Nabokov, Stuart Closer To Deals?

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After the San Jose Sharks opened their season with a 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, General Manager Dean Lombardi re-newed his efforts to sign restricted free agent holdouts Evgeni Nabokov and Brad Stuart.

A team spokesman told the San Jose Mercury that Lombardi has been busy reworking an offer for Nabokov and planned to present it to the goaltender’s agent, Don Meehan, on Saturday.

The Mercury’s source also said that Lombardi spoke with Stuart and his agent, Pat Brisson, after the Detroit loss.

While claiming that the Sharks were still not meeting his clients demands, Brisson told the Mercury that he “honestly believes (Lombardi) is making a strong effort to bridge the gap.”

Stuart, the Sharks top pick in 1998 and a rising star on defence, earned $975,000 base salary last year. The Sharks are required to offer him a ten percent raise, but are reportedly reluctant to go higher than that.

Nabokov, the NHL’s top rookie in 2001, made $575,000 in base salary last season, during which he won 37 games.

Meehan, noted that money wasn’t the biggest hurdle to overcome. Nabokov wants a short term deal, while the Sharks would prefer a five or six year contract.

“When you’re trying to negotiate a term based on projecting what the new CBA will be, you have to be not only well-informed but a bit of a soothsayer,” Meehan said. “And that can be pretty difficult for anybody.”

A third player holding out on the Sharks, Alexander Korolyuk, remains in Russia and doesn’t appear interested in returning to San Jose. He has requested a trade through agent Brian Lawton.

Despite the poor defensive showing in the opener, don’t expect Lombardi to cave in quickly. Last year, defenceman Mike Rathje held out for two months before he was able to reach an agreement on a four year deal with Lombardi.