Nabokov on the Olympics, Fellow Sharks, McLellan and His Plans for the Future
While Kovalchuk's drama is temporarily put on hold with his trade to the Devils, there is another potential drama involving third best Russian NHL player that may unfold this July - our very own Evgeni Nabokov. While he is turning 35 this summer, and during his long NHL career he's only played with the Sharks, this season shows that he is still a cornerstone of this club, and still has several years of top goaltending left in him. With his contract expiring in July, we're all wondering what is he going to do this summer, or more importantly, which direction Doug Wilson decides to pursue on this. Nabby recently spoke to Igor Rabiner of Sport-Express, and below are parts of the long quality interview the Russian newspaper published yesterday where Nabby talks about the Olympics, his relationship with Bryzgalov, Heatley and McLellan, and about his priorities for this summer when he will potentially hit the UFA market.
Do you and your teammates have any monetary bets going related to the Olympics?
When we get to Vancouver, there will be no time left for jokes. Even now, those that are going realize that those who will lose will not be too entertained. Russians, Canadians, Swedes and Americans are great teams that can all win the tournament.
Did your teammate Douglas Murray, who injured Alexei Morozov in Quebec at the World Cup, promised you hell at the Olympics?
I haven't heard, but naturally, Murray is a very big and wide-boned guy. He enjoys physical play. He's playing much better this season. He's not a dirty player, but a physical player, and he doesn't have a bad reputation in the NHL. So his disqualification following the injury to Morozov is not typical.
Watching Sharks games live, I really liked Pavelski. Looking at him, at Kane, Miller, and others, I think that Americans are dark horses. They don't have a lot of stars, but I think they can cause a lot of trouble.
I fully agree. Pavelski is a very smart player who sees both PP and PK time, which doesn't happen often in the NHL. He also sees PP time alongside Thornton, Heatley and Mearleu. As for Team USA, I know their head coach Ron Wilson from his time in San Jose. He's a great coach. By the way, he is proud of the fact that he loves to play Russians and beat them, and he likes to say that often. So we shouldn't underestimate the Americans.
Do you want to avoid the Americans before, say, semi-final?
To be the best you have to beat them all.
Do you agree that this Russian squad has perhaps the best chance of winning the Olympics in many years?
On paper we look very good. But you have to win games on the ice. The most important will be to avoid individual efforts. It's coaches' job. And let's not forget Russia had other great players participate in the past - Bure, Zhamnov. It's a very difficult tournament.
Why did you not play for Russia in Bern last year? Did you think two top goalies was too much or were you too upset about Sharks losing to the Ducks in the first round?
Yes, mentally I was not the best, but I also had a small injury. Add long flight and to that, I wasn't 100% confident. I talked to head coach Bykov and he understood.
How would you descrbe your relationship with Ilya Bryzgalov? How well do you know and how do you two communicate?
Whenever we had a chance, we always talked. I never had any problems with other goalies. I don't believe that colleagues can't live without conflicts off the ice. You go out, do your job - and it's coaches decision what's next. Why should that affect personal relationships? I met Ilya a while back. He was already playing in the States and went home before the draft. We've met through a mutual friend. Since then, we saw each other a lot during Treatiak summer camps. We have a good relationship, and talk without any problems.
How will it affect you if coaches choose Bryzgalov as a starter at the Olympics?
We're going there to win, and not to discuss who's first or second. Whatever they decide, so be it. Of course, no one likes to watch from the bench.
Miika Kiprusoff said he won't to Vancouver unless he's a starter.
We all have our own vision of things. No point to discuss it.
Did you coaching staff discuss a possibility of switching starts in the first two games?
No, no such talks took place.
Do you agree with the statement that a goaltender can win the Olympics by himself?
Yes, but someone also has to score. It's a team. But still.. Yes, I think I agree.
How do you like the change from Ron Wilson to Todd McLellan? I've heard before that Ron Wilson is a great coach, but an unbearable individual.
I'll just say we all like Todd's style, and we all have great respect for him. It's very important to respect your coach. You don't have to like him, but you have to respect him. McLellan helps us to calm down. When team is not playing well, or is playing terrible, during the intermission he breaks it down piece by piece. No shouting, just the explanation of what we should do to play better in the next period. First our guys had to get used to it, but now they really like it.
We can talk all we want about respect. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If we do that, that's how we show respect. I'll never forget Vincent Damphousse quote - "You'll never find a coach you fully like. We're here to win, not to like each other." In two decades in the NHL, he's never met a coach that didn't yell at him, or didn't do something he didn't like.
McLellan told me this about you - "Nabokov walked a long way from last year's playoffs to today's performance." Did he mean that you had a hard time overcoming the loss from Anaheim and as a result, you didn't play well at the start?
I'm not sure what he meant. But I don't think I started bad. I like that when we're started this season, everyone expected us to win right away. If that's what people think, that means we have a good team. It forces us to work harder and harder. As for our mental state after Anaheim loss.. It was very hard. We had a very good team, and everyone kept talking about the Stanley Cup. On the other hand, show me someone who can handle losses with ease. A loss is a loss.
Your contract is expiring this summer. Did you already start the talks with the Sharks about the new contract?
Is your priority to stay here in San Jose where you have roots or do you want to to hit the UFA market?
I spent so many years in San Jose that of course my priority is to stay here. But it's not just me, but also whether Sharks want me to stay here. When the season is over and we know the result, we'll know better. But the club has to initiate these talks.
Last summer Sharks experience major changes - Heatley joined the team, and Blake replaced Marleau as a captain. By the way, why?
I try not to worry about it. But clearly Patty is feeling and acting much more relaxed. He's a quiet and a nice guy, will never drop a bad word in the locker room. He actually doesn't like to talk in general. But what's interesting is that Blake is the same. Both show their leadership through action. We didn't know who would be the new captain - Marleau or Blake or Thornton or Boyle - they all deserved it.
How did the team accept Dany Heatley, a lively and a controversial figure who twice demanded to be traded?
I'm always surprised with this question, how did the players accept someone. If he's a normal guy - no problem! Dany is a good guy, without any problems.
And as I learned, he is fluent in cursing in Russian.
Of course - he's good friends with Kovalchuk! (laughs). Dany loves Russians - Ilya was a very good influence on him. He even knows many KHL players. I'm also always surprised he can pronounce all the names right, which is not typical of Americans or Canadian. I can talk to Heatley about anything - he knows a lot of Russian traditions.
Like which ones?
Banya, for instance. [click here to find out what that means]
Who's going to join you in Vancouver?
My parents, my wife and kids - 6 y.o. daughter and 3 y.o. son.
Will you join Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk who all said that they're going to the Olympics in Sochi in 2014 no matter what NHL decides?
If the team thinks they need me when I'm 38, yes, I'll do the exact same thing.
Did you talk to your other Sharks teammates about this?
A year ago we brought up this topic during an NHLPA meeting. More than 90% of all players said they want to participate in the Olympics. They all think that it's an honor to represent their country, and they should be given that chance.