It’s not often that a player not under contract requests a trade, but Ivan Nalimov is going for it. The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2014 sixth-round pick has asked for his rights to be dealt to another NHL team, reports The Athletic’s Scott Powers. As one of the KHL’s best young goaltenders, Nalimov feels that he has earned a shot at the NHL next season, but agent Shumi Babaev feels that the opportunity won’t come in Chicago. Nalimov has already terminated his KHL contract for next season and is solely focused on the NHL, but doesn’t want to waste the prime of his career buried in the minors behind the Blackhawks’ many goalies. As a result, the young netminder would like to be moved to a team where he might have a greater chance at play time.
Nalimov, 23, is coming off of a season that was impressive for many reasons. Right away, it is easy to tell that this was a career campaign for the homegrown Russian goaltender and former KHL first-round pick. The big keeper finally put it all together in 2017-18 and posted a .938 SV% and 2.13 GAA in 23 appearances. His save percentage was among the best in the league, fourth among all goalies with 20+ appearances, and his goals against average was in the top 15 of that same group. However, a closer inspection makes those numbers even more impressive, as Nalimov was traded mid-season. Serving behind Igor Bobkov with Admiral Vladisvostok, Nalimov proved himself to be the best backup in the KHL this season with a .942 SV% and 1.98 GAA in 17 games. With his value escalating, he was moved to Salavat Yulaev Ufa to back up Ben Scrivens and hardly missed a beat in six more games there. His numbers fell off slightly, but his performance trumped the team’s existing backup and helped Ufa in their playoff pursuit, earning Nalimov some postseason appearances of his own. Nalimov not only performed at a high level this year, but did so with two teams and was unshaken by the adjustment. It’s understandable why he feels now would be the perfect time to make the ultimate adjustment and try his hand at the NHL.
Yet, Chicago is an unlikely location for that to happen. As Powers writes, the Blackhawks have three NHL-caliber goalies already under contract for next season in starter Corey Crawford and backups Anton Forsberg and J-F Berube, not to mention another pair of prospects signed to pro deals who already seem permanently relegated to the minors next season. In speaking with both Nalimov’s agent and Chicago GM Stan Bowman, Powers states that the ’Hawks really like Nalimov, but perhaps didn’t anticipate that he would develop this quickly or wish to come overseas this soon. They also might have underestimated his ceiling, as Chicago did spend a third-round pick on German standout Wouter Peeters just two years ago. Regardless, the Blackhawks do not have to listen to Nalimov’s request and they can retain his rights perpetually, but this could sour the young goalie on coming to North America altogether. If the decision is between potentially losing Nalimov forever due to a broken relationship or trading him away for at least some type of return, Bowman and company are likely to shop the prospect this summer.