Antti Niemi experiment comes to an end in Pittsburgh with waiver placement
It took just three games, but Antti Niemi’s shot with the Pittsburgh Penguins seems to be over.
It was announced on Monday that Niemi, who has posted a mind-boggling .797 save percentage through just 128 minutes of action for Pittsburgh this year, has been placed on waivers by the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions.
Presumably, he’ll clear waivers, leaving Pittsburgh with the option to reassign him to the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins or hold on for a bit longer.
A Stanley Cup champion himself with the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, Niemi has logged a whopping 425 career NHL games. And even with his current abysmal save percentage, he still boasts a career statistic of .912 in all situations, speaking to just how strong he was during the peak of his career.
Those days, unfortunately, seem to be firmly in the past. Niemi was bought out this summer by the Dallas Stars after posting a .892 save percentage in 37 games during the 2016-17 season, and he hasn’t recorded a league-average quality start percentage since the 2014-15 season with the San Jose Sharks.
Waiving him for an assignment in the minors is practically a necessity for the Penguins at this point. He hasn’t hit a .900 save percentage in any of his three games, allowing a whopping 16 goals on 79 shots already. The team, looking for a threepeat Stanley Cup performance this year, will need better than that in net behind youngster Matt Murray if they hope to keep him healthy enough to log a deep playoff run come springtime.
Their options, though, are somewhat limited.
Tristan Jarry is the most obvious option to replace Niemi. He’s already in Pittsburgh’s system, and posted a strong .925 save percentage during his 2016-17 AHL campaign with the WBS group. He’s off to a slow start this year, though, and is just 22-years old; if the Penguins bring him up for the season, they’ll be left with one of the youngest tandems in the league and no veteran guidance in the crease at all.
Their other two options are 26-year old Casey DeSmith, who splits netminding duties with Jarry at the AHL level, or a trade to bring someone else in.
The plus side to DeSmith is that he’s been incredibly strong in his two full pro seasons, and is off to a roaring start with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this year (he boasts a .965 save percentage through three games, compared to Jarry’s .883 through three games of his own). Niemi’s modest cap hit won’t do much to hurt the team at the AHL level, but avoiding the idea of bringing in even more money at the position may be what Pittsburgh tries to do.
If they want experience, though, they’ll have to bring someone in.
The bad news is that options are limited. Antti Raanta is hurt in Arizona, both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban are hurt in Las Vegas, and Tuukka Rask has been injured in Boston. Calvin Pickard and Jeff Zatkoff are both in the AHL right now and could make good, experienced pieces to acquire, but Toronto and Los Angeles may be wary of relinquishing their own emergency depth; after Quick’s injury last year and Toronto’s history with depth depletion in the past, neither club may be willing to part with those options.
Matt Murray may right his ship soon – he’s certainly bounced back from a disastrous appearance against Chicago the Penguins want to forget – but Pittsburgh will need to come up with a more permanent solution soon.