Sharks have decision to make in net

Niemi: Big disappointment, long season with lot of ups and downs

Sharks have decision to make in net
May 2, 2014, 3:15 pm
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Antti Niemi (left) finished with a 39-17-7 record while Alex Stalock went 12-5-2 in his first NHL season. (USATSI)

SAN JOSE – The most immediate question surrounding the Sharks’ dramatic demise has been answered, as general manager Doug Wilson has voiced his support for head coach Todd McLellan and staff.

Perhaps the next biggest pressing issue to be resolved is what to do about the team’s goaltending.

[KURZ: Torres, Vlasic among notable injured Sharks]

Antti Niemi’s inconsistent regular season carried over into the playoffs, and while there is a long list of Sharks players to blame for the so-called reverse sweep by the Kings, the performance in net from the starting goaltender has to be near the top.

“I felt like I had too many ups-and-downs,” Niemi said on Friday, as the Sharks cleaned out their lockers for the summer. “Of course you want to play better on a daily basis. I just feel like too many ups-and-downs, and I should be more consistent.”

Niemi finished with a 3-3 record in the seven game series, with a 3.74 goals-against average and .884 save percentage. He won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, but his career playoff numbers (2.74 GAA, .907 SP in 62 games) are below average when compared to many of the league’s top goaltenders.

Niemi was pulled in games four and five against the Kings, while Alex Stalock started and lost Game 6. In Game 7, Niemi played better than he had for most of the series, allowing three goals on 28 shots. A dormant Sharks offense only got one past Jonathan Quick, however.

Stalock just completed his first full NHL season, finishing 12-5-2 with a 1.87 GAA and .932 SP in the regular season. He allowed four goals on 30 shots in the Game 6 loss, including a controversial marker by Justin Williams, but stopped all 26 shots he faced in a pair of relief appearances.

“It was a good first full year in the league,” Stalock said. “Got some good learning experiences, got to play in some good situations, and obviously got a chance in playoffs.”

At 26 years old, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Sharks to hand Stalock the starting job headed into 2014-15. Niemi has just one year remaining on his contract at $3.8 million, which would be a high price tag for a backup. Moving the 2013 Vezina Trophy finalist is a possibility, if the Sharks believe Stalock is their goaltender of the future.

Stalock, though, is a pending unrestricted free agent after not playing enough to qualify as restricted, and will have to be signed. After the organization stood by him during a lengthy rehab from a serious nerve injury in 2011, it’s hard to imagine him looking for work elsewhere or playing hardball on a new deal.

Stalock said: “I really like it here. It’s the only organization I’ve been with, and they’ve been great to me since day one, and everything I’ve been through, it’s been handled great. I can only say good stuff.”

As for his unrestricted status, “I really haven’t even thought about it yet. That’s one thing that you figure out in the summer, I guess. That’s my agent’s job. We’ll see what happens. Like I said, I love San Jose and the organization.”

The Minnesota native was asked if he's proven he can be a starter in the NHL.

“It’s a tough job to play every single night. That’s your ultimate goal. But, obviously it’s a start. You always think you can do it. As the workload gets more and more, I guess that’s when you can answer it.”