Two-year, $8.85 million deal for net star

Updated: August 13, 2004, 4:47 PM ET news services

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov avoided salary arbitration with the San Jose Sharks on Friday, agreeing to a two-year contract shortly before his hearing was set to begin.

The deal totals $8.85 million, ESPN has learned, making Nabokov the Sharks' highest-paid player.

Evgeni Nabokov
San Jose Sharks
59 31 19 8 .921 2.21

Nabokov, a restricted free agent who made $3.625 million last year, had a standout 2003-04 season. He went 31-19-8 with a 2.20 goals-against average and a team-record nine shutouts while backstopping San Jose to the best season in franchise history and its first trip to the Western Conference finals. He was 10-7 in the playoffs, with a 1.71 GAA and three shutouts.

"We are pleased to get this deal completed," general manager Doug Wilson said. "Nabby is obviously a very important part of this hockey club. Good goaltending is one of the main components to a championship hockey team, and we feel we have one of the league's best in Nabby."

Nabokov, a ninth-round pick in 1994, won the Calder Trophy in 2001 as the NHL's top rookie. He has won at least 30 games in three of his four seasons, and he holds every major franchise goaltending record.

Nabokov also rebounded from a mediocre performance in 2002-03, when he never got into top form after holding out through training camp and the first five games of the regular season. Former general manager Dean Lombardi eventually buckled to Nabokov's contract demands, giving his goalie a two-year, $7.15 million deal -- but not in time to save the season or Lombardi's job.

When the Sharks' playoff run ended in May, Nabokov said he wouldn't let his impending free agency hurt the team again. He was true to his word, filing for arbitration to ensure a quick decision on his worth without the possibility of a holdout.

Wilson recently praised Nabokov's work ethic as an example to the Sharks' top prospects, who worked out with the star goalie while attending a skills camp in San Jose. Nabokov has stuck to a rigorous offseason training schedule in the past two summers.

The Sharks have one of the NHL's youngest teams, but their young core is intact and under contract for coach Ron Wilson, who also got a new two-year contract this summer. The Sharks rewarded defenseman Scott Hannan with a three-year, $7.8 million contract last Sunday to avoid arbitration, and they re-signed left wing Nils Ekman and backup goalie Vesa Toskala.

Center Wayne Primeau, who decided not to file for arbitration, is the Sharks' only unsigned restricted free agent.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.