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San Jose keeps Nabokov in goal

By Greg Beacham The Associated Press
Wednesday October 23, 2002

SAN JOSE — Goalie Evgeni Nabokov agreed to a two-year, $7.15 million contract with the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, ending his holdout after five games. 

Nabokov, the franchise’s career victories leader with 71 over his first two NHL seasons, sat out all of training camp and the first two weeks of the regular season while seeking a dramatic increase from the $575,000 he earned last season. 

Without Nabokov and holdout defenseman Brad Stuart, the Sharks have struggled to a 1-4 start. After a dispiriting 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Monday night, the team decided it was time to meet most of Nabokov’s demands. 

“Who we kidding here? To say that the performance of the team does not factor into the urgency of your analysis is just not being truthful,” general manager Dean Lombardi said. “It forced us to do something in our evaluation planning that maybe we would have put off.” 

Nabokov’s backups, Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala, allowed 22 goals in the first five games — most in the Western Conference. They have a combined 4.77 goals-against average, which ranks next-to-last in the league — though a series of mediocre performances by the Sharks’ defensemen have hurt the team as well. 

“It heightened the urgency because of how we’re struggling right now, but to pin this start on the goaltending is not fair and accurate,” Lombardi said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into a 1-4 start. To blame it on the goaltending, that’s not realistic.” 

Though the sides weren’t far apart in negotiations, Lombardi admitted he gave in to Nabokov’s desire for a big raise and a relatively short-term contract — violating many of the principles he established while building the Sharks into a small-budget Stanley Cup contender. 

Lombardi said the negotiations with Nabokov and his agent, Don Meehan, had forced him to re-evaluate the carefully scripted plan for the franchise, which has a payroll near $45 million. 

Lombardi has signed many of his young players to long-term deals. There’s a similar sticking point in negotiations with Stuart, who wants more than the $1.1 million qualifying offer the Sharks have extended to him, but also doesn’t want to sign a long-term deal. 

Lombardi said there was no progress to report on negotiations with Stuart, who was seen in the stands at one of the San Francisco Giants’ recent playoff games. 

“There’s a difference between a 27-year-old with four years of experience and a 22-year-old,” Lombardi said. “All I can tell you is we don’t have a deal.” 

Nabokov has been one of the NHL’s elite goalies since being the league’s rookie of the year in 2001. 

He was third in the league last season with 37 victories and finished fourth in voting for the Vezina Trophy. He had seven shutouts — tied for second-most in the league — while helping the Sharks win their first Pacific Division title and reach the Western Conference semifinals. 

The 27-year-old Nabokov had a 2.20 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage last season. 

Nabokov skated on the Sharks’ practice rink and worked with goaltending coach Warren Strelow during training camp, but the holdout grew increasingly combative in recent weeks. 

There were rumors that the goalie might play in Russia this winter if a deal weren’t reached soon. 

The Sharks begin a six-game road trip in Nashville on Thursday, and Nabokov will make the trip. 

Toskala was reassigned to Cleveland of the AHL after Nabokov signed.