(photo: Dinur Blum)
After 14 amazing seasons in the NHL, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov made an announcement Wednesday that he would retire. A member of the San Jose Sharks for 10 seasons, the Sharks reacquired Nabokov on Monday from the Tampa Bay Lightning and, as expected, it was so that he could retire as a Shark.
Nabokov was originally drafted by the Sharks in 1994, and throughout his illustrious career, he led all goaltenders selected in that draft year for career games played, wins, and shutouts. Additionally, he is the winning-est goaltender in the Sharks’ franchise history with 293 wins. He also holds the title for most games played (563) and most shutouts (50) for the club. In his first full NHL season in 2000-01, he received the Calder Memorial Trophy as the League’s Rookie of the Year plus was selected to play in the NHL All-Rookie Team and the NHL All-Star game all in that same season.
Overall, he has played in 697 career NHL games with San Jose (1999-2010 seasons), the New York Islanders (2011-14 seasons), and Tampa Bay Lightning (2014-15).
The season with the most accolades for Nabokov was in 2007-08. He led the NHL in wins (46), was tied for 3rd in shutouts (6), and was 3rd in goals-against average (2.14). That same season he was runner-up for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender and finished 7th in voting for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player. He played in the NHL All-Star Game and was named to the NHL First All-Star Team. Additionally, he had 46 wins that season, 4th most in a single season in the NHL with 77 appearances. Those 77 appearances in a single season ranks third most in NHL history.
Probably one of the coolest stats to happen to a goalie happened to Nabokov on March 10, 2002, in Vancouver. He scored a goal – only the 7th goaltender (and first of European descent) to do so. But what’s more impressive is that he was the first NHL goalie to score while his team was on a power play.
Among his incredible regular-season statistics, Nabokov also ranks 23rd all-time in postseason wins with 42 out of his 86 career Stanley Cup Playoff games. He helped lead the Sharks to two of their three Western Conference Final appearances in 2004 and 2010.
His achievements stretch across the international stage as well. In 2004, he was named to the roster for the World Cup of Hockey for that year. A native of Kazakhstan, he represented Russia in 2006 as their starting goaltender and in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Additionally, he led Russia to a gold medal in the 2008 World Championships (he played in the 2011 World Championships as well) and was voted “Best Goalkeeper” and named Russia’s top player for those games in 2008.
For San Jose Sharks fans, and probably for “Nabby” himself, it was a bittersweet moment Wednesday night when he dropped the ceremonial puck before the start of the contest between the Sharks and the Washington Capitals. The crowd went wild and were chanting “Nabby! Nabby! Nabby!” as was so often the case during his career in San Jose.
(photos are my own)
Nabokov reflected on his career as a hockey player and his retirement during his press conference Wednesday afternoon:
“Growing up in Kazakhstan in the 1980s, I never could have dreamed of making it to the NHL and play against the best players in the world. I’m really proud to be able to finish my career where I started in San Jose and where I had my best years. This is my home and this is where my heart is.”
As for myself, Nabokov was the first NHL goalie that I had watched when I was first introduced to the game and the Sharks. And I can’t help but believe that he had something to do with my love for the sport. He will be forever remembered as one of San Jose’s greatest goaltenders and will forever be a San Jose Shark. Thank you, Nabby.