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Evgeni Nabokov announces retirement from NHL

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov's NHL career ended Wednesday where it began 15 years ago with the San Jose Sharks.

With his family and former Sharks teammates and coaches looking on, an emotional Nabokov announced his retirement from the League during a press conference at SAP Center.

"I thought I was going to have no problem talking, but I think I will," Nabokov said, fighting back tears.

The Sharks selected Nabokov in the ninth round (No. 219) of the 1994 NHL Draft out of Kazakhstan. He went on to play 10 seasons for San Jose, setting almost every major goaltending record in Sharks history.

Nabokov's career comes full circle

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Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov ended his career Wednesday where it started: with the San Jose Sharks. Yet most don't know how close his 14-year NHL run came to ending before it even got underway. READ MORE ›

Nabokov has the most wins (293) and shutouts (50), and played more games (563) than any other Sharks goaltender.

"The only thing that's missing is a Stanley Cup," Nabokov said. "I think the management is doing everything they possibly can. It was up to us as players to win it. We failed. Hopefully one day we can celebrate."

As a rookie in 2000-01, Nabokov won the Calder Memorial Trophy. He made the NHL All-Star team in 2001 and 2008, and was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2008 after going 46-21-8.

With Nabokov in goal, the Sharks reached the Western Conference Final for the first time in 2004. They lost in six games to the Calgary Flames, coming as close as they ever have to reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Nabokov again helped the Sharks to the conference final in 2010, that time getting swept by the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It means a lot that this circle is coming to an end and I'm happy I will retire as a Shark," Nabokov said.

After playing for the Sharks, Nabokov played one season for St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League and three for the New York Islanders before signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the offseason. The Lightning put him on waivers on Feb. 1. After he cleared, Nabokov declined to go to the American Hockey League and hinted strongly that he would retire.

When Sharks general manager Doug Wilson heard that, he contacted Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

"I called Steve and said, 'If he's going to retire, please let me know. I'd like to get permission to talk to his agent, and let's do it this way,'" Wilson said.

The Sharks acquired Nabokov on Monday for future considerations so he could retire as a Shark and make the announcement in San Jose, where he lives.

"This was all Doug's idea," Nabokov said. "When Steve called me and Doug called me, obviously I was very thrilled and I was very excited to do that. At first I thought, 'Maybe he could play me,' and then I went, 'OK, reality check.' Yeah. It's all Doug and the Sharks organization. It's a first-class organization and they prove it."

Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan remembers Nabokov for his passion and supreme confidence on the ice, especially in big games.

"It was kind of cool," Hannan said. "Every time you'd see him make a big save, the calmness, the smirk, the wink. He always had that confidence about him. He had some big games. He was a great goaltender for many years when I played here and after."

Nabokov thanked all of his former NHL coaches, including Darryl Sutter, Ron Wilson and Todd McLellan at San Jose, and his Sharks goaltender coaches, Wayne Thomas and the late Warren Strelow.

"The relationship [Nabokov] and Warren formed was very special," Thomas said. "They formed a bond that was incredible."

Thomas credited Nabokov for challenging everyone, from his teammates to his coaches and even the trainers, to improve.

"He's an intelligent guy," Thomas said. "Loads of talent. Great competitor. He wasn't afraid to challenge the rest of us to get better. That's why we won."

Nabokov finished his career with 353 victories, 18th in NHL history. He ranks 17th in shutouts (59) and 25th in games played by a goaltender (697). He has 42 Stanley Cup Playoff victories, 22nd all-time.

Nabokov said he has no immediate plans, other than to spend time with his wife and two children, but he hinted that coaching might be in his future and he would look at the opportunity if one developed with the Sharks.

"Hockey is all I know," Nabokov said.

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