This is copied and pasted directly off my friend's Bay Area sports blog, Breathebay.com. We don't get many hits so I thought I'd give Fear the Fin a try for some feedback. The posting was set up in two different parts, and you can see the original piece and the response from LILSusnowski, another one of our writers, on BreatheBay.com. Thanks for reading.
How Does This Trade Bode for the Sharks?
I don't think this was a great move by the Sharks. The stats from last year's regular season show that Nabokov had a much better season than Niemi last year.
Nabokov's save percentage was at .922, compared to Niemi's less than stellar .912. Nabokov's playoff statistics were slightly worse, but outside of the Sharks series, Niemi put up pedestrian numbers. In the end, Niemi's total playoff save percentage was just .003 points higher than Nabby's numbers.
The most important statistic we have to look at, however, is the shots on goal allowed stat. The Chicago Blackhawks gave up the least shots in the league last year and about 150 total shots less than the second place team. That spells out great defense and a great scheme rather than great goaltending.
I think Niemi was overvalued after his strong performance in the Sharks series. If you have the time and resources to re-evaluate last year's playoff series against the Blackhawks, pay close attention to the number of quality chances we got against the Blackhawks. There weren't many because of poor execution through the neutral zone and in the one-on-one battles in the zone on our part. Niemi stole one game from us behind one of the most talented and deepest defensive teams in NHL. He isn't Jaroslave Halak, and he probably isn't going to be the Antti Niemi that we saw play against us, especially... ESPECIALLY if we don't make some upgrades on our own back line.
This signing indicates two things to me. First, I don't think we'll be able to upgrade our defense until maybe the trade deadline. Second, we plan on relying heavily on our goaltending for defense next year. Our cup hopes are looking dim for now, and while it wasn't a bad signing, it wasn't the one we needed. I guess it's still better than Antero Nittymaki?
Part 2 of a 2 Part Posting:
I have some additional comments on this trade and the offseason in general. Sharks fans across the internet have been making accusations against Doug Wilson of lying or going against his word about goalies not being the key cog to a championship, but the signing of Niemi doesn't disprove his belief. Our first move this pre-season was to sign Antero Nittymaki, a decent goalie at a reasonable price. Did we maybe overpay a little bit? Perhaps, but we still had plenty of cap room to round out a decent squad of defensemen. Wilson's focus this summer was defensemen, and he tried signing a top-4 defenseman multiple times to no avail. Our attempts to sign Tomas Kaberle, Niclas Hjalmarsson, and Willie Mitchell were all denied. All three signings would have been great for the Sharks, would have filled out our top 4, and would have put us in a great position for a strong cup run. However, they fell through, and Wilson doesn't have any more options that don't require giving up too much (e.g. draft picks, Clowe).
My belief is that Wilson, with no more options left at the blue line, and stuck with a below average defense and an average goalie, opted to improve our goalie position for this year only, signing Antti Niemi and upgrading that position. With the move, he put us into a more favorable spot in the cup race, and though I feel we're not in as good a position as we were last season, we're better off than where we were 2 days ago. There's a very deep free agency at the defense position looming in 2011, and having Joe Thorton, Wallin, and Niemi's salaries off the books could have us rejoicing over one or two big free agent signings next summer a la the Vancouver Canucks 2010. Signing Bieksa or Kaberle is not out of the question.
LILSusnowski stated on his article that I no longer feel the Sharks are a favorite to win the cup. That's true on some level. I do not think the Sharks are a favorite to get to the Stanley Cup Finals on paper this upcoming season. However, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are not about "paper champions." To succeed in the playoff season, teams must execute the smallest details of their game precisely, and win one-on-one battles through grit and determination. Last year, we were not able to do that against the Blackhawks. The year before, we were unable to do it against the Ducks and so on. The reason hockey is so great, and the reason I love hockey (at least the NHL variety) is that there is parity. Last year, the Eastern conference finals consisted of the #7 and #8 ranked teams in terms of points. In 2005-06, all 4 lower ranked teams won in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, and the 8th ranked team was the Stanley Cup representative. So while I don't feel we are favorites anymore (more like 2nd tier), I feel we have a chance to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Perhaps being dubbed an underdog is what we've needed all along. We haven't been handed that title since our 1st round victory over the Nashville Predators in 05-06, right before we became the favorites to win the cup for the last 4 years.