Could Nabokov re-sign with the Sharks?

With free agency a mere fifteen days away, and the only announcement out of the San Jose camp being a Rob Blake press conference (in other words, a retirement announcement) and some lower-level signings, speculation is just beginning to ramp up.

And according to Sharkspage, that speculation is already in full force:

To throw a rumor out into the ether, sources inside the Sharks organization and outside of San Jose proper, all have said independently of one another that the Sharks are leaning heavily towards bringing goaltender Evgeni Nabokov back. Sharks President/CEO Greg Jamison said Thursday on Chronicle Live that the team was still in the planning and evaluation phase, conducting individual meetings with players and coaches to chart a course for the future.

-- PJ Swenson of Sharkspage

An age-old policy of Fear The Fin states that anything published by Sharkspage is fair game for rational discussion. This isn't a case of Eklund blowing water out of his blowhole, or a newspaper editorializing through clever wording that disguises the author's personal opinion as fact.

Everyone has their sources, and as far as Sharkspage goes, PJ's are concrete. It is very likely the Sharks are heavily leaning towards bringing Evgeni Nabokov back.

Which is confusing on a myriad of levels.

The first question I ask myself is for how much? And then, which might be the most important, for how long? Nabokov is at the stage in his career when locking down a multi-year deal in his best interest considering his increasing age and subsequently declining skill set. Years of seventy plus start seasons have a tendency to wear on a goaltender, even one who speaks the iron man language as fluently as the Russian keeper. And although Nabokov had a phenomenal season during 2009-2010, posting a .922 SV% which arguably deserves the distinction of being named the Sharks regular season MVP, expecting him to continue or exceed those numbers next season is a long shot.

For starters, one look at his career save percentage shows that 09-10 was an anomaly. Nabokov has always been viewed by fans and media members as a top-five goaltender in the league, and whether that is true is still a point of contention in some circles-- however, his save percentage since the lockout doesn't seem to back that assertion up.

In fact, Nabokov is decidedly average by this metric. He has posted a .910 SV% since the NHL closed its doors in October of 2004, which lists him at 25th amongst goaltenders who have played at least 100 games.

In other words, he sits behind such notables as Cristobal Huet (.914), Chris Mason (.913), and Martin Biron (.910). Not the greatest company when speaking of an elite goaltender. While his .922 SV% this past season was notable, it is likely the safest of wagers to say that it will regress to the mean-- in other words, drop to the level we would expect it to be considering his career average and another year under his belt.

Secondly, and this might be the straw that breaks the camel's back when it comes to analyzing Nabokov's future with San Jose, the mainstay between the pipes for the Sharks has not significantly distanced himself from his goaltending counterparts over his ten year career. From an article published on Fear The Fin earlier this year:

Evgeni Nabokov vs. Counterparts (00-01 to 09-10)

Evgeni Nabokov
563 14,591 1279 13,312 2.39 .912
516 5226 2.45 .910

Again, as made clear in the earlier piece we are referencing, this isn't to say that Nabokov is a bad goaltender. He is most definitely is a good and serviceable one who can get you 70 starts during the year, which has some added value in that you don't need to invest in a backup goaltender.

However, with the year Nabokov just had, he will be distinctly overvalued by many individuals. If the Sharks are indeed "leaning heavily" towards bringing Nabokov back into the fold, they must realize that there is at least one General Manager in the NHL who is willing to take a risk and attempt to bid for his services, possibly driving up his price once July 1st hits.

The hope here is that Doug Wilson recognizes that, and treads extremely carefully when negotiations with Nabokov hit a fevered pitch.

Whether Nabokov should or should not be re-signed is completely dependent on what price he comes in at, and how long that contract will be. It has nothing to do with his skill set, because despite an outcry at times from many (myself included) over his shortcomings, Nabokov is a guy who can win you a Stanley Cup especially when one takes into account the less than inspiring free agent class this season.

What he can't do, however, is eat up salary cap space relative to the rest of his unrestricted free agent brethren. With most logical estimates pegging Dan Ellis at $2.25-3.0MM per year, that is the compensation level Nabokov will have to accept if he wishes to log another minute under the roof of HP Pavilion. The fact of the matter is that San Jose needs to turn to a different salary allocation model than the one they have implemented in years past-- a blockbuster $5.375MM deal is well off the mark for Nabokov, and one that should never even enter the conversation.

Furthermore, anything that stretches into the multi-year range should also be avoided at all costs. A 35 year old is not someone you want committed on the cap for multiple years, especially when a young and talented pipeline of goaltenders is coming up through the system.

In summation, Nabokov is probably better than any other free agent goaltender out on the market today, or at least similar in talent level. But investing in him long-term, or even short-term for a comparable salary to what he made last season, seems irrational to me. Whether or not that is what the organization is looking at is unknown at this point-- you just have to hope they recognize that pouring elite money into a slightly above average goaltender isn't something that will breed success.

If Nabokov comes in at one year for $2.75MM I will be content with it. Once you tread into two-year deal territory (which is the "doomsday scenario" in that it invests multiple years into an aging goaltender), that final cap number should be around $2.25MM in order to accommodate an increased age. Anything in the three plus years range shouldn't be considered, regardless of pricing. All of these figures fit into my personal salary allocation model, and don't seem out of line to me in terms of talent vs. compensation.

Whether or not that is fair market value is obvious-- Nabokov could command a much higher salary on July 1st. These negotiations present a situation that demands a hometown discount, and whether or not that is applicable to Nabokov and his agent is pure speculation. However, if the Sharks are indeed pursuing him heavily, you have to figure this is the situation they also envision taking place.

And if not?

Then the organization will have likely made a huge mistake.

Go Sharks.