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.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”