Evgeni Nabokov: Good goaltender, but is he a product of the system?

Small sample size won't be a problem with this one.

As I mentioned earlier today, Evgeni Nabokov has been hands down the Team MVP this season despite seeing more starts than I am comfortable with. He's done an excellent job of keeping pucks out of the net, and is well on his way to a Vezina nomination-- a bid that will be much stronger than the case he made in 2007-2008.

Nabokov has been a mainstay in San Jose now for nearly a decade. From his rookie year where he won a Calder Trophy to 2009-2010 where he has masked a lot of the teams defensive issues, his acrobatic saves and ability to log large amounts of starts have made him a beloved figure amongst the fanbase.

During his time here, six other goaltenders have received starts between the pipes. In order of appearance, those goaltenders are Steve Shields, Miikka Kiprusoff, Vesa Toskala, Nolan Schaefer, Thomas Greiss, and Brian Boucher.

Since 2000-2001, here are the raw totals of Nabokov vs. his goaltending counterparts:

Evgeni Nabokov vs. Counterparts (00-01 to Present Day)

Win % SA
Evgeni Nabokov
537 53.29 14,149 1235 12,914 2.37 91.2
52.86 5627
502 5125 2.43 91.0

Nearly identical.

With the exception of this year and 07-08 (where Brian Boucher was signed in late February due to Ron Wilson's refusal to start Thomas Greiss), Nabokov has not significantly distanced himself from his goaltending counterparts in terms of SV%. In fact, you could even make the case that Thomas Greiss has more than held his own when called upon for starts, even if Nabokov has clearly been the better goaltender. A .918 SV% from your backup is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Over this ten year period, Nabokov has seen a similar number of shots against per 60 minutes (27.20 for his backups, 27.18 for Nabokov); in other words, the notion that he may be seeing a higher shot volume because the team trusts him more does not hold weight. The defense has played the same in front of him as they have in front of any other goaltender that has worn teal.

Post-lockout, Nabokov has a .911 SV%. Amongst goaltenders who have seen at least 100 starts in this time span, he is currently 21st overall. No matter which way you cut it, that is not elite.

This is not to say that Nabokov is a bad goaltender; he is most definitely a good one, and this year has proven that. A Vezina Trophy is a distinct possibility, and he has been hands down the Team MVP in my book. The Sharks will need him at his best during the postseason because without him, they would not nearly have had the same amount of success they have achieved this year.

However, this is to say that Nabokov has not outplayed his backups over the course of his decade with the team. With a possible statistical outlier in SV% this season due to a contract year, increasing age, San Jose's tight salary cap constraints, as well as the fact that players in his situation (free agent coming off a career year in his mid-30's) generally look for a 3+ year deal to ensure one last big payday, it deserves to be said that GM Doug Wilson will have one big decision on his hands come July 1st. Especially considering Patrick Marleau is in the midst of a career year as well.

Thomas Greiss hasn't received enough starts this season, and this bothers me on two levels-- the first is that which I outlined earlier today, and the second is that he has effectively made it much more difficult to make a decision with Nabokov's impending free agency.

Nabokov is good. And he has been much, much more than good this season. But if I'm Doug Wilson, I tread very carefully when approaching contract negotiations next summer. Even with the UFA pool thinner than Ryan Getzlaf's hairline.

Here's to a hometown discount.

Go Sharks.