The goaltending situation for the Dallas Stars got a whole lot more interesting this morning as the club announced the acquisition of Antti Niemi from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for their seventh round pick (193rd overall). The Stars have until July 1 to sign a deal with Niemi or he will become an unrestricted free agent.
Niemi, 31, made $4 million last season with the Sharks and will not come cheap for Dallas who already have $6.25 million committed to Kari Lehtonen. Last season Niemi posted a 31-23-7 record with a 2.59 goals against average and .914 save percentage. Niemi played for San Jose for the past five seasons after helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010.
The Stars entered the draft knowing the goaltending situation in DFW needed tweaking, but the Niemi trade raises more questions than answers. Can the Stars sign Niemi, and if so, who will be the starting goalie? Or could the club take a different approach and try a goaltending tandem, splitting time more evenly between Niemi and Lehtonen? Lehtonen who is coming off a career-worst season might shine with a lighter workload, but is it a situation Niemi would be okay with? It’s a puzzle GM Jim Nill and company have just three days to solve.
Top Notch Finnish Goaltending
Putting aside the questions surrounding the trade, the idea of having both Niemi and Lehtonen on the Stars is roster is tantalizing. The two Finns represent some of the best goaltending Finland has to offer. The pair were teammates on the bronze-winning Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics. Comparable in their ability to put on stellar performances in net, Niemi has a slight advantage when it comes to playoff experience with a 35-26 record in 62 appearances.
The other big upside to Niemi for the Stars is his consistency. His numbers over the past seven seasons don’t fluctuate much from his career .916 save percentage. Lehtonen has had a revolving door of backup goaltenders behind him for the past six seasons largely because none of the options (with the exception of Jhonas Enroth) have presented as reliable. Generally speaking, a backup goalie doesn’t need to be brilliant, but they do have to be decent. Niemi can certainly do that.
“Antti is a proven goaltender, who has played and succeeded at the highest levels, He’s one of the hardest working goalies out there and we look forward to working towards an agreement,” Jim Nill said in a press release.
It will be interesting to watch and see what the Dallas Stars do over the next few days. For now though, it’s good to see Nill taking a proactive approach to a problem that has been simmering for a while now.