UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Evgeni Nabokov left Russia for the chance to play with the Detroit Red Wings. Instead of landing in Hockeytown, the veteran goalie will be taking an unexpected detour to Long Island — maybe.
Nabokov lost his chance to join the Red Wings on Saturday, when he was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders.
While he might have dreamed of making a long playoff run with title-contending Detroit, Nabokov will now play out the string with New York, which entered Saturday with the third fewest points in the NHL.
“This was a good opportunity to get a quality goaltender with a proven track record,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow told The Associated Press.
However, several reports surfaced Saturday that Nabokov wouldn’t report to the Islanders, but Snow said he hadn’t been told that.
“That’s news to me,” said Snow, who added that he was waiting for a call back from Nabokov. “We got a player who has a standard player contract and we are looking forward to having him join our organization.”
A message left with Nabokov’s agent, Don Meehan, wasn’t immediately returned.
The Islanders nabbed Nabokov two days after the 35-year-old goalie signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings. He 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.
Snow said the Islanders have an airline ticket for Nabokov to fly from Oakland, Calif., to New York on Sunday when the Islanders will face the Buffalo Sabres in an afternoon game.
Nabokov’s new deal contains a no-move clause.
“When I put the claim in, I had no intention to claim him to move him by any means,” Snow said.
It is the third time in recent weeks that a player returning to the NHL from the KHL was plucked off waivers. The St. Louis Blues were victimized by the process twice as they lost right wing Marek Svatos to the Nashville Predators and center Kyle Wellwood to the San Jose Sharks.
The Islanders (15-24-7) have struggled in goal because of the absence of injured Rick DiPietro and the trade of Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning this month. New York has been going with rookies Kevin Poulin and Nathan Lawson in place of DiPietro, who has missed several games recently because of lingering knee trouble and a case of the flu.
Lawson was forced out of Friday night’s win at Buffalo after one period by a knee sprain. The 20-year-old Poulin played the final two periods and earned the win. DiPietro is in the fifth season of a landmark 15-year deal with the Islanders.
Nabokov was 8-8-5 with a 3.02 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage in 22 games with St. Petersburg. He became a free agent in December after he was released by the KHL club in the first season of a four-year deal.
Last season with San Jose, Nabokov went 44-16-10 with a 2.43 GAA and helped the Sharks reach the Western Conference finals against eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
After being chosen in the ninth round of the 1994 NHL draft, Nabokov went on to a 293-178-29-37 mark with a 2.39 GAA and a .912 save percentage in parts of 10 seasons with the Sharks. He was 40-38 with a 2.29 GAA and .913 save percentage in 80 career postseason games.
Detroit was looking for goaltending help because backup Chris Osgood had hernia surgery last week and is expected to be out until March. No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard has been bothered by a bruised right knee. Howard returned to the lineup Thursday night in St. Louis after missing two games and made 26 saves in the Red Wings’ 4-3 overtime victory.
Only the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils have fewer points than New York.
“I haven’t put much thought into it, but the Islanders are terrible so I’m not sure why they did that,” said Osgood, a former New York goalie.
The Islanders were burned by the waiver rule in January 2009 when they tried to bring goalie Wade Dubielewicz back to the organization after he played for Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL. After signing a deal with New York, Dubielewicz was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.