Perhaps the most interesting story of the San Jose Sharks’ recent coaching move lies not with Bob Boughner taking over as head coach, but with former Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who has been named as the new goaltending coach for the team.
Nabokov was drafted by the Sharks in 1994 during the ninth round, as the 219th pick overall. He went on to spend a decade wearing a Sharks uniform, arguably as the franchise’s best goaltender to lace up a pair of skates.
With the plethora of goaltending problems that currently plague the Sharks, Nabokov’s presence behind the bench should add a refreshing perspective whose teachings to current goalie Martin Jones is something the team will massively benefit from.
Jones, and to a lesser extent, backup Aaron Dell, have shown a concerning lack of consistency throughout the course of the 2019-20 season. Both goalies have terrible stats, which is an issue that has followed the Sharks since last season, and if anything, is getting worse as time goes on. While I have hope that Nabokov will be able to somewhat rectify Jones’ abysmal play, I also have some real doubts that the former Sharks legend will be able to completely turn things around in the goaltending department – especially in time for the playoffs.
Nabokov’s Playing Career
While Nabokov wasn’t quite able to carry the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup, he still tallies several accolades which I believe more than give him the right to be titled the best Sharks goaltender.
Through his years with the organization, Nabokov impressively maintained over a .900 save percentage in all but the 2005-06 season. This is something that is certainly commendable because, as we look at Jones, he is on pace to have consecutive seasons falling under that mark.
Nabokov is the recipient of the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year following the 2000-01 season. He just barely missed out on the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender in the league during the 2007-08 season, falling short of Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils by a margin of seven votes. During this magnificent season, Nabokov led the league in wins. Speaking of wins, he holds the title for most wins as a Sharks goaltender with 293. This is 130 more than anyone else in franchise history to date.
Known to make countless highlight-reel saves and always flashing leather with his incredible glove hand, you can view one of Nabokov’s amazing glove saves in the video below.
Nabokov’s goaltending glory spanned a respectable 14-year career. He spent 10 of those years with the Sharks, three with the New York Islanders, and finished off his career in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Hiring Nabokov Was a Good Move Overall
While I certainly had my doubts surrounding Peter DeBoer’s firing early this December, it goes without question that bringing in Nabokov to serve as the team’s goalie coach is a good move. The former Russian superstar will add some much-needed expertise in the area of play where the Sharks are desperately searching for answers.
Nabokov had been working with the Sharks’ American Hockey League affiliate team, the San Jose Barracuda, since 2015, acting as their team’s goaltending coach. Moving from the AHL to the NHL will no doubt have its learning curve, but I do believe no one is more suited for the role. Time will tell if he is able to transition his former success to a more analytical role behind the bench, especially in the NHL environment, but I do expect his insights to be of monumental gain for the Sharks, and most importantly, Jones.
When we analyze the play of Jones and look at his stats so far this season, a need for change becomes vividly clear. Jones is currently sitting at an .888 save percentage and a 3.29 goals-against average. These numbers are simply deplorable and in need of drastic change if the Sharks plan on turning their season around.
One thing that Jones constantly struggles with is allowing goals early in games, and so perhaps that is something he can work on with Nabokov. It seems that once Jones gets settled in net, he becomes a wall. Allowing goals within the first few minutes of the game is something that cannot happen at this level of play, especially when it becomes the norm. There is nothing worse for the morale of a team than being behind early, and if Nabokov can find a way to help Jones become more settled in his crease, I believe there is hope for a turnaround.
It is still early enough in the season for the team to mount a comeback. We saw the St. Louis Blues struggle to find their stride until January of last season when they turned things around last in the NHL to make the playoffs. Those same Blues went on to win the Stanley Cup, and so there still remains a faint glimmer of hope that the Sharks can salvage their season and hiring Nabokov was a step in the right direction for sure.
Ultimately, a close eye must be kept on Jones going forward. While bringing in Nabokov was certainly the right move, it will be up to Jones improving that decides that fate of the Sharks. Coaching can only go so far in the game of hockey because, at the end of the day, it is up to the player soaking in that guidance and following the teachings they’re provided that determines success.