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. 

2020 NHL Draft lottery: Sharks benefit from Rangers getting No. 1 pick

2020 NHL Draft lottery: Sharks benefit from Rangers getting No. 1 pick

The Sharks' NHL draft lottery woes didn't go from bad to worse Monday.

The Ottawa Senators won't get the chance to select top prospect Alexis Lafreniere with the Sharks' pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and none of San Jose's division or conference rivals will be able to select him, either. The New York Rangers won Phase 2 of the draft lottery, grabbing the No. 1 selection in this year's draft after bowing out to the Carolina Hurricanes in the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lafreniere, widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, has franchise-defining talent. He has scored a whopping 297 points in the last three years in the QMJHL, including 112 in 52 games this season. The Sharks can rest easy knowing no team in the Pacific Division or Western Conference will have Lafreniere on a rookie deal for the next three years, though it was a possibility.

The Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets each had a 12.5 percent chance of landing the top pick (and thus Lafreniere) entering Monday night. Each team had at least 15 more points than the cellar-dwelling Sharks when the NHL season was suspended in March, and San Jose's path back to contention is fraught enough without adding a Lafreniere-starring team in the division or conference.

[RELATED: Why bringing Marleau back makes plenty of sense for Sharks]

The Sharks surely breathed a sigh of relief once they learned the Senators would select No. 3 overall with the pick San Jose used to acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson nearly two years ago, and they can do so again knowing Lafreniere won't be out west. The 2019-20 season will still sting, of course, if Ottawa's selection is used to draft an eventual franchise cornerstone, but the Sharks haven't had many victories to fall back upon in the last calendar year and this would certainly qualify.

It won't mean much if the Sharks aren't soon able to chart a path back to contention, though.

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

It has been widely presumed that if Patrick Marleau returns for a 23rd NHL season, he will do so with the Sharks, back where it all began.

He still is without a Stanley Cup on his career résumé after he and the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round of the NHL's expanded playoff format. The Penguins acquired him prior to the trade deadline in exchange for a 2021 third-round draft pick after he returned for his second go-around with San Jose early in the season.

Based on what his wife, Christina, tweeted Friday, it appears Marleau already has made up his mind about playing next season.

That really shouldn't come as a surprise. Though he isn't the top-end player he once was, Marleau showed this past season that he still has some left in the tank. And, on top of that, he only needs to play in 45 more games to pass NHL legend Gordie Howe for the most games played in league history.

Frankly, it would only be fitting if he set the record in a Sharks sweater. And now it would appear the ball is in San Jose's court as to whether or not Marleau will return to the franchise that drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 Entry Draft.

Aside from the appetizing narrative, there's reason why Marleau might get a third go-around in teal. All indications are that the Sharks intend to return to playoff contention next season, but due to their salary structure, don't expect any large salaries to be brought in -- San Jose already has plenty of those. Consequently, the Sharks are going to need to fill the lineup with some minimum-salaried players.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

At this point, you can bet that money isn't a top consideration for Marleau. If a true Cup contender doesn't present him with an offer, it would be difficult to envision a more appealing destination for him than San Jose. Marleau could be signed for the veteran's minimum, and given he scored 10 goals in 58 games with the Sharks this year, that might be a pretty good value.

It's certainly possible the Sharks find a superior player to take Marleau's hypothetical spot, or would rather give it to a younger player that is part of the future.

If that's not the case, though, signing Mr. Shark makes an awful lot of sense.