On Wednesday afternoon, one the greatest goalies to ever don a Russian national jersey hung his skates up for good at the starting point of his hockey career. 39-year-old Evgeni Nabokov announced his retirement from the NHL a member of the San Jose Sharks after being traded for future considerations from Tampa Bay earlier in the week.
Nabby broke into the league in 1999 appearing in 11 games before becoming the Sharks full-time goalie in 2000, a season which earned him the Calder Trophy along with one of the longest acceptance walks in the history of award shows. He would go on to hold down the fort for the next decade while earning all the Sharks franchise records for goalies including games played, wins, and shutouts.
Despite his best efforts, the Sharks could not advance past the conference finals. His acrobatic style and calmness certainly attributed to many local kids trying their hand at net as hockey began to boom in northern California.
He would become the first netminder to score a power-play goal and remains the only European to ever light the lamp in the NHL. He would leave the NHL entirely, albeit briefly, when he signed a multi-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL in 2010. His time abroad was cut short due to family reasons and he sought a return to North America.
Nabby initially signed a deal with the Detroit Red Wings but having to clear waivers according to the NHL’s CBA agreement, he would be by claimed the lower-seeded New York Islanders. Nabokov refused to report to the team and was suspended for the remainder of the 2010-2011 season. He would eventually join the team and played a big part of ending the franchise’s five-year playoff drought during his three season stay.
Last summer he signed a one-year deal with the Lightning to back-up Ben Bishop but his play had steadily declined that he was placed on waivers midway through the season.
Despite being born in Kazakhstan, Nabokov would represent the Russian national team at the Olympics in both 2006 and 2010. In 2008, he was in the crease for Sbornya when they won their first World Championship in 15 years. The gold medal was his highest achievement on the international ice.
Nabokov will be remembered for his longevity as he leaves the sport of hockey ranked 18th all-time in wins and 17th in shutouts. He finished three games shy of playing in 700 career games. Most of all he will be remembered for his habit of robbing shooters throughout his career. Against the likes of Owen Nolan, and fellow Calder Trophy nominee Brad Richards.
Evgeni Nabokov leaves the NHL the winningest Russian goalie of all-time, a record that could stand for a long time.