SAN JOSE Tuesdays practice at Sharks Ice was a good example of why an NHL team rarely carries three healthy goaltenders on its active roster.
Backups Thomas Greiss and Antero Niittymaki were on the ice for nearly two hours, making sure they got enough work to stay sharp. They stepped on about 30 minutes before the rest of the team joined them for an hour-long practice, and stayed a good 30 minutes after most of the regulars had already hit the showers.
Obviously, it would be nice to have a full practice, but me and Greisser got a pretty good deal of work out there, Niittymaki said.
Greiss said: We just do a little bit more extra to stay sharp.
Since Niittymaki returned from his conditioning stint in Worcester last week, rehabbing from hip surgery in September, the Sharks have little choice but to carry all three goalies. Neither Niittymaki nor Greiss is exempt from waivers, and if the Sharks decided to take their chances and send one of them down to Worcester, they would risk losing that player for nothing.
McLellan acknowledged that although hes glad to have three capable bodies at the goalie position, the circumstances are not ideal.
Its a situation thats good for our organization because of the depth that weve created. The fact that Niitty is back and healthy is a real good thing, but it also makes it difficult for them, said the coach. We have four lines, we have four pairs of defensemen, they all have to take their turns and work on their game. The goaltenders are no different, so theyll manage.
The other option is that the Sharks could be actively shopping one of their goalies. Theres speculation already that Niittymaki would be the one to get traded, as hes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season while Greiss is signed through next year at a very reasonable 587,500 cap hit.
Not to mention, Greiss has shown himself capable of handling the backup role through the first part of this year with a 4-4-0 record, 2.37 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Sharks assistant general manager Wayne Thomas, who acts essentially as the teams goalie coach on a day-to-day basis and was on the ice with Greiss and Niittymaki on Tuesday, had this to say when it was suggested that no team would carry three healthy goalies on its roster for the majority of the season:
We cant predict other teams needs, and we cant predict our needs, he said. What we try to do is just keep all three of them ready. Thats the job.
Not surprisingly, McLellan didnt want to talk much about possible player movement, as thats general manager Doug Wilsons job.
Thats a management-type scenario, not a coaching-type scenario. Well play whoever we feel we need to play to try and win a game. Thats our job, he said.
We certainly sit down as a group, the management and coaching staff, and try and map out a little bit, but its still very early in the process with Niitty being back basically for one game. Weve got a long road ahead of us before anything can happen. From our perspective, its about winning and its about putting the right people in there to win.
Would he feel comfortable putting Niittymaki in a game at this point?
Yeah, I would feel comfortable putting Niitty in a game. It would be no different than some other guys coming back from their injuries.
Nitty has worked extremely hard and recovered very well from his surgery. I know that he feels good physically, and has a sparkle in his eye a little bit and is excited about being on the ice. And, hes an NHL goaltender.
When that happens is anyones guess. The Sharks will play one more game on Wednesday night before four days off, and being that its against the high powered Vancouver Canucks, its a good bet that starter Antti Niemi will make his 15th start in 16 games.
But, Niittymaki is anxious to return.
Its always nice to play. When thats going to be, I dont know, he said. I dont know anything about anything. But yeah, it would be nice to get in there sooner than later, I guess.