Sharks have a goalie conundrum on the horizon

Today's article starts with a lesson for snarky, know it all fans which Plank and I learned first hand. The juicy trade talk is going to come, just consider this short story a bit of rosterbation foreplay.

Last year, Plank and I earned press credentials. It was, and has been since, a great experience and opportunity for us and a place to learn and discuss hockey with people who truly know the game.

During an early season match with against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cam Gore (a great writer now with HockeyBuzz.com), asked Plank and I what we thought of the early developments in goal. The snarky, know it all hockey writers that we are, we quickly took jab after jab at the then-struggling Niemi. As many of you remember, Niemi had just been signed by Doug Wilson a few weeks earlier and was putting up some pitiful showings in his first few games. Antero Niittymaki, though, had been stellar in limited time, yet it seemed like he could do nothing to get more starts.

"I don't why they keep going to Niemi," I said, in a know-it-all sort of way, "Niittymaki is obviously the better option."

Just then, a league scout, who was sitting next to Cam, Plank and I, chimed in. "Niemi is a great goalie," he said, coming to Niemi's defense. "He hasn't looked good so far, but the guy is a notorious slow starter. Let him get a few weeks under his belt, and you'll see what I mean."

Of course, out of respect and fear, we didn't start a full on argument with the man; after all, we had just been granted access to this hockey nirvana and didn't want to ruffle any feathers. Still, Plank and I quickly turned to our computers and rustled up some stats. We discussed how smart we were over the hot dog buffet. 

It didn't matter what stats we turned up that night, because gosh dangit, that scout was right. Niemi went on to dominate the second half of the season, as the professional scout said he would.

Now, he could have just cashed in on a gut feeling, but it doesn't matter. That scout was right. And it gives us extra caution when discussing this present goalie conundrum that's at the hands of the Sharks management.

Niemi has definitely started slow, to be sure. Still, let's take some solace in the fact that he really turned on in the second half last year and give him an extra break since he didn't get any action until a few regular season games had passed.

Still, give extra credit to Thomas Greiss, who has been stellar in both starts and relief appearances. His numbers are sparkling, and that's put the Sharks in a bit of a quandary. What do you do when Niittymaki comes back?

According to a few sources, including Brodie Brazil and Kevin Kurz of CSN, Niittymaki may be getting close to a return. They reported that Niittymaki was in pads for the first time in months and was running through drills in practice. Barring a setback, Niittymaki should be able to return to game action within the next few weeks.

What does general manager slash mighty wizard Doug Wilson do then? Although the easy answer would be to send Greiss to the minors, it won't be that simple. Greiss, who's on a very affordable contract (for two years, mind you) and has great stats to boot, needs to pass through waivers in order to be sent to the AHL (or anywhere not the NHL, for that matter). With a good number of teams looking for goaltending help at the moment (like Columbus, Toronto and Winnipeg), and others looking for a long term franchise solution (like New Jersey), Greiss would be snapped up quicker than a press box hot dog when Plank is around. At 25 years old, Greiss has shown that he's a capable NHL starter when called upon. I can guarantee you that other teams have noticed this, and that he won't pass through waivers like he did last year.

Niemi, to the chagrin of some fans, is staying no matter what. The scenarios that have to be considered are four-fold, as a result. Trade or waive Greiss, and lose him for nothing in the latter of the two situations, or trade or waive Niittymaki.

To me, the only options here are to trade Greiss or Niittymaki, or waive Niittymaki. Greiss is too good an asset to lose without getting a return. Niittymaki, on the other hand, has been proven to be an injury risk in his Sharks' career. At $2MM, he's not cheap either, and the Sharks wouldn't be as crushed losing him for nothing, as it results in significant cap savings. 

Niittymaki won't grab as much as Greiss would on the open market, probably a lower draft pick due to the injury history and declining statistical performance. However, that cash savings could be attractive and enough to let him go for nearly nothing. A Greiss trade, while it wouldn't result in any cash back, could net a prospect, reasonable pick or a decent role player. 

That's the situation, and something has to give, because I doubt San Jose carries three goalies for an extended period of time. As always though, it's a waiting game until something actually happens.

I won't pretend to know what that is, there may be a scout listening.

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