With the NHL trade deadline less than two weeks away, the rumor mill has gone into overdrive and the latest bit of trade speculation involves the Sharks. Now fourth in the Pacific Division and just two points ahead of a Los Angeles Kings team that has two games in hand on them, it wouldn't be all that shocking to see San Jose sell off some of their impending free agents at the deadline especially given Doug Wilson's stated commitment to building for the future. According to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, the list of UFAs the Sharks are willing to deal includes their starting goaltender. Via Nichols On Hockey:
They continue to get younger. If you look at their lineup, it’s the youngest it has been in a long time. And that will continue to the point where I was talking to a team today that says that they were told again by San Jose that Antti Niemi is on the table.
So here’s a team that’s in a playoff spot, albeit by a slim margin; but, because Niemi is a pending UFA, the Sharks are taking calls on him. Which suggests to you that yes they want to get in again. I mean, they made the playoffs 10 straight years. But the bigger priority for San Jose is to try and replenish the organization on the fly here.
It's hard to see where the market is for Niemi now that the Minnesota Wild have seemingly solved their goaltending issues with the addition of Devan Dubnyk and Brian Elliott is having another All-Star season in St. Louis. Niemi simply doesn't represent a substantial upgrade for any of the teams either currently in playoff position or on the outside with a legitimate shot at getting in. Perhaps a team like the Edmonton Oilers would be willing to exchange a late-round pick for the right to start courting Niemi in contract negotiations before anyone else is able to but that seems more likely to be a deal made closer to the entry draft.
Regardless, trading Niemi feels like throwing in the towel on the season. Niemi hasn't had the bounce-back year many expected and he probably isn't worth a long-term contract extension given his age and propensity for imploding in the playoffs but at least he's a NHL-caliber starting goalie. You can't say that about Alex Stalock, the Sharks' only other viable option in net, and it's becoming increasingly unlikely the 27-year-old will ever capably fill that role. Again, Niemi isn't a long-term solution either but it's hard to figure out what the Sharks' succession plan in net is if they have any hopes of competing next season. Maybe they can coax Evgeni Nabokov out of retirement.