The San Jose Sharks will have another starting goaltender next season.
San Jose Executive VP and General Manager Doug Wilson met with longtime starter Evgeni Nabokov on Tuesday and told him the team will not offer a contract when the soon-to-be 35-year-old goaltender becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Nabokov has been the Sharks’ starter since 2000 and owns a 293-176-29-37 record in the NHL, all with the Sharks, including 131 victories in the last three seasons. His 50 shutouts are second to New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur among active goaltenders. Nabokov went 44-26 with a 2.43 goals against average this past season, helping the Sharks reach the Western Conference Finals -- where they were swept by Chicago.
Nabokov said at the end of the season – the last on a five-year contract -- that he would like to remain in San Jose.
Wilson said the decision to look elsewhere for goaltending was simply a matter of allocating money under the salary cap.
"We would like to thank Nabby for the time he has spent in San Jose," Wilson said during a news conference. "Nabby has been a big part of this team for the past 10 seasons and played an important role is our successes. This decision boils down to a dedication of dollars in a salary cap system and under this system, teams can't keep everyone. We are excited about the goaltenders coming up through our system and we will also keep an eye on assets that may become available in the coming weeks."
"Moving forward, we now have to turn our focus to other players in our organization who have expiring contracts in the next two weeks."
The Sharks have several other players who are restricted or unrestricted free agents, including 44-goal scorer Patrick Marleau, playoff hero and No. 2 center Joe Pavelski as well as linemate Devin Setoguchi, checking forwards Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra and defenseman Niclas Wallin.
Wilson noted a direction in the NHL in which teams have had great success with lower-paid goaltenders, most recently with Chicago winning the Stanley Cup with Antti Niemi.
"If you look at the trends in this league the last four or five years in particular and the dollars that are dedicated to that position," he said. "If you're dedicating $5 million or $6 million, that's coming out of somewhere else."
The Sharks still have backup Thomas Greiss, who started 11 games this season and also played for Germany in the Olympics, as well as minor league goalie Alex Stalock, who won 39 games and had a 2.63 goals against average with Worcester in the AHL. Wilson said the Sharks will also look to bring in a veteran goaltender to pair with one of the younger goalies.
"The goaltending market is very deep," Wilson said. "There's lots of goalies that are out there that you can supplement or build a tandem with what you have. Make no mistake, we're very pleased with the goaltenders we have in our system and they'll be given an opportunity."
The decision to let Nabokov become a free agent came three days after defenseman Rob Blake, San Jose’s captain, announced his retirement.