Stars Acquire Antti Niemi, Sign To Pricey Extension
Dallas General Manager Jim Nill is hoping to get the drop on the Stars’ rivals, acquiring the rights to pending unrestricted free agent Antti Niemi.
Nill traded the Stars 7th round pick (193rd overall) to San Jose in exchange for the Finnish stopper, and is hoping to sign the former Blackhawks’ goalie prior to July 1st.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun confirmed with Nill that the Stars will look to run with a goaltending duo of Niemi and Kari Lehtonen next season, hoping that the two Finns will split time and push each other.
Nill says Lehtonen and Niemi will share the crease, wants them to push each other, wants a solid, veteran 1-2 punch in goal
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 27, 2015
(InGoal Update: Dallas signed Niemi to a three-year contract worth $4.5-million per season on Monday, giving the Stars a $10.4 million salary cap hit for their two goaltenders next season … more to come on the signing)
Niemi back stopped Chicago to the 2010 Stanley Cup, but the Illinois franchise opted not to re-sign the 6-foot-2 netminder following an arbitration hearing that summer. The Vantaa, Finland native would go on to sign a 1-year deal with San Jose, with a four year extension agreed the following March.
Despite a Vezina Trophy nomination in 2013, concerns over Niemi’s status as the Sharks’ number one frequently came to the fore – with the Sharks 2014 Western Conference Quarter Final collapse against LA a low point for the netminder.
With the Sharks brass confident in 27-year old Alex Stalock’s ability, and interest in another unnamed NHL netminder, San Jose opted to move the 2014 Olympic bronze medallist.
Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson told reporters “You don’t rule out any options” when asked if the club might speak to Niemi again should he become available on July 1st, multiple sources are reporting that Dallas are close to agreeing either a two or three year deal with the 31-year old, worth around $4million per season.
Nill suggested Dallas wish to sign Niemi in order to provide greater competition to countryman Kari Lehtonen, whose play dropped off noticeably last season as Dallas missed the play-offs with one of the worst defensive records in the league.
In response, the Stars have sought to make significant changes between the pipes already this summer. Long time goaltending coach Mike Valley became Director of Goaltending for the organisation, with former Philadelphia coach Jeff Reese succeeding Valley “on the ice.”
Prospect Jack Campbell was also signed to a 1-year deal, but Jussi Rynnas was allowed to return to Europe – signing with Ak Bars Kazan in the KHL.
It’s no secret the Stars have been let down by the backup goaltending position in the past, which is in part a result of the high quality scoring chances they surrender.
They need someone to win when Lehtonen can’t play and wanted someone to push the big, talented Finn as well next season, and evidently they are willing to spend a lot on a goaltending tandem to get it.
Niemi has the track record to do both and the mental make up to roll with ups, downs and external pressure behind a team that hasn’t been easy to play behind. As for how he plays, it will be interesting to see what adjustments new goalie coach Jeff Reese makes in consultation with Mike Valley, who was shifted to Director of Goaltending.
The Sharks turned Niemi into more of a skater than he was in Chicago and despite being a Vezina Trophy finalist while in San Jose there were times the extra movement cost him. Many wonder if he wouldn’t be better served returning to the more passive, controlled approach he won the Stanley Cup with, even if means playing more often from his knees. Finding a good balance may determine whether the Stars have success with out of balance spending on their goaltending
~ Kevin Woodley, InGoal Magazine Managing Editor