Would Tampa Bay Lightning be interested in goalie Evgeni Nabokov? Sure, but ...
There is no doubt, none, that representatives for Evgeni Nabokov will offer the newly free goaltender to the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose goalies have the worst combined goals-against average and save percentage in the league. It might already have happened. But Nabokov's salary demands, plus a strange rule about players coming back to the league after playing in Europe likely are conspiring against a Lightning hook-up. Never say never, obviously. But Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman is in a tough spot.
Consider, first, what Nabokov is likely to want in a contract. He received a four-year, $24 million deal from SKA in St. Petersburg, Russia, to play in the KHL. That he was released from the contract because of "family circumstances" -- his wife is an American and his kids were born in the United States -- doesn't mean he will come back to the NHL for a song. Add that Tampa Bay already has two goaltenders on the roster playing so poorly at the moment trading them would be difficult, and you have the makings of a real glut. It also is unlikely Yzerman wants either Mike Smith's or Dan Ellis' salaries kicking around the minors, especially when the team already is paying a combined $1.5 million in dead buyout money to Vinny Prospal and Todd Fedoruk.
Yzerman isn't one to make knee-jerk reactions, either, and at 16-10-4, Tampa Bay's situation is not desperate. And as Yzerman has said, both Smith and Ellis have shown in the past they can play at an NHL level. But let's say, somehow, Nabokov agreed to a reasonable contract with Tampa Bay. NHL rules say the first thing the Lightning would have to do after Nabokov signs is put the goalie on waivers. It is a rule designed so richer teams can't stockpile players, but it also undercuts teams that have negotiated in good faith to improve their clubs.
The point is, if Nabokov came to an agreeable arrangement with Tampa Bay, don't you think another team would swoop in and claim that deal through waivers? Nabokov, 35, is a good goaltender with 293 NHL wins, a 2.39 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Right now, Ellis and Smith have combined for a 3.43 goals-against average and an .872 save percentage.
So, while it will do no harm for Yzerman to talk to Nabokov's agent Don Meehan, one of the most respected in the business, it seems a more likely strategy will be for the Lightning to see for how much Nabokov signs and then weigh putting in a waiver claim. The rest could be figured out after that. Given Tampa Bay is 12th in the league right now, 18 other teams would have to pass on Nabokov before getting to the Lightning. Tampa Bay is behind the Capitals, however, and speculation is the Lightning's Southeast rival would like Nabokov on board.