Antti Niemi been named the first star of the week by the NHL for his performances against Nashville, Washington, and Colorado.
During that time frame he posted a 3-0-0 record, 0.98 GAA, and (most importantly) a .963 save percentage in the Sharks three wins. He's started a staggering fifteen straight games for the Sharks, going 11-2-1 in the process, as Antero Niittymaki's injury has essentially made Niemi the go-to starter in San Jose.
Niittymaki's return is something that has had it's fair share of mystery surrounding it this season, as he has been injured on three separate occasions during the last month. Since the NHL has a policy in place that allows teams to group injuries into the "lower body/upper body" realm in terms of public notification, there's not a whole lot to go on. We do know that Niittymaki had issues with his groin during the first go around, but his second injury was apparently a different one. At any rate, the details remain fuzzy.
As I've suspected all along, Niittymaki's health was one of the driving reasons behind all of the call-ups and demotions seen in the wake of the acquisition of former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Ian White. According to CapGeek Niittymaki is on Long Term Injured Reserve at this point in the year, which allows the Sharks to go over the allowable limit of Niittymaki's salary while he is injured. Essentially, Niittymaki on LTIR is the reason why the Ian White acquisition (as well as the inclusion of Demers onto the roster for Saturday's game against Colorado) was made possible.
However, a piece will still need to be moved in order to become cap compliant if Niittymaki does return this season. As of this point the Sharks have stated that they are comfortable with Carter Hutton in the backup role, but as Niemi's starts begin to pile up to Evgeni Nabokov levels of regularity, the issue becomes two-pronged.
Since the Sharks would want to avoid a situation where Niemi starts the bulk of their games the rest of the season, either a) Hutton should get more playing time or b) an upgrade must be obtained, either via trade or some other avenue. However, the cap complications are robust-- Niittymaki on LTIR the rest of the season is what is allowing the Sharks to carry players such as Demers and Braun. If he returns by the end of the year, players such as these would be forced out.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Niclas Wallin's cap hit was found to be $2.65MM instead of the previously reported $2.5MM.
In order for San Jose to acquire the flexibility to tackle the end of the year, there's a possibility we see a depth defenseman moved in order to acquire more cap space, either for a proven NHL backup goaltender or for a draft pick to clear space for Niittymaki's return.
Also, as I'm typing this, the Dallas Stars have just traded James Neal and Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh for defenseman Alex Goligoski. In my opinion Dallas got swindled here, and will take an even further step back in the Western Conference playoff race. That's an immense package of great young talent they just gave up on, and while Goligoski obviously has value, sending two burgeoning top players in return is far too much.
Penguins General Manager Ray Shero is approaching Doug Wilson levels of trade negotiations.
Hell, it's safe to say he already has.