Analyzing where Antti Niemi could play next in the NHL

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Niemi10.jpgYesterday we told you about how Antti Niemi was dead-set on staying in North America this year and playing in the NHL. While we’re more than aware of Niemi’s situation as it stands thanks to the Blackhawks parting ways with him, it’s worth taking a look around the league at what teams, even remotely, could stand to use Antti Niemi.

There are eight teams by my estimation that conceivably could use Antti Niemi:

San Jose, Columbus, Nashville, Philadelphia, New York Islanders, Washington, Florida, Tampa Bay

Of those eight, one has already declared they have no interest in Niemi (like the Islanders have) or are going with other options. For some teams, their situations seem to be rather intriguing and much more amenable to adding a goalie who just helped his team win the Cup. 

San Jose: The Sharks have made their bed with Antero Niittymaki and appear to be all in on having Thomas Greiss to split time with him. Greiss doesn’t offer much in the way of real NHL experience having been Evgeni Nabokov’s backup for the last year. Niittymaki is joining the Sharks after spending his career splitting time in Philadelphia and Tampa Bay alike. He’s never truly been “the man” in either place and he’s proven to be snake-bitten by injuries. Having an experienced and capable backup just in case could work out pretty well, especially since Niemi’s asking price would be pretty small at this point.

Columbus: I put the Blue Jackets on this list only because of how poor Steve Mason’s season was last year. Backup goalie Mathieu Garon is good enough to help spell time, but you’d have to think that Niemi would be an improvement over Garon at the least and could be just the person to help push Mason into recapturing his Calder Trophy nominated play from two seasons ago.

Nashville: So the Predators don’t have an experienced backup goalie right now and appear to be heading into camp giving a host of their home-grown talent a shot to make the NHL to play the part of Pekka Rinne’s caddy. The team has been rumored to be looking at Jose Theodore to potentially play that role, but why not take a flier on Rinne’s fellow countryman from Finland in Niemi? It’s likely the two could play off each other and Niemi could provide more than capable support for Rinne when he needs a break. With the Predators defensive system, Niemi could provide more-than-capable relief work with a short learning curve.

Philadelphia: They’ve been rumored to be hot for Niemi since the get-go in this whole mess and for good reason. Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton are nice goalies but banking on them to carry the load for a full season and the playoffs might be asking a lot of either of them. The Flyers have done their part to improve the defense in front of them and that will go a long way to solving some of those worries. Adding Niemi, however, would give them a guy who’s proven that he can get it done, something the Flyers know a little too well themselves.

Washington: First off, Niemi will not end up with the Capitals. No way, no how. Well, not immediately anyhow. If the Caps experiment of going with Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth starts to go south and the Caps start to struggle because of the goaltending (read: not because of sloppy defense or lack of scoring) it wouldn’t shock me something awful to see the Caps, if they still could, float an offer Niemi’s way and let him jump into the fire. This would likely be a last-resort sort of move, however.

Florida: If there’s a team to keep an eye on through all this, it’s the Panthers. The GM that brought Antti Niemi on board in Chicago is now the GM of the Panthers (Dale Tallon) and he was quoted saying this about Niemi, “Do I have interest in him? We have any player with his history, that is a champion. We’re open for business 24-7.” The Panthers have Tomas Vokoun holding down the starting job, but if I were Scott Clemmensen, I’d start to get a little nervous about my job in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers have tremendous goaltending depth in the minors, but Vokoun is a free agent after this season and Niemi could be their inexpensive building block of the short-term future in goal.

Tampa Bay: Here’s another situation where Niemi isn’t an immediate answer but he could be one in the future. At this point during the free agent season, there’s no way you can count Tampa Bay out of anything really. Mike Smith is a very good goalie, but he’s injury-prone and Dan Ellis needs to prove that he can carry the load consistently through a full season before banking on them as sure things. I have no doubts that Antti Niemi’s number could be in GM Steve Yzerman’s phone should Smith’s injury bug bites him again or Ellis comes up short.

Of all these teams, Florida has raced out to the front of the speculation lead for Niemi’s services because of his past with Dale Tallon and Tallon’s glowing words about him. San Jose fans insist that Niemi won’t fit with the Sharks even though having him go there seems to make a world of sense. Feel free to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, however. Just don’t try to convince me that a tandem of Niittymaki and Greiss is going to get it done and take the Sharks to the Stanley Cup. That sort of goaltending plan has failed the Philadelphia Flyers for the last 30+ years.

Scroll Down For:

    Should Zach Hyman’s goal on Petr Mrazek have counted?

    Getty
    3 Comments

    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    There may or may not have been a controversial call in Sunday’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

    With the score tied at zero in the first period, Zach Hyman appeared to have opened the scoring for the Leafs, but the goal was waved off because Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek‘s mask came off.

    As you can tell from the video below, Auston Matthews‘ shot catches Mrazek in the mask. Right before Hyman buries the buck into the net, Mrazek shakes his mask off because a strap snapped out of place. It’s definitely not an easy call to make in the moment.

    Take a look for yourself:

    Here’s what rule 9.6 of the NHL rulebook says about these kind of plays:

    When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee. When play is stopped because the goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask, the ensuing face-off shall take place at one of the defending team’s end zone face-off spots.

    When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game. 

    It’s clear that Mrazek removed his helmet intentionally, but he only did so because at least one of the straps snapped off. Also, the referee could have blown the play dead because he assumed that one of the two Red Wings in the slot would take control of the puck. Instead, both Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi whiffed on it.

    But according to the rule, the play can only be stopped if the opposing team doesn’t have an immediate or impending scoring opportunity. Was Hyman’s chance an immediate or impending scoring opportunity? It sure looks like it, but that’s at the official’s discretion.

    There’s a bit of a grey zone with this rule, so it’s hard to say if the referee applied the rule correctly or not.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    Connor McDavid spoils Nathan MacKinnon’s return

    Getty
    2 Comments

    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    Sunday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche was supposed to be all about Nathan MacKinnon‘s return to the lineup, but Connor McDavid had other ideas.

    The Oilers might be struggling, but McDavid had some individual success this month. On Sunday, the Oilers captain picked up his second hat trick of the month in Edmonton’s 4-2 win over Colorado.

    In eight games this month, the 21-year-old has accumulated an impressive 11 goals.

    Here’s his first tally of the game:

    McDavid finished the game with a plus-3 rating, five shots on goal and a huge save in 19:52 of ice time. That’s right, a huge save. With the Avs leading 1-0 in the first period, McDavid prevented the opposition from going up by two.

    His second tally tied the game at two, while his hat-trick goal was scored into an empty-net.

    According to NHL Public Relations, He’s the first Oiler to score three hat tricks in a season since Petr Klima in 1990-91.

    Meanwhile, MacKinnon returned the lineup after missing eight games with an upper-body injury. He had a minus-2 rating, four shots on goal and one hit in 22:20 of ice time. Only Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen had more ice time among Avalanche forward.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    American women try to sharpen aim for semifinal vs. Finland

    Getty Images
    Leave a comment

    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Shooting the puck is not an issue for the Americans. Finding the back of the net is, especially considering how many shots they are taking at the Olympics.

    The United States has outshot each opponent in each of their first three games with a combined margin of 137-60. Yet they have just nine goals to show for all that work. Their offense withered in a opening 3-1 win over Finland. It’s not for lack of trying: Knight tied for the team-high with six shots in a win over the Russians and had four in the loss to Canada.

    ”Any good shooter knows that you’ve just got to take shots and some are going to go in, some aren’t going to go in,” Knight said. ”So hopefully the pucks start bouncing in the direction we want them to go.”

    Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson leads the Americans with three points after setting an Olympic record for the fastest back-to-back goals by a man or woman by scoring in 6 seconds in a 5-0 win over the Russians.

    Stauber reunited Lamoureux-Davidson on the same line with her sister, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, just before these Olympics, and the twins have combined for five points in three games on a line with Kelly Pannek. Lamoureux-Davidson said they simply need to bury their chances.

    ”We had a lot of shots on net and a lot of opportunities, some loose pucks on the net in scrums, a few inches off in a lot of them, so we’ve just got to find a way to get those goals,” she said.

    With the United States winning the last four world championships and seven of the last eight , the easy and usual assumption is the Americans would square off against Canada for the gold medal the Canadians have won each of the past four Olympics . But the United States lost to Sweden in 2006 and took home bronze from Turin.

    The Americans are 7-0 against Finland (Sunday, Feb. 18, 11:10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in the Olympics and have won 22 games in international competition with one overtime loss and one tie. But Finland beat Canada in pool play at the world championships last spring and has worked to take advantage of this opportunity.

    ”It’s sort of a one-game tournament now,” Knight said. ”We’ve got to win to advance to where we want to be. Can’t take Finland lightly. Every game is 50/50 going in, so just trying to sway the odds in our favor during the time of play.”

    Stauber said he has tinkered less with the game plan based on their familiarity with the Finns, the world’s third-ranked team last year. Combined with how they’ve been shooting the puck, that’s why the Americans are focused on converting within 15 feet of the net.

    Easier said than done with opponents working to clog up the middle to keep the United States from doing just that.

    ”Now we’ve got to execute and get the puck across the goal line,” Stauber said.

    Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

    Devante Smith-Pelly addresses fans’ racial taunts

    Getty
    12 Comments

    Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly met with the media on Sunday afternoon and discussed the incident that took place in Chicago on Saturday night when four Blackhawks fans were ejected from the game for directing racist taunts at him while he sat in the penalty box.

    Smith-Pelly was penalized late in the third period following a fight and could be seen getting visibly frustrated with the fans sitting next to the glass.

    “I was just in the box, just heard some chanting, some racially charged chanting I guess you could say,” said Smith-Pelly when explaining what he heard. “You could tell by my reaction I got pretty upset. It was a little different from the night before in Minnesota when that guy was just joking around I guess, he didn’t really cross the line. What was said this time around crossed the line, you could tell by my reaction.”

    It was reported that the fans were chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black.

    Smith-Pelly said on Sunday that it was that one word being directed at him.

    It’s pretty obvious what that means,” he said. “It’s not really a secret. It’s just one word, that’s all it takes. Whether it’s that word or any other word. We got the idea, or I got the idea, I am sure they got the idea too. Just one word, I guess that’s really all it takes.”

    “It’s disgusting, I don’t even really know,” he continued. “It’s sad that it’s 2018 and we’re still talking about the same thing over and over. It’s sad that athletes like myself, 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same spot saying the same thing. You would think there would be some sort of change or progression, but we’re still working toward it I guess and we’re going to keep working toward it.”

    Smith-Pelly said a similar taunt was directed at him when he was playing junior hockey in Penticton

    “It happened one other time when I was younger,” said Smith-Pelly. “I had the same reaction back then. I didn’t really tell anyone about it, I guess I just kind of brushed it off. But we’re at a time now where we can’t brush it under the rug. You have to start calling people out, making sure people see other people’s true colors. I guess I’m trying to get the conversation started and show whoever these people are their true colors.”

    You can watch Smith-Pelly’s entire media session here.

    The NHL and the Capitals organizations both released statements regarding the issue on Sunday.

    First, from the Capitals.

    “The Washington Capitals are extremely disappointed by the intolerant behavior extended toward Devante Smith-Pelly by a select group of fans during Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. The Capitals organization strives to be inclusive and has zero tolerance concerning any form of racism. Such behavior is unacceptable and has no place in hockey or society. As such, it is crucial to confront such appalling conduct, and the Capitals extend their appreciation to the Blackhawks organization and United Center security for swiftly removing the fans from the game.”

    NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement. February, it is worth pointing out, is “hockey is for everyone” month around the NHL.

    “Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” said Bettman in the statement.

    “The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

    “While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment – free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”

    ————

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.