Sharks jersey retirements: Why Evgeni Nabokov should be honored first


Sharks jersey retirements: Why Evgeni Nabokov should be honored first

Editor’s Note: The Sharks are the only team in the Pacific Division -- other than the nascent Vegas Golden Knights -- who have not raised the jersey of a former player to the rafters. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the cases of the five likeliest candidates to have the Sharks’ first retired number. We start with goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. 

When you think of Sharks goaltenders, only one name comes to mind.

Martin Jones might be San Jose’s franchise netminder right now, and Arturs Irbe might have helped put the team on the map by playing “like wall” in the Sharks’ Cinderella run in their first-ever playoff appearance. But neither of them -- or any other goalie in the franchise’s existence -- can be called to mind with an oft-repeated nickname. 

Few words have been chanted more at SAP Center than “Nabby,” the nickname of Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. No goaltenders have captivated Sharks fans more, and only a few skaters have. 

Let’s examine the case for -- and against -- the Sharks retiring Nabokov’s No. 20 first. 

The case for 

No Sharks player has been on the ice for more minutes than Nabokov. The nature of his position is such where Nabokov played nearly 1,000 fewer games for San Jose than Patrick Marleau, but was on the ice for over 6,000 more minutes. 

Technicalities aside, Nabokov is far and away the longest-tenured goaltender in Sharks history. No other netminder has worn the uniform for more than five seasons, while Nabokov spent a decade in teal. He easily leads Sharks goalies in games played (563), and Nabokov played in 15 more games than the next two closest goalies (Jones and Antti Niemi) combined. 

He is 130 wins ahead with the most victories in franchise history (293), but Nabokov wasn’t just a compiler. He remains the only Shark to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, and his second-place finish for the Vezina Trophy in 2007-08 is the highest of any San Jose goalie. 

Nabokov was a fan favorite, even as he briefly lost his starting job to Vesa Toskala in the middle of his Sharks tenure. He is responsible for some of the most memorable saves in franchise history -- his 2007-08 playoff run alone contributed many -- and still works for the organization as a goaltending development coach. 

The case against

In some areas, Nabokov’s on-ice resume lags behind his legacy. Of the 18 goaltenders in Sharks history to play in at least 25 games, Nabokov ranks fifth in regular-season save percentage (.912) and fourth in goals-against average (2.39). Jones is hot on the tail of many of Nabokov’s postseason records, and he can pass Nabokov for first in playoff wins and playoff shutouts if San Jose has a deep run next spring. 

Nabokov's Vezina runner-up season in 2007-08 exemplifies this dichotomy. Nabokov led the league in games played (77), wins (46) and tied for third in shutouts (six). He also ranked fifth in goals-against average (2.14) among goalies who played in at least 10 games, but 28th in save percentage (.910) and 27th in goals saved above average (0.70) among goaltenders in that same sample. 

There also is the question of which jersey to retire. Nabokov wore Nos. 35 and 20 in his career, rocking the former for three seasons and the latter for seven. He won the Calder wearing No. 35, and Nabokov also had a higher save percentage (.916) in his first number than his second (.911). Yet, No. 20 surely is the one most fans associate with his career. A dual number retirement isn’t unprecedented, but seems like a bridge too far for a team that is yet to retire any numbers. 

[RELATED: Sharks fans vote original teal as franchise's best-ever jersey]

The verdict

Of all the Sharks goalies, Nabokov has the best case for jersey retirement right now. That could change if Jones lifts a Stanley Cup in San Jose, but even then he might not be as fondly remembered as his predecessor. 

Yet there are other skaters -- who we’ll reveal over the course of this week -- who have a better case than Nabokov to have theirs retired first. That doesn’t mean you won’t see No. 20 hanging at SAP Center in the future, especially as Nabokov remains connected with the organization, but it won't happen before some of those other names. 

After all, Nabokov's legacy as one of the most popular players in franchise history already is cemented without a jersey retirement. 

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Thursday night’s matchup between the Sharks and the Carolina Hurricanes featured quite a ruckus, which began when Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek slashed Sharks veteran Joe Thornton after a play, prompting Thornton to put Mrazek on his back with a vicious forearm shiver.

During Friday morning’s practice, the Hurricanes decided to have some fun with their goalie by drawing an outline of where their net-minder gracefully hit the ice.

Mrazek remained on his back for several minutes after the blow but remained in the game.

[RELATED: What we learned in Sharks' shootout loss vs. Hurricanes]

The Sharks and Thornton may have won the fight, but the Hurricanes won the game 3-2 in a wild shootout.

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Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton


Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

There was no shortage of electricity in Thursday night's rumble between the Sharks and Hurricanes, which San Jose got a point out of after falling 3-2 in the shootout

But the game really went on the verge of exploding when Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek went after Joe Thornton -- which unleashed some next-level fury that Sharks fans on social media like to refer to as "Angry Joe."

"Jumbo plays hard, and the goalie went after him," Logan Couture said after Thursday's loss. "So, I don't know if the goalie expected to get pushed like he did, but if you're going to go at someone you're probably going to get pushed."

Thornton went to give the puck a nudge as he skated by Carolina's net, realizing a bit late that Mrazek already had frozen it. But it was enough to irk the Canes' netminder, who then attempted to violently slash Thornton and subsequently stood up out of the crease as if to square off with the future Hall of Famer. 

Thornton responded with a half-push, half-punch to Mrazek's face, sending the goalie toppling over backward to the ice. Mrazek remained there as a scrum ensued behind Carolina's net. 

[RELATED: Watch Jumbo send 'Canes goalie to ice with forearm shiver]

"I think it definitely gets your group emotionally engaged in the game when you have a goalie swinging a stick at a guy like, but, as you saw, Joe can take care of himself," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer chuckled. 

Even after Thornton was ushered over to the penalty box to serve two minor penalties, Mrazek was slow to get up off of the ice. The long delay in play left some wondering if Mrazek had a concussion, but he stayed in the game. 

This, of course, raised a couple of mid-game questions. Should Mrazek have come out of the game and gone straight into the league's concussion protocol? Was it actually the fall and not Thornton's force that caused him to labor on the ice for so long? Or, was Mrazek waiting things out so Thornton would receive more discipline?

Sharks goalie Aaron Dell offered up his two cents after the game. "He either got hit really hard and should have gone into concussion protocol or he flopped a bit, but I guess that's the ref's call," Dell said with a shrug.

Mrazek didn't offer up much to the media after the game, calling it a "cheap shot" by Thornton before saying he has suffered hits "worse than those, so it's not bad." So, perhaps we'll never know the real story.

While there is a lot of attention on his tiff with Mrazek, Thornton also deserves credit for playing an incredible game. He led the third line along with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc to one of its most impactful games so far this season, and set up Sorensen for San Jose's first goal on the evening. With the Sharks' road trip continuing with a back-to-back this weekend against the Floridian teams, getting that kind of bottom-six contribution is vital.

"He's playing well," Couture said of Thornton. "We need [the third line]. Can't win with only the top six scoring. Some nights you need the bottom six to score, and I think that line's looked really good."