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Goaltender Ryan Miller will hit the open market on July 1, and speculation has already begun on whether he could end up in San Jose.
The St. Louis Blues, who acquired Miller late in the 2013-14 season, announced on Monday they would part ways with the goaltender after his unsuccessful stint there, which ended with a first round defeat to the Blackhawks. The Blues signed Brian Elliott to a three-year contract extension, and he’ll pair up with prospect Jake Allen in the St. Louis net next season.
As for the Sharks, their situation between the pipes is unclear. General manager Doug Wilson has already indicated there will be some significant changes to the current roster, and while many believe that to mean Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau will be leaving town, Wilson could very well opt to change his team’s look in the crease, too.
Starter Antti Niemi, 30, is about to enter the final year of his contract with a salary of $3.8 million, and if Wilson decided to move him, it shouldn’t be all that difficult.
Despite his uneven regular season and awful playoff numbers against the Kings – 3.74 goals-against average and .884 save percentage, including two games he was pulled and another he was benched – Niemi is still just one year removed from being a Vezina Trophy finalist, and backstopped Chicago to a Stanley Cup in 2010. And, although it’s impossible to tell from his on-camera media scrums, Niemi’s personality and laid back nature makes him a very popular guy among his teammates.
Maybe he needs a change of scenery, as he was unable to handle a push from Alex Stalock, who simply played better than Niemi in the second half of the season. Niemi never found that consistency he enjoyed in the shortened 2013 campaign, perhaps contemplating his security as the undisputed starter.
Stalock will likely return, but he is still a pending unrestricted free agent. Although his numbers were strong and he is proficient at playing the puck, it’s not known if the 26-year-old, who had to rehab from a career-threatening nerve injury in 2011, can carry the load as an everyday starter.
How much of an upgrade Miller would be over the Niemi-Stalock tandem is debatable. The East Lansing, Michigan native will be 34 on July 17, and his stint with the Blues can only be described as a failure. In the final few weeks of the regular season, Miller went 1-5 with a 3.11 goals-against average in six April starts as St. Louis fell out of the top spot in the Central Division, and posted a 2.70 GAA and .897 SP in six postseason games against the powerful Blackhawks, losing the series, four-games-to-two.
Still, joining a new team so late in the season, especially in Miller’s case as he went from the NHL’s worst club to one of its best, can be tricky. Although he was just 15-22-3 with Buffalo when he was traded to St. Louis on Feb. 28, Miller had an impressive .923 save percentage, placing him 10th in the league at the time. The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner, best known for his performance for Team USA in the 2010 Olympics, could thrive on a new team with the benefit of a full training camp in which he has time to get acclimated to his new surroundings.
Adding Miller would run counter to Wilson’s stated goal of getting younger, but the general manager would still have Stalock, who will turn 27 over the summer, as well as prospects Harri Sateri and Troy Grosenick, both 24, getting more experience at the AHL level (NOTE: According a report, Sateri signed with the KHL on Monday, but that has yet to be confirmed by the Sharks).
Miller could command between $5-to-$6 million per season, a number that likely dropped after his performance in St. Louis. Term could be an issue, too, as the Sharks probably wouldn't want to go more than two or three years on an aging goaltender. Still, depending on what other moves Wilson makes – he’s already cleared more than $11 million in cap space with Dan Boyle's departure and a buyout Marty Havlat looming – looking into Miller’s potential interest in the Bay Area may be worth doing.