UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Evgeni Nabokov gave off a poor first impression to Islanders general manager Garth Snow, but not bad enough to make New York sour on the veteran goalie it wants to add to the roster.
Snow reached out to the 35-year-old Nabokov on Saturday shortly after the Islanders claimed him from the Detroit Red Wings—the team with which Nabokov signed a one-year contract on Thursday. Snow said when he identified himself on the phone, Nabokov immediately hung up.
Snow finally talked to Nabokov on Sunday and was told that Nabokov didn’t realize who he was speaking to when abruptly ending the call.
Snow relayed the story to Nabokov’s agent, Don Meehan, on Saturday and was told that he would discuss the matter with his client.
“He called me back 15 or 20 minutes later,” Snow said of Meehan. “Donnie said, ‘He didn’t know it was you. He was on two or three different phones, and people from the media were calling him.’
“I just gave him the benefit of the doubt and I said to Donnie, ‘Do me a favour. When he gets done with all his phone calls, give him my number and get back to me.'”
Snow didn’t speak to Nabokov until Sunday afternoon, during the Islanders’ 5-3 home loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Nabokov failed to report to the Islanders, clearly disappointed that he won’t be joining the Stanley Cup-contending Red Wings. Instead he is now under contract with the Islanders, who are far out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
He was officially listed among the scratches for Sunday’s game. Whether Nabokov will ever join the Islanders remains to be seen.
“It’s something that we’re going to talk about probably a little bit later in the day,” Snow said. “He had his heart set on going to Detroit, obviously. I told him I respect that, but he’s a New York Islander now and we’d love to have him part of our group.”
New York owns Nabokov’s rights, and could keep him out of the NHL for all of next season should Nabokov not report.
“I’m not going to speculate,” Snow said. “I’m looking forward to having him in an Islanders uniform. We can cross those bridges when we get there. I’m not there yet.”
Islanders owner Charles Wang hinted that the Islanders aren’t likely to just cut ties with Nabokov and allow him to go back on the waiver wire.
Nabokov told ESPN.com on Sunday that his decision to spurn the Islanders is not personal. He merely intended to hook on with a title-contending team and not an also-ran club such as the Islanders, who own the third-fewest points in the NHL.
“I think I’m going to stay home for now, I’m sticking with my decision,” Nabokov said Sunday. “It’s nothing against the Islanders and their organization. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s just that I’m at the point in my career where I want to help a team win in the playoffs. I don’t see how I could help the Islanders or what I could do for them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. And I hope they understand that.
“I was surprised they picked me up. I was like, ‘Wow, what’s the point?'”
Nabokov, who played with the San Jose Sharks for parts of 10 seasons, had spent this season with SKA St. Petersburg of the Russian KHL and hadn’t yet played for Detroit. The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement states that anyone who plays in a professional league before signing an NHL contract must clear waivers.
“I understand the rules,” Nabokov told ESPN.com. “We’re not stupid. We knew what was going on before we made the decision. But I made this decision because the goal was to play with Detroit.”
Once he inked his one-year deal with the Red Wings, he became available to the Islanders.
“It’s a situation where I feel we got a talented player off waivers and we’d be thrilled to have him part of the organization,” Snow said. “He has a standard player’s contract with our organization.”
Snow insists he isn’t angry and would still welcome Nabokov into the organization.
“It might be his anniversary, it could be his birthday, maybe he has dinner plans tonight,” Snow said. “So if it takes until tomorrow to get him here, that’s fine, too.”