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Nothing simple about Tampa Bay Lightning's possible interest in goalie Evgeni Nabokov

When it comes to Evgeni Nabokov, things are not as simple as they seem.

This is not to say the Lightning is going after the free agent goaltender. General manager Steve Yzerman, with a 17-10-4 team entering Saturday, has time to let goalies Mike Smith and Dan Ellis get their games in order, though his patience is not limitless.

It's just that signing Nabokov is all about a trip through the collective bargaining agreement minefield.

Because Nabokov, a former Sharks star, wants to come back to the league from Russia — where last week because of a "family matter" he was released from his four-year, $24 million contract with St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League — any NHL team that signs him must also put him through waivers.

The rule is in place to stop teams from stockpiling talent, but it also makes signing top-end players tricky for budget-conscious organizations.

Let's say Nabokov agrees to a team-friendly contract with the Lightning. The deal certainly would make him attractive to other franchises looking for help in net, such as the Capitals, and might prompt a waiver claim.

The way to defeat that is to sign the player to a deal other teams will not want to pay, but Tampa Bay certainly is in no position to overpay anyone.

The more prudent strategy for Yzerman might be to wait and see if Nabokov, 35, who had 293 wins in 10 seasons with San Jose, signs with another team and then evaluate whether to make a waiver claim of his own.

By waiting, Yzerman also gives his goaltending situation time to play out.

Tampa Bay's combined goals-against average of 3.34 entered Saturday 29th in the 30-team league, and its .875 save percentage was at the bottom. But in the first game after the Nabokov rumors surfaced, Smith on Wednesday played perhaps his best game of the season in a 2-1 shootout win over the Thrashers.

Sure, as Yzerman said, Smith has to do it "again and again and again," but it was a start to what the GM would consider his preferable strategy: sticking with the goalies he has.

Nothing simple about Tampa Bay Lightning's possible interest in goalie Evgeni Nabokov 12/18/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 18, 2010 10:17pm]
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