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.

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    Sabres welcome back oft-injured Kulikov, who has missed 26 games

    CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    Dmitry Kulikov‘s first year in Buffalo has largely been defined by his lingering back injury, but he’ll set about changing that narrative when he returns to the lineup tonight in Nashville.

    Today, Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed Kulikov would play for the first time since Dec. 27, having missed nearly a month with his lingering ailment.

    Kulikov also missed 13 games earlier in the year with the same back problem.

    Acquired at last year’s draft in a deal that sent Mark Pysyk to Florida — along with picks being exchanged — Kulikov was expected to play a big role in Buffalo this season, and projected to play on the club’s top defensive pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.

    “You watch Florida when they go on the PK; he was the first guy on the ice, when they needed a goal on the playoffs he was on the ice, when they needed to protect a lead late in the game he was on the ice,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said at the time of the trade, per NHL.com. “So we certainly liked what we saw.”

    All told, the 26-year-old Russian’s appeared in just 20 games this year, registering a single point. He has averaged over 22 minutes per, though — meaning head coach Dan Bylsma has used Kulikov quite a bit, when available.

    Kulikov didn’t take this morning’s skate, so no clear indication on who he’ll pair with this evening.

    Coyotes’ Holland fined for punching Palat

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    Arizona’s Peter Holland has been fined $3,611.11, the maximum allowable under CBA, for punching Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat during Saturday’s Coyotes-Lightning game in Glendale.

    Holland threw the punch halfway through the second period after getting taken out along the boards by Palat. Holland didn’t like the hit, so he got up, dropped his gloves, and leveled the unsuspecting Palat with a bare fist to the face.

    Holland received four minutes for roughing, but the Lightning failed to capitalize with the man advantage.

    The Coyotes would go on to win, 5-3.

    Ladd back for Isles, who are playing well lately

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26:  Andrew Ladd #16 of the New York Islanders skates against the Montreal Canadiens at the Barclays Center on October 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Canadiens defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The streaking New York Islanders will get a key piece back on Tuesday, as Andrew Ladd returns from a four-game absence to face the visiting Blue Jackets.

    Ladd has been out of the lineup since Jan. 16 with an upper-body injury.

    “I just wanted to be a part of the way we’ve been playing the last little bit, last five games and have put ourselves back in the position where we can get into the playoff race,” Ladd said, per the Isles’ website. “You try to inject some energy, some emotion into getting back in the lineup and just want to be a part of winning some hockey games. I’m excited to get back in there.”

    As mentioned, the Isles are on a bit of a roll. They’re 4-1-1 in their last six and have points in four straight games, all of which came under interim bench boss Doug Weight. Weight, of course, took over from Jack Capuano after the longtime head coach was fired from his post last week.

    Ladd’s largely been a disappointment this season after signing a monster seven-year, $38.5 million deal in free agency. He has just eight goals and 12 points through 41 games, but did have a decent stretch of production prior to getting hurt.

    The biggest reason for New York’s improved play lately has been Thomas Greiss. Now firmly locked into the starting gig — after Jaroslav Halak cleared waivers and sent to the minors — Greiss has gone 2-0-1 in his last three starts with a 0.98 GAA, and .971 save percentage.

    Unsurprisingly, Greiss will get the nod against Columbus this evening.

    If the Isles can get another result tonight, they could draw closer to the idle Flyers in the wild card chase. New York currently sits just five back of Philly for the final spot, but needs to leapfrog five teams — Boston, Florida, Carolina, New Jersey and Detroit — to get there.

     

     

    Elliott has cooled off, and so have the Flames

    EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames covers up the puck while playing against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    It looked for a while like Brian Elliott had regained his form. From Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, he went 5-0-0 with a .922 save percentage.

    Alas, things have gone sideways again. From Jan. 6 onward, Elliott has gone 0-3-1 with an .872 save percentage. Last night, he allowed four goals on 28 shots as his Calgary Flames fell, 4-0, in Toronto.

    “I think the difference tonight was they capitalized on some chances that they had and we had some really good looks that we didn’t capitalize,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano, per the Calgary Herald. “That’s the end of the story — it’s a 4-0 game. You have to score at least a few goals to win games in this league.”

    Indeed, it’s hard to blame the goalie when he doesn’t get a single goal of support. The Leafs’ first goal, the winning goal, certainly wasn’t Elliott’s fault.

    But the second goal could’ve been stopped…

    …and the third was the back-breaker, coming with his team on the power play.

    The Flames didn’t put up much of a fight after that. The loss was their third in a row, and tonight they have to play in Montreal.

    Expect Chad Johnson to get the nod against the Canadiens. He hasn’t been too good lately either. In fact, he only lasted 5:58 of his last start, before he was pulled after allowing three goals on four shots in an eventual 7-3 loss to Edmonton.

    Read more: ‘It’s embarrassing,’ says Gulutzan after lopsided loss to Oilers

    The Flames are still in a playoff spot, thanks in large part to the struggles of the Kings and Jets. But for a team that thought its goaltending problems had been solved by the addition of Elliott, it has to be frustrating that the position remains a weak spot.

    Both Elliott and Johnson are pending unrestricted free agents.

    Related: An interesting goalie market awaits in the summer