Funny how things can go wrong when everyone does everything right, isn’t it? Just ask the New York Islanders or Detroit Red Wings, or better yet, the St. Louis Blues.
One of the NHL’s most intriguing stories of the weekend happened not on the ice but in the executive suites of a couple of teams trying to get veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov to play for them. The upshot is that Nabokov is still sitting on the sidelines, which is probably better for the Islanders and the Red Wings than what happened to the Blues recently when they tried to bring a couple of free agents back from Europe.
In their cases, the Blues did all the leg work to bring Kyle Wellwood and Marek Svatos back to North America, and for their efforts saw both end up on rival Western Conference teams.
Still the machinations involving those players failed to create as much of a stir as those with the higher profile Nabokov, a one-time NHL rookie of the year for the San Jose Sharks and a brilliant regular season goalie who tended to come up short in the playoffs. Nabokov’s his reputation didn’t put him in great demand last summer when any NHL team could have signed him as a free agent, resulting in the former Sharks star went back home to Russia to play in the KHL.
Nabokov, 36, signed a lucrative contract in Russia, but fell out of favor with his club and was released at mid-season. The Red Wings, in need of a veteran presence when Chris Osgood got hurt, then worked out a deal with Nabokov, getting him at a bargain price, working out his transfer and giving him a chance to prove he can still play in the NHL. But since Nabokov played games in Europe this season, he had to clear waivers before he could join Detroit, and the Islanders grabbed him to help deal with the injury problems they are having between the pipes.
And it was all unassailable because it was perfectly legal.
Problem is Nabokov wants to play for a contender and depending on whose version of the phone he got on the weekend from New York GM Garth Snow, essentially told the Isles to buzz off. So New York is being victimized even though. And so is Detroit, which put in the time and effort to negotiate a deal with Nabokov, ensure his transfer papers were in order and bring him over.
The Blues of course know that feeling too, even though, like everyone else, played by the rules. Even Nabokov, who is exercising his right as a free agent to choose where or where not to play.
But the rules have to change in this case because it’s not fair to have one team put in the time and money to get something done, and then lose the player in the end. The general managers around the league understand that it could happen to them, so don’t be surprised if they come up with some sort of tweak when they meet in Florida in March.
It doesn’t have to be a drastic change – some compensation to the team that works the original deal or putting restrictions on the waivers – would probably do the trick and could be enacted exoeditiously. Remember how quickly the GMs came up with something when head shots was on the table during their meeting last year.
Then, as now, it’s about protecting assets. And that’s something they all can agree on.