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Antti Niemi is San Jose’s rock in goal

Aug 12, 2013, 10:15 AM EDT

Antti Niemi AP

The San Jose Sharks owe much of the credit to their strong finish last season to goaltender Antti Niemi. What’s not so strange about giving credit to him is that he’s been everything they hoped he would be since coming over from Chicago three years ago.

After not getting a lot of credit for helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, Niemi arrived in San Jose thanks to some nifty salary cap strategy by GM Doug Wilson. Chicago wanted to hang on to Niemi but after the Sharks forced their hand to retain then restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson via offer sheet, the cap strapped ‘Hawks had to let Niemi go when San Jose pounced on him.

Since then, he’s been the rock in goal for the Sharks that Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t.

The past three seasons have been sneakily great for the Finnish netminder. Check out his numbers while he’s been in San Jose:

2010-2011:   35-18-6   .920   2.38
2011-2012:   34-22-9   .915   2.42
2012-2013:   24-12-6   .924   2.16

What makes his stats last season so incredible is he led the NHL in not just wins but also minutes played. With a workload like that, you’d expect him to wear down. Instead, he was just as strong through the playoffs and was only unseated by a white-hot Jonathan Quick and the L.A. Kings. No wonder he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.

When you compare those numbers to what Nabokov did at the same age (27-29) in San Jose, Niemi stands even taller. The Sharks also didn’t hear many questions or worries about how Niemi would hold up in the playoffs, something that often occurred (still occurs?) with Nabokov.

Now the Sharks just have to hope new backup Alex Stalock can help make sure he stays fresh deep into next season and the playoffs. With Niemi having a great chance to make the Finnish Olympic team, they’ll need that help.

San Jose may not have known at the time that they made a big upgrade in goal when they signed Niemi, but that’s just what they got.

  1. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 12, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    Actually amoung Hawks fans, he did get a LOT of credit. The frustrating thing is that they were pretty close on what they could pay.

    While Cory Crawford has improved significantly, I strongly suspect that the Hawks would have gotten past the 1st round if they still had Antti, and I’m not alone (lost to the Nucks in a game 7 OT)

    In this case, our loss was truely your gain!

    • gobucky1 - Aug 12, 2013 at 5:45 PM

      Replace Vancouver with Phoenix…Crawford was excellent against Vancouver in 2011. He’s not the reason they lost that series by a long shot. He was average at best against the Yotes in the 2012 playoffs.

      • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 12, 2013 at 7:26 PM

        Ah, I was not blaming him per-se. The odds are they wouild have finished higher than 8th if it had not been for the change. And it is more than AN vs. CC. Hawks turned to Marty Turco as their starter 1st, which was anything but a success. Cory started the year as the backup.

  2. gobucky1 - Aug 12, 2013 at 7:33 PM

    They lost just about half the Cup winning team that offseason…they would’ve taken a huge step back no matter who was in net.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 12, 2013 at 10:27 PM

      I can see either what I 1st posted was not clear, was misunderstood, or both. I meant what I posted in appreciation of Antii, not to disparage Cory. I actually have a “Crow” t-shirt (not the official one, the one done by Cubby Tees). My only other Hawks shirt is Toews, so I hope that makes it clear how I value Cory C.

      What I meant is if they had kept Antii, NOT acquired Marty T and brought up Cory as the backup from heir AHL club, they would have most likely finished higher and not met the eventual WC champ in round 1. Antti and Cory would have been an excellent goalie tandem.

      I know they lost their supporting cast – I followed them closely that year.

  3. kane987245 - Aug 12, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    HOLD THE PHONE! Wait just a minute here; according to this article, adding a Stanley Cup winning Goalie to your roster, IMPROVES your team!? Wow, what are the chances?!?

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 12, 2013 at 11:35 PM

      What was sweet for the Sharks is what they got him for initially. Now move that forward 3 years at what Rask got. Rask’s numbers were somewhat better, and truely “somewhat”.

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