According to Nick Kyrepos of Sportsnet, the Sharks will be announcing the signing of former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi to a possible one-year deal worth $2.0MM. Multiple sources have reiterated this story as of this posting:
West coast source has confirmed Antti Niemi will sign with the Sharks as early as tomorrow. I hear 2M base, possibly for just the 1 year.
Earlier this offseason we looked at the rumor and ultimately judged it to be nothing but smoke and mirrors-- Doug Wilson's comments on the matter indicated that he felt going with cheap goaltending was the wave of the future in the NHL. Coupled with his offer sheet of Niklas Hjalmarsson, we assumed that he was looking to upgrade the blueline first and foremost, and remained content with a tandem of the recently signed Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss:
If Wilson were to sign Niemi, it would push the Sharks above the threshold Wilson set for himself earlier in the offseason. And, even though the team is relatively set for next year, the GM likely wants another defenseman and a penalty killing forward to replace the loss of Manny Malhotra to Vancouver. There are other needs, and a contract for Niemi would make any other move practically impossible. The just over four million dollars in cap space is a welcome thing to a Sharks team who was up against the cap all last season. It's unlikely they give up that space to fill anything other than a position of need.
>> "Although it's a good story, Niemi to the Sharks has no legs"
Today TCY and I are nothing but dead wrong on this. We looked at quotes, looked at the roster, looked at what we felt the team needed in order to improve, and came to the conclusion that there was no chance Niemi signed with San Jose.
Which was obviously not the case. And for that I owe you, dear readers, an apology.
In regards to the signing, I stand by my original assertion that this makes very little sense for San Jose. Antti Niemi is a league-average goaltender who rode on the coattails of a brilliant blueline in Chicago during their Stanley Cup Finals win. His performance against the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals was nothing but an aberration, a case of a goalie getting hot at the right time. It's akin to signing Chris Osgood two years ago based off the fact that he won a Cup, and discounting the fact that he had an all-world defense in front of him led by future Hall of Famer Niklas Lidstrom.
Here are the stats, both last season and career, for all the current Sharks goaltenders:
San Jose Goaltending
As you can see, all three had very similar save percentages last season. The difference between them is marginal, and all three would likely provide the same amount of value to the team if they started the year with the Sharks.
The timing of Greg Jamison's departure as the Sharks president and CEO could have something to do with the decision to sign Niemi-- it's a peculiar situation, especially when one considers that no one close to the Sharks had any idea that a signing of Niemi was coming. As David Pollak wrote today:
And, yes, I’m fully aware that I wrote one week ago that Niemi was not part of the plan here, that the Sharks did not see the goalie who eliminated them from the playoffs last year on their roster next year.
Stuff happens. What kind of stuff, I hope to find out.
Pure speculation here, but could this be a situation where upper management wanted to go in another direction by signing a Stanley Cup winning goaltender, something that Jamison and Wilson were opposed to? The fact that Niemi's signing contradicts Wilson, Pollak, and Pollak's sources raises some questions about why Jamison was stepping down. Announcing a Presidency change at this point in the offseason seems strange to me-- if Jamison had planned to retire after the 09-10 campaign, it would have made more sense for him to do so earlier in the offseason before personnel decisions were being made. As Pollak mentioned earlier today, "Jamison has worked closely with GM Doug Wilson when it comes to setting the annual payroll." The issue of where to allocate cap dollars obviously ties in with that-- hence, a possible connection to the decision to sign Niemi.
Again, pure speculation. But there could be more here than initially meets the eye. This will obviously be a very important season for the organization as they attempt to win a Stanley Cup, but it could also be a very important season for Doug Wilson and his staff as well.
At any rate, on to Niemi.
At the age of 27 years old, Niemi has likely reached his full potential in net-- a significant improvement on last year's totals, especially when one considers the blueline currently in place in San Jose, isn't something I tend to think will happen.
A $2.0MM deal for Niemi leaves the Sharks with roughly one and a half million dollars left, meaning that there is zero chance for an upgrade on the blueline without moving a roster player. With the $3.0MM in cap space San Jose had yesterday, the Sharks would have been able to move a player such as Torrey Mitchell and an assortment of high draft picks/prospects to get a top three blueliner on a team looking to rebuild-- now, there is no such option.
The trade bait, as it has been for this entire offseason, seems to be Ryane Clowe or Douglas Murray in this situation. As I mentioned last week however, moving either of those players poses some problems for the team:
Trading Douglas Murray leaves you with a hole on the blueline-- again, back to the free agency point, signing a guy costs you nothing but cap space, while trading for a player costs you talent within the organization. If Murray leaves, Wallin is still in the top four (which I am not a fan of). Either that, or you pray Jason Demers can really turn the corner this year defensively and get you twenty minutes a night.
Trading Ryane Clowe probably makes the most sense. He has more value than Murray, has term left on his contract (which is a big plus for teams who are rebuilding and shopping their best defenseman), and clears enough space for the Sharks to go after free agent wingers like Owen Nolan. That being said, it still opens up a hole in the top six of the Sharks, meaning Logan Couture gets bumped off that third line and joins Joe Pavelski on the second. I'm completely fine with that provided San Jose gets a third line center to fill Couture's hole.
It will be interesting to see how the organization approaches this need in the coming months, as I feel that a top three blueliner is necessary in order for the team to legitimately contend for a Stanley Cup.
Thomas Greiss' future with the team is now uncertain as well, which is a shame considering he more than held his own last season in a backup role behind Evgeni Nabokov. Niemi's signing could indicate a trade with Greiss is coming or that Greiss will play in the AHL next season alongside Alex Stalock and Tyson Sexsmith.
To wrap this up, I am not a fan of this deal. Greiss is just as capable of pushing Niittymaki for playing time as Niemi is, and it nets the Sharks a loss of $1.5MM in cap space when you remove Greiss' hit off the books and add Niemi's. It further increases the difficulty of adding a component (top-three defenseman) that the team needs in order to succeed, and means that another hole, either in the top six forward group or top four defensive group, will be exposed if a trade for said defenseman is made.
The original Fanshot breaking this story can be found here.