The Lightning, sensing a need for better play in their crease when anyone not named Bishop is minding the net, decided to put 39 year-old Evgeni Nabokov on waivers. Nabokov has been anything but reliable this season, going 3-6-2 with a 3.15 GAA and an .882 save percentage, an the Lightning finally decided to make a change as they head down the stretch towards the playoffs. Honestly, the Lightning have been relying on Bishop way too often this season for solid goaltending, and they'll need him fresh in the playoffs if they hope to make noise. Nabokov wasn't providing that relief, so this move may have been out of necessity even if GM Steve Yzerman won't say it.
"He's a real professional," Yzerman told the Lightning website. "He's a really good guy, really liked by the players and the coaches. It's not an easy decision to make. But, ultimately, we feel this is the right move."
Nabokov struggled last season with the Islanders as well, posting a 15-14-8 record with a .905 save percentage - not what the Islanders needed as they let him walk this summer. There may not be many places to play for a goalie who can't break the .900 mark for save percentage nor have his GAA below 3.00. Is this the end for the Russian in the NHL?
Personally, I can't see him playing anywhere next season, let alone being signed to a one-way deal. With him being placed on waivers, the expectation is that he would report to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, but he is an aging veteran player who would probably be welcomed back in the KHL if he chose to go there. There's no real reason for him to play in the AHL unless he still feels he can join another NHL team next year, but we'll see where Nabokov goes after he clears waivers.
Andrei Vasilevskiy will join the team for the stretch run, and there's a sense that he's auditioning for the backup role next season and possibly the starter's job in the future. Vasilevskiy is 3-1-0 in four NHL starts with a 1.76 GAA and a .937 save percentage, and those are numbers that the Lightning need when Bishop needs a break. Vasilevskiy has proven that he can play. Now it's his time to show the Lightning that their faith in him is right.
It's brutal to go out like Nabokov is, but at the end of the day, winning is all that matters. Nabokov wasn't providing wins, so it was time for the Lightning to find someone who could as they've slid to third-place in the Atlantic Division. Apparently, Vasilevskiy is that guy.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!