. I think it will be tougher for his family, than for Nabokov.”

The 34-year old, Kazakhstan-born goaltender represented Russia internationally in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, and help lead Team Russia to a gold medal in the 2008 World Championships with a 5-4 OT win over Canada. After more than 12 seasons and 342 regular season wins in North America with the Sharks major and minor league organizations, and a brief stop with Metallurg Magnitogorsk during the lockout, Nabokov could effectively finish his career in Russia.

He becomes possibly the largest NHL star to return back to Russia. 6-time Vezina winner Dominik Hasek and 3-time Stanley Cup Champion and member of Detroit’s “Russian Five” Sergei Fedorov, joined the KHL in the twilight of their careers. blogger Vadim Kuznetsov believes the biggest NHL defection was the move of Jaromir Jagr to Omsk Avangard in 2008-09. One year removed from a 30-goal, 96-point season with the New York Rangers, Jagr left for the KHL with much fanfare. “When Jagr joined KHL, everyone was shocked,” Kuznetsov said.

Nabokov leaves for the KHL averaging 43.6 wins a year over the last 3 seasons. He leaves a San Jose Sharks team that won back-to-back Western Conference Championships, and joins a KHL team that earned a West Conference title by 20 points, and a Bobrov division title by 21 points. “SKA is the Russian Sharks. They always play great during the
season, but can lose to some outsider when it comes to playoffs,” Vadim Kuznetsov told Sharkspage. In a 56-game regular season, Vadim believes he could see somewhere in the range of 40-43 starts, and several times that number in interview requests from the Russian media.

The long-term signing is a coup for the burgeoning KHL. “It is a continuation of the rising popularity for hockey in Russia,” noted Pavel Krepkiy, the lone Russian member of the Sharks day-to-day media scrum and often Sharkspage’s neighbor in the press box. “The signing of stars like him raises the level of hockey in Russia.” Vadim Kuznetsov offered a somewhat more colorful outlook. “It’s interesting but maybe 50% of fans are happy now because they will see him playing in Russia, and the other half is (upset) – they don’t like rich clubs such as SKA.”

Nabokov could join a SKA roster that included a trio of former Sharks, Nils Ekman, Alexander Korolyuk and defenseman Andrei Zyuzin, as well as Sergei Zubov, Alexei Yashin, Petr Cajanek (he of the hit by Kyle McLaren fame), and Oleg Saprykin last season. He replaces former Flyers goaltender Robert Esche, who lead the KHL in wins. Esche could look to return to the NHL along with another KHL goalie Michael Tellqvist, furthur confusing an already opaque UFA goalie market.

The Sharks made an unusual announcement via their website last month that they were moving on from Nabokov after nearly 10 seasons with the NHL club. “Nabby has been a big part of this team for the past 10 seasons and played an important role is our successes. This decision boils down to a dedication of dollars in a salary cap system and under this system, teams can’t keep everyone,” San Jose Sharks GM/EVP Doug Wilson said after meeting personally with Nabokov. The tough decision allowed the Sharks to lock up key forwards Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to 4-year contracts. It was also a signal to Nabokov’s replacement, Finnish netminder Antero Niittymaki, to keep an open phone line at the start of free agency July 1st.

Life atop the West has been difficult. The Sharks have lost key contributors this offseason in Evgeni Nabokov and veteran defensive forward Manny Malhotra to free agency, captain Rob Blake’s retirement, and the loss of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich in a salary cap dump to Conference rival Vancouver last year. There have been veiled hints that offseason maneuverings may not have been completed yet in San Jose.

Nabokov leaves a mark on this organization that has not fully been accounted for among the fans and the media. As noted earlier on this blog, the franchise leader in games played (563), wins (293), saves (13463) and shutouts (50) faced more shots and played more minutes with a San Jose Sharks crest on his jersey (14757, 32492), than the next four goaltenders combined (Irbe, Shields, Vernon and Toskala). “You just let the guy who won more games than anyone else over the last 3 seasons walk away,” television analyst Drew Remenda recently told KNBR.

The Sharks were blessed with early postseason success and quality goaltending by the likes of Arturs Irbe and Mike Vernon during the first 10 years of the franchise in the Bay Area. Over the last 10 years, San Jose could bank on quality starts from the trio of Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala. Now for the first time in over a decade, there is a question mark in goal. The Sharks coaching staff and front office have a quartet of talented netminders hoping to fill the hole, but the question mark will remain until the puck drops on the season in Sweden.

One question that has been answered, Nabokov will continue to wear #20 for SKA St. Petersburg, honoring one of his idols Vladislav Tretiak.

[Update] A few more notes via reader email: As part of the Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge, Nabokov and SKA St. Petersburg will face off against the Carolina Hurricanes for an NHL-KHL exhibition in Russia on Oct. 4th. Nabokov’s 4-year contract with SKA will also overlap with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. A then 38-year old Nabokov would at a minimum face stiff competition from a then 34-year old Ilya Bryzgalov. KHL games are streamed online and archived at, hopefully ESPN adds an English broadcast version soon.

[Update2] Alexander Medvedev: We hope that after Nabokov comes Kovalchuk – (rough translation from Google).

- Tell us about the conditions of the contract with SKA Nabokov.

- The agreement is designed for a full Olympic cycle – four years. So, we hope Eugene will act in the national team and in Sochi.

- How did the idea to invite Nabokov in the SCA?

- We are following very closely all Russian hockey players acting in the NHL. As soon as it became known that “San Jose” refuses to renew relations with its main goalkeeper, we informed Eugenia our desire to return it to the KHL. After all, everyone knows that Nabokov’s international family. In this case, the risk that ice hockey will not want to change the circumstances of life, very great. But on the other hand, he was able to communicate with friends by Russian and foreign hockey players, who managed to play in St. Petersburg. I think Eugene has received from them full information about the status of CAS and KHL.

- Nabokov will arrive in Russia by the time the SKA from vacation?

- We plan to organize a full-fledged press conference, like the one that last year was devoted to the return of Sergei Zubov of the NHL. I would hope that it is not presenting a single player, but two. The struggle for Kovalchuk, of course, is serious. “New Jersey is eager to sign Ilya.” Not accidentally Lou Lamorello does not leave the beach. Do not worry, I also can not yet leave.

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Time August 5, 2010 at 8:53 PM

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Time August 9, 2010 at 10:36 AM

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Time December 13, 2010 at 11:13 AM

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