Ready to put last season’s dramatic debacle behind him, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov said he will attend Islanders training camp this September.
“Yes I do plan on attending,” Nabokov told Newsday. “Now I will have full preparation for the season.
The decision is an about-face from last January, when he refused to report after the Islanders claimed him off waivers from Detroit.
Now he wants to clear the air about why he chose not to show.
“I want to set the record straight,” Nabokov said from his home in Northern California. “A lot of people speculated that I didn’t want to go to the organization but that’s totally not true.”
“What made me make that decision is that I hadn’t skated for a month-and-a-half when they claimed me. They were out of the playoffs, but battling to get in and, as a goalie, I know the goalie position is important when fighting for position [in the standings],” Nabokov said. “I didn’t feel that I could help them to get to the playoffs. I needed three to four weeks to get ready and the season would’ve been over.”
When Nabokov left Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League for the NHL, he assumed he’d be joining the playoff-bound Red Wings, who inked him to a one-year deal worth $570,000. But a provision in the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed the Islanders to snatch him off waivers first.
“I was not feeling the strongest and Detroit was in a totally different position,” Nabokov said. “They were going to the playoffs and willing to wait. The Islanders needed help then.”
Nabokov said he has spoken to general manager Garth Snow recently but is not clear on the team’s intent.
Since tolling his contract to retain Nabokov’s rights, Snow has the option to trade him. The Islanders might explore whether the 36-year-old former Vezina trophy finalist can compete for a spot and help the team, although it’s already getting crowded at the position.
Last year’s surprise starter Al Montoya, oft-injured Rick DiPietro and 21-year-old heir apparent Kevin Poulin will all be vying for the starting job come September.
Would he prefer to be traded?
“What I want is to get back to the NHL, whether that’s with the Islanders or another team,” Nabokov said “If the Islanders think I can help them, that’s fine with me.”
However, Nabokov is aware that he might not be embraced with open arms by fans or teammates after the saga that unfolded last season.
“Any time you go to a new group, you want to be welcomed,” Nabokov said. “I’m not sure everyone understands the situation. Players can play five, ten minutes a night, but goalies have to play the whole game. I wasn’t ready and the situation wasn’t right. I wish we had better communication between the Islanders and me, but it was a tough decision for me that I couldn’t help.
Nabokov said he has put that in the past.
“Last season was a bit of a rollercoaster for me. It was tough, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Physically and mentally, I’m much better now.”