Evgeni Nabokov was claimed on waivers by the Islanders, but has no intentions of reporting. Justin Bourne's been in that situation, and says Nabby needs to suck it up.
I once took less money to play for the team of my choice. A lot less money. But, I wanted to be on the East Coast near my fiancée, and it was supposed to be a smart move for my career. Then one afternoon, coach wanted to see me to pass along a little message: I was being shipped to Boise. Just like that, the come-hither finger that had beckoned me into coach's office was figuratively jammed up my ass.
I sat there and watched his pudgy face puke out the explanation for the move and realized I had a bit of a conundrum, not unlike what Evgeni Nabokov must be going through right now: Should you move to a place you don't want to be for less than you're worth?
The answer was, and is, obvious: fucking right you should. What are your other options? Become a writer?
Just last year, Nabokov was making five million bucks a season as the starting goaltender for the San Jose Sharks — a lifestyle that went off the rails when opposing teams and Sharks management figured out that he's generally shitty when it counts. Sick of watching him vomit all over his skates every spring, the Sharks cut their ties, allowing Evgeni a sackful of freedom to choose his new home.
He chose the KHL, which might tell you everything you need to know about Nabby's ability to make good decisions.
That experiment went poorly, presumably because it's Russia, so last week Nabokov decided he'd like to come back to North America and play for the Red Wings, who were happy to have him given that their starter (Jimmy Howard) was hurt, and their backup (Chris Osgood) is bad.
But this meant he'd have to clear waivers, meaning any awful team could grab him for slightly less than a song, and it was pretty obvious by the time he committed to Detroit that some awful team would. He had to know it would happen, since I knew it was going to happen, and I talk less with NHL GMs than his agent does.
We assumed his return meant he was willing to play anywhere in the NHL, as that was the situation he was inevitably walking into after walking out on mother Russia. It was the perfect formula for the struggling and checkbook-averse New York Islanders (especially the whole pro-rated peanuts contract thing), so they grabbed him off waivers.
So their GM Garth Snow called Nabokov. Nabokov hung up on him. Which is fucked.
Now, admittedly, being told you have to play somewhere you think is shitty — Nassau Coliseum was ranked 122nd of 122 pro sports facilities by ESPN, so a lot of people would tend to agree with him on that — isn't ideal, but dude, pick up your still-hefty NHL paycheck with a little class. I got traded to the hockey hotbed of Boise, Idaho when I was in the ECHL and at least had the courtesy to take the boss's phone calls.
I can relate to his disappointment, to some extent. I had signed with the Reading Royals of the ECHL that year, and had made some sacrifices to get exactly what I wanted. I took $800 a month less, which if you know anything about minor league hockey is not an insignificant pay cut. But it was worth it to me to play in Reading: I could live near my fiancée and play in a city close to several AHL teams, which tends to lead to opportunities. Boise couldn't offer me any of those things, so my sacrifices were rendered utterly meaningless.
Between my career taking a turn for the worse, just having my car shipped to the east coast, and being assigned to a state decidedly not in driving distance to my ladyfriend's house, the angst and disappointment shredded my heart. I was not a happy Idaho Steelhead.
A wise man once said, you can't always get what you want. I went to Boise (actually a nice little city, by the way) because that's the way the world of sports works, and not everyone who's good enough to play at a certain level gets to choose their home. Nabokov had plenty of time to prove himself in the NHL before every team in the league agreed they'd rather not have him and his contract demands, given that he's 35 years old with a resume peppered with playoff save percentages that look more like free throw shooting numbers. So he took his puck and went home, and now he wants back in the game and has the audacity to hang up on the general manager of an NHL team who's actually willing to give him a chance.
No, Evgeni, of course you should get to pick your team. Especially after shitting on that $24 million Russian contract.
The Isles, for their part, have played the whole thing beautifully. They've suspended Nabokov for the season, and will just hang on to him to trade his rights for a pick, if anyone will have him. But even that looks a whole lot less likely after he's demonstrated to the league that he's a prima donna. To top it all off, he says he "hasn't really been on the ice" since his flailings in Russia. Thanks for that cherry on the sundae, bud.
Athletes like LeBron James get to choose their team. Alex Rodriguez gets to pick his team. Hell, Manny Ramirez just picked his team. But even some great players — take Randy Moss this year — have to report to places they don't really want to be. It's all part of the deal if you want to play in the league.
Middle-of-the-pack fucks like us, Evgeni? We go where we're told.
Justin Bourne played parts of three professional seasons between the AHL and ECHL after an NHL tryout with the New York Islanders (where his father Bob won four Stanley Cups), before making the transition to writing in 2009. He is now a contributor to Yahoo's Puck Daddy, USA Today, The Hockey News, and a number of other hockey outlets. You can follow him on Twitter, or check out his personal blog here.