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Evgeni Nabokov eyes the puck during a playoff game last year when he was a member orf the San Jose Sharks. (Paul Sakuma/AP)
Evgeni Nabokov eyes the puck during a playoff game last year when he was a member orf the San Jose Sharks. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

Nabokov set to return <br>to NHL for 2011-12</br> Add to ...

It's been a bumpy road for Evgeni Nabokov of late.

Nabokov finished second in the NHL in wins with 44 with the San Jose Sharks in a career year in 2009-10, finishing tied for fourth in Vezina Trophy voting.

He struggled in the postseason, however, leading the Sharks to turn to Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki in goal and Nabokov to hit free agency as one of many goalies available on July 1.

He didn't find a taker and eventually signed a $24-million deal in Russia's KHL. That didn't last and by midseason, he was looking for a return to the NHL.

In January, Nabokov signed a bargain basement $570,000 deal with the Detroit Red Wings, hoping to re-establish himself and go on a playoff run. Because he had started the season overseas, however, he had to clear waivers.

And that's where his time with the New York Islanders began.

After I posted the goaltending situations for all 30 NHL teams yesterday, I received a lot of questions regarding Nabokov's status this year after he initially refused to play for the Islanders last season.

In May, Nabokov's agent Don Meehan told the local press that he would be at training camp in the fall.

Today, Meehan confirmed that Nabokov will stick things out in the NHL this season, playing a full year on the $570,000 contract he had intended to last only a few months in Detroit.

There won't be anymore trips to the KHL - or anywhere else for that matter.

"He will be in the NHL this season," Meehan said.

Where he will play, however, remains the biggest question.

The Islanders already have veterans Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro and youngsters Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson and Mikko Koiskinen all vying for roles in the organization. Given his contract and experience, Nabokov would seem to be a good fit with plenty of other teams and could have some trade value, which appears to be the route the Islanders will go.

That said, if DiPietro's health remains a question and they want to keep their young netminders in the minors, Nabokov could play on Long Island after snubbing the organization.

But I expect that's a long shot. And one team will, for basically the league minimum salary, get a veteran netminder who at 36 should have some gas left in the tank.

UPDATE Because of all the questions I received about this, I ran the Nabokov situation by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. He confirmed that, unlike last season, when Nabokov would have had to go through waivers before the Isles could trade him, he will not have to be waived to be dealt this season.

"No longer applies," Daly said. "New season."

Which obviously makes it far, far more likely that Nabokov gets moved early on in 2011-12.

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