Sharks Mailbag: What to do with Niemi?

Sharks Mailbag: What to do with Niemi?
July 23, 2014, 11:45 am
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Antti Niemi was 39-17-7 with a 2.39 goals-against average last year; Alex Stalock was 12-5-2 with a 1.87 GAA. (USATSI)

@KKurzCSN Any news on Goalies? Moves? Upgrades? Stay the same? (Johnny Morales)

@KKurzCSN Do you think Sharks should keep Niemi? (@TheBigPavelski8)

If the Sharks were going to move Antti Niemi, something I believe they were open to doing earlier this offseason, it probably would have happened already. I expect Niemi and Alex Stalock to be the two NHL goalies in training camp in September, and it’s going to be an open competition for playing time. General manager Doug Wilson has already stated there is “no equity in anybody that’s been here,” and that includes both goaltenders.

That’s probably the right move, if you ask me. Despite Stalock's strong year last year (12-5-2, 1.87 goals-against average/.932 save percentage), the Sharks still don’t know for sure if he can start in the NHL on a nightly basis. Since returning from his devastating injury suffered in Feb. 2011, Stalock has played just 69 total NHL/AHL games in the last three seasons. He didn't play more than two straight games at any point last season, his first full year in the NHL.

Keeping Niemi around also means Stalock will have to earn the job based on performance, which is also probably good for the soon-to-be 27-year-old at this stage of his career. If the Sharks were to deal Niemi and sign a veteran backup like a Tim Thomas or an Ilya Bryzgalov, Stalock would be the assumed opening night starter. I’m not sure that would be a good thing. Make him earn the job on his own merit while Niemi is still pushing him, and if he falters, the Sharks still have a solid veteran goalie to fall back on.

If the Sharks are serious about integrating a number of younger players into the fold next season, like defenseman Mirco Mueller, for example, you want to have reliable goaltending that allows for the occasional mistake or turnover. Although Niemi wasn’t spectacular by any means last season, he’s a better option than what is left on the free agent market, or what the Sharks would probably get back if they were to deal him in the next few weeks. There isn’t a reliable option in the system, either.

[RELATED: Antti Niemi career stats | 2013-14 game logs]

As for a trade, Niemi has just one year left on his contract at a reasonable salary of $3.8 million, and it’s possible several teams could be in need of a veteran backup goaltender (or even a starter) at some point next season when the Sharks could ask for a bigger return. Despite his down year in 2013-14, Niemi has still won a Stanley Cup and is just one year removed from being a Vezina Trophy finalist. It's not out of the question that he could return to form, thereby generating a number of suitors midseason.

That being said, what might be of equal importance from the Sharks perspective is what’s going on in Worcester. The organization is high on prospect Troy Grosenick, who, at 24 (25 in August), is a bit older than your average farmhand. It’s likely like he’ll be the undisputed starter for the AHL club headed into the 2014-15 season now that Harri Sateri -- who underperformed last season -- has departed for the KHL. Grosenick’s development, coupled with Stalock’s performance, may factor into what the Sharks end up doing with Niemi.