An emotional Evgeni Nabokov announced his retirement Wednesday from the NHL, just two days after he was traded by Tampa Bay to the San Jose Sharks, the team that drafted him in 1994.
"It means a lot that this circle is coming to an end and I'm happy I will retire as a Shark," Nabokov said, holding back tears at a news conference attended by his family, friends and former San Jose teammates.
Nabokov played 10 seasons for the Sharks, a span that ended after the 2009-10 campaign. He owns a long list of franchise goaltending records, including most wins (293), shutouts (50) and games (563).
Nabokov was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2008 after going 46-21-8 in the regular season. He was a two-time NHL All-Star, making the team in 2001 and 2008. As a rookie in the 2000-01 season, Nabokov won the Calder Memorial Trophy.
The Sharks drafted Nabokov out of Kazakhstan in the ninth round with the 219th pick in the 1994 NHL draft.
"The guy has the perseverance, the passion for the game, the work ethic," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "He was given nothing. He epitomizes what this game is all about."
Nabokov led the Sharks to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history in 2004. The Sharks lost to the Calgary Flames. Then in 2010, he led them to the conference finals again; this time they got swept by the Chicago Blackhawks.
"The only thing that's missing is a Stanley Cup," Nabokov said. "I think the management is doing everything they possibly can. It was up to us as players to win it. We failed. Hopefully one day we can celebrate."
After playing for the Sharks, Nabokov played one season for St. Petersburg of the KHL and three for the New York Islanders before signing this season with Tampa Bay. The Lightning put him on waivers on Feb. 1, and after he cleared, Nabokov declined to go to the AHL and hinted strongly that he would retire.
At that point, Wilson contacted Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman. "I called Steve and said, 'If he's going to retire, please let me know. I'd like to get permission to talk to his agent, and let's do it this way."'