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.
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.