Thursday, September 2, 2010

Done Deal: Sharks Sign Cup-Winning Antti Niemi

By Eric Bancker

As the Blackhawks continue to dismantle their Stanley Cup winning roster, they watched their goalie sign a one-year/$2 million contract with the already dangerous, San Jose Sharks.

After yet another disappointing playoff run the Sharks came into this off-season well aware that they were going to let go of long-time goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Over nine seasons in the NHL, all with San Jose, Nabokov has become the Sharks leader in nearly every goaltending category, including games played, wins, and shutouts. One thing he was never able to capture in San Jose was a Stanley Cup ring. Nabokov had decent success in the playoffs during his nine years with the Sharks going 40-39 with a 2.29 goals against average.

Now Antti Niemi comes in at the age of 27 already having a Stanley Cup ring, which he got this past season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Niemi had a great rookie campaign ending the season with a record of 26-7-4 and a 2.25 goals against average. He also went 16-6 in the playoffs with a 2.65 goals against average helping the Blackhawks capture their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

Niemi immediately makes the Sharks Stanley Cup favorites. He may have been a little shaky in the playoffs but you expect that from a rookie goaltender but having all the experience under his belt will help him this season. It also doesn't hurt that he has the best team in the NHL playing in front of him every single night.

The Sharks already signed Antero Niittymaki this off-season to replace Nabokov. It seemed as though they were content on letting Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss battle in training camp for the starting job and then platoon them throughout the year. Now with addition of Niemi, Greiss is the odd man out. Having Niemi and Niittymaki gives the Sharks a very good goalie combination. Niittymaki can also be somewhat of a teacher to Niemi considering their goaltending styles are very similar. Doug Wilson recruited Niittymaki when free agency opened up because he felt that his goaltending style resembled that of Antti Niemi and Jaroslav Halak and what do you know almost two months to the day he signed Niittymaki, he brings in Niemi.

Now, this deal is great for the San Jose Sharks but from the Blackhawks stance this doesn't make any sense. Niemi was awarded arbitration and the Blackhawks decided that they didn't want to sign him and let him become an unrestricted free agent, then they signed Marty Turco to a one-year/$1.3 million contract. So instead of re-signing a goalie that helped them win a Stanley Cup they signed a goalie that is past his prime and really isn't all that good anymore. Now I know the Blackhawks have salary cap issues due to some of the horrible contracts they have handed out, which has led to the complete dismantling of the roster. But it seems that they have dug themselves quite a hole and Blackhawk fans will have to wait a little while for another Stanley Cup win, they might even be waiting a few years for the Hawks to get back into the playoffs.

Was it really worth it to release Niemi for Turco? Only time will tell but I think the Blackhawks will wish they hadn't let Niemi go.

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