Sharks set to debut third back-up goaltender in 3 games, Evgeni Nabokov saga continues as he is suspended by New York Islanders

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov suspended by New York Islanders for not reporting to team

Sharks goaltending prospect J.P. Anderson congratulated Antti Niemi after his win over the Minnesota Wild Saturday

The Sharks have experienced a spate of goaltending drama on both coasts in the last few days. With Antero Niittyamki injured, the teal, orange and black are scheduled to debut their third straight backup goaltender in 3 games tonight against the Los Angeles Kings. University of British Columbia goaltender Jordan White filled in as an emergency backup Thursday in Vancouver, Sharks OHL goaltending prospect J.P. Anderson backed up Antti Niemi Saturday night against Minnesota, and 2005 draft pick Alex Stalock will sit on the bench tonight in San Jose’s last game before the 5-day 2011 Allstar break. There was much more to come.

The goaltending drama began Thursday with an unspecified injury Antero Niittymaki suffered during a pre-game practice Thursday in Vancouver. Niittymaki, winless in his last 3 contests after winning the previous 4, stayed out on the ice to get extra work in after the practice ended. After suffering the injury, Niittymaki was quickly placed on IR and the Sharks looked to the local amateur ranks to find an emergency replacement. “Everything happened so quick,” 22-year old UBC Thunderbirds goaltender Jordan White told the Vancouver Sun. “I wouldn’t say I was nervous, more excited. I’d never looked forward to taking pucks in warmup as much as I did tonight.”

According to San Jose Sharks broadcaster Randy Hahn, White was forced to give a pre-game speech to fire up the locker room. “I didn’t think he was going to stop. He just said, ‘I’ve watched these guys a lot, they’re my favorite team, stay out of the box,’ stuff like that. It was pretty funny,” Logan Couture said of the motivational speech. White, who was a teammate of Devin Setoguchi with Prince George of the WHL in 2006-07, was the second University of British Columbia netminder to be called up for an NHL game. The Vancouver Canucks used Chris Levesque against the Pittsburgh Penguins after Dan Cloutier suffered an injury in 2003.

It was not the only Sharks-related goaltending drama on Thursday. The AHL Worcester Sharks invited UConn student and future Afghanistan-bound Marine Derek Ames to fill in as a goaltender at the DCU Center during practice. Flanked by assistant GM/goaltending coach Wayne Thomas and development coach Mike Ricci, the former St. John’s and UCONN alum filled in on only a few hours notice. According to his father, Derek began pre-deployment training this week in North Carolina and will be deployed to Afghanistan in August.

The other small San Jose related item on Thursday was announced midway through the Sharks-Vancouver game. It was reported that former Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov signed a 1-year, $570,000 contract with the Detroit Red Wings (pro-rated approximately $250,000 for the remainder of the season). Nabokov would have to clear the waiver wire, a process that St. Louis had tried unsuccessfully twice this season. After signing contracts with the Blues, Marek Svatos and Kyle Wellwood were claimed off the waiver re-entry wire by the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks respectively. Nabokov was similarly claimed by the New York Islanders, struggling through a recent injury crisis of their own after trading backup/co-starter Dwayne Roloson.

Nabokov to the Detroit Red Wings was the worst case scenario for any Western Conference team looking to make the playoffs, but fortunately he would have to face a gauntlet of teams that could use the services of a goaltender that averaged 43.6 wins over the last 3 seasons. The New York Islanders claimed him after the Conference dwellars New Jersey and Edmonton passed. Late reports Saturday night claimed that Nabokov would not report to the Islanders, and that he had actually hung up on Islanders GM Garth Snow. Evgeni Nabokov cleared the air Sunday with ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

“I think I’m going to stay home for now, I’m sticking with my decision,” Nabokov told LeBrun. “It’s nothing against the Islanders and their organization. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s just that I’m at the point in my career where I want to help a team win in the playoffs. I don’t see how I could help the Islanders or what I could do for them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. And I hope they understand that.”

Many in the national media slammed the 35-year goaltender for his decision. LeBrun’s ESPN colleague Scott Burnside wrote that Nabokov’s market value was dropping, and incorrectly noted that he could not find work last offseason. Not being able to find work, and exiting the NHL free agent frenzy early to sign a 4-year, $24 million contract with the KHL are two seperate things. Nabokov expressed a desire to play in the playoffs, something the Islanders will not achieve this season. The Hockey News senior writer Adam Proteau slammed Nabokov on a January 21st podcast with XM host Jim Gordon. “He was a train wreck in the playoffs at times, and almost single handedly sunk them at times. That was the reason why they cut bait,” Proteau said of the Sharks moving off of Nabokov last year. “Just because (Niemi and Niittymaki) aren’t doing it, doesn’t mean he was still a good fit for them. (Nabokov’s) time was done.”

If one thing was certain about the Sharks past playoff failures, they were earned as a team and not by any lone individual. That does not change the lack of appeal of backstopping a lottery team in New York. 60% of the current Islanders blueliners have been in the league 3 years or less. Defenseman Mark Eaton (hip surgery) is out for the season, and defenseman Milan Jurcina (upper-body) could miss a month. Reports have noted that puck moving blueliner Mark Streit has started skating, but the 6 month time frame from October shoulder surgery would place his return just before the end of the season. After struggling with a porous defense in the KHL, how would struggling with a non-NHL calibre defense improve his market value for next season?

Nabokov declined to report to the New York Islanders. He failed to appear on two scheduled flights Sunday and Monday out of Oakland, and was suspended by the Islanders on Tuesday. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Islanders can sit Nabokov for the remainder of the season, or try to “toll” the contract and petition the NHL to make it applicable for next season. The Islanders can not trade Nabokov outright. Any initial waiver claims would be fulfilled first, and he would have to clear a second 29-team waiver re-entry wire as well.

The Sharks, or at least the fan base, looked on in silence. San Jose EVP/GM Doug Wilson would not confirm or deny whether or not the Sharks put in a waiver claim for Nabokov, but given the depth in the organization they would not have to. Rookie tournament standout J.P. Anderson was brought in to back up Antti Niemi against the Minnesota Wild in San Jose on Saturday night. With a 22-5-1 record, 2.29GAA and .915SV% for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, the 18-year old Anderson is having an excellent season in the OHL. “Right now I just want to come in here and learn as much as I can and take the experience in,” a wide eyed Anderson told the Mercury News. He was sent back to the OHL after one game, but he was given a clear target to aim for down the line.

The Sharks did not call-up Tyson Sexsmith or Alex Stalock initially, the tandem that helped the Worcester Sharks make a playoff run last season. Sexsmith was assigned to the Sharks ECHL affiliate in Stockton this season, and he had been out with an injured hand after a goalie fight with Josh Tordjman of Bakersfield in November. There were unconfirmed reports that Alex Stalock was also trying to recover from a nagging injury, but he was called up by San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson on Tuesday. He will back up Antti Niemi in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

At the time of his first NHL callup, the 23-year old netminder had registered a 17-17-4 record, 2.65GAA and a .907SV% in 38 games played. The 180-pound Minnesota native was well enough to play back-to-back games last weekend, registering a loss and a shootout loss with 48 saves on 57 shots against. He has also started 9 of the Worcester Sharks 13 games in 2011, with a 3-4-2 record. Asked by San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak about his impressions practicing with the NHL club, Stalock was excited, but not overwhelmed. “I played with a handful of these guys last year and it’s good to come up here and see them again,” Stalock said. “This team has some of the greatest players in the world so this is fun.” The Worcester Sharks replaced Stalock on the roster by calling up Stockton Thunder goaltender Tyson Sexsmith.

The ongoing goalie rotation will probably not faze starting goaltender Antti Niemi, who in 2011 has quietly put up a solid 5-4 record, 2.01GAA and .935SV% despite a dramatic lack of offensive support. Niemi has allowed two or fewer goals in 7 of 9 starts during January, and received more than two goals of offensive support only 4 times. It is expected that Antero Niittymaki’s injury will be reevaluated during the 5-day ASG break. He is eligible to come off of IR on Thursday. Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe may return to the lineup tonight after missing 4 games. Clowe was cut in the back of the leg by the skate of Dustin Penner on January 13th.

[Update] For emergency backup goalies, big thrills but little ice time – New York Times.

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