You may not have been aware, but Antero Niittymaki is healthy and ready to play hockey again for the Sharks.
The problem is that Antti Niemi is locked in as the starter and Thomas Greiss has made the backup job his own thus freezing out Niittymaki from getting a chance to play. David Pollak of the Mercury News hears it from Niittymaki about being healthy enough to play and unable to see any action.
“I don’t think it makes sense to anybody to have me as the third guy here. They know it, I know it,” said Niittymaki, who was activated Dec. 23 and has yet to dress even as a backup in any of the nine games since then. “We have to try and figure it out.”
Niittymaki says it’s boring having to spend nights in the press box as a healthy scratch and who can blame him? Niittymaki at this point in his career and coming off an injury is a backup goalie at best and teams that could use a little extra in goal might not be willing to swing a deal for him. Sharks GM Doug Wilson doesn’t have an easy job in figuring out what to do here.
For what it’s worth, Niittymaki is in the final year of his contract that has a $2 million cap hit. If there’s a team willing to take him on, he’s very affordable.
Poll: Will the Sharks make it back to the Stanley Cup Final?
The Stanley Cup hangover is real. Although the Sharks didn’t win it, those veterans went four rounds and played in some grueling games along the way. Will they be in tip-top shape come October?
On a more positive note, those veterans are surrounded by some good young players. Logan Couture has developed into a go-to guy, Tomas Hertl proved to be a difference maker at times last year, Joonas Donskoi scored some big goals in the playoffs and prospects like Mirco Mueller, Nikolay Goldobin and Timo Meier are on their way.
Between the pipes, Martin Jones‘ first season as a starting goaltender went pretty well.
“A special group,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said after losing in the Stanley Cup Final, per the team’s website . “But only one team can win. That doesn’t take anything away from what those guys accomplished. I don’t think anyone should ever question the leadership or the character or the will of the group of men in there. I think it’s been misplaced for a decade.
“I would hope they answered some questions. Let’s be honest. Not many people had us making the playoffs. Not many people had us beating [the Los Angeles Kings in the first round]. On an on. I thought a lot of questions were answered by that group.”
It won’t be easy for them to make it back to the final. They’ll have some stiff competition in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Dallas, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and any other team that might surprise.
So, can this “special group” do it all over again next season?
Before the 2016 playoffs, there had been a lot of disappointment in San Jose and Patrick Marleau has been there for all of it.
Over the last 18 seasons, Marleau has been the most productive Shark during the regular season. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the players that’s received the most criticism during San Jose’s playoff failures.
Last season, the 36-year-old saw his point total dip for the third straight year. Marleau was still productive (25 goals and 48 points in 82 games), just not as productive as he had been in previous seasons.
It’s no secret that Marleau’s been the talk of trade rumors for years. Even at the beginning of last season, it was reported that he submitted a list of three teams he was willing to be traded to.
“I’ve been here forever and it’s been a great place to play,” Marleau said last November, per CSN Bay Area. “I’m not going to get into specifics or anything like that. There’s always been rumors in my career. I don’t really want to feed into it anymore or comment on it. I don’t want it to become a distraction or anything.”
The Sharks held on to Marleau, and even though the rumors have died down, his days might still be numbered in San Jose (for real this time).
Marleau will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and although he’ll probably make less than his current $6.66 million AAV, it could be the end of the line between these two sides.
The Sharks have younger players like Tomas Hertl, Mikkel Boedker and a number of prospects like Nikolay Goldobin, who will be ready to jump into the lineup soon.
With an aging core, Marleau might be the first veteran San Jose cuts ties with because Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are still performing at a high level.
Also, the fact that Thornton and Brent Burns both need new contracts after next season certainly doesn’t help Marleau’s case. And in two years from now, Tomas Hertl will be looking for a bump in pay as well.
The odds seem to be stacked against Marleau. If he wants to remain a Shark, he’ll have to take a significant pay cut or have a huge bounce back season.
Headed into camp, Goldobin may be penciled in to start the season with the Barracudas, but I would imagine he’ll be given every opportunity to shine in some preseason games. As a skilled winger he’ll need to be on a line with a top center, so perhaps he gets a look with Joe Thornton or Logan Couture. There is always the chance Goldobin could push someone like Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson or Matt Nieto down the lineup, or maybe even a veteran like Patrick Marleau. It may not happen right away, but if Goldobin starts the year in the AHL and is tearing it up, he won’t have to take a cross-country flight on a recall. That should make some current Sharks a bit nervous.
In his young career, Goldobin has already a little success playing with Thornton:
After years of falling short despite often ranking among the NHL’s pre-season favorites, the San Jose Sharks made their deepest run one year after not even making the playoffs at all.
That thought probably explains why, for many, the pain of falling two wins short of a first-ever Stanley Cup victory is dulled by the Sharks being (gasp) overachievers.
You could call the Sharks a lot of things since Joe Thornton was traded over to sunnier climates from Boston, but rarely were expectations low enough for them to over-achieve.
They did just that in their first season under head coach Peter DeBoer, however.
While their turnaround made less noise than the team that beat them in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks echoed the Penguins in finishing the 2015-16 season on a roll. They didn’t let a troubling 18-18-2 mark (as of Jan. 7) derail their season, managing to grab the third spot in the Pacific, exorcising some Los Angeles Kings demons and going on a memorable run.
Here’s another Penguins parallel: the Sharks didn’t really lose anyone of note this summer.
When you get that close to winning it all, standing pat isn’t so bad, although GM Doug Wilson didn’t totally snooze on the job. He added a burst of speed with winger Mikkel Boedker, whose flaws are easier to ignore considering the team’s need for speed and a reasonable $4 million cap hit.
The Sharks also added respected defensive depth in David Schlemko, giving the team an enviable D corps.
Still, there are some lingering questions.
Can Martin Jones back up a strong first season as a No. 1 goalie? Will anything come from yet another round of Patrick Marleau trade rumors? Will a fairly old core of Joe Thornton, Marleau, Joe Pavelski (already 32) and others get creaky after that playoff push?
The Sharks are an interesting case because they boast so much talent in those veterans plus Logan Couture and Brent Burns, yet age and a tough West inspire plenty of questions.
PHT will address quite a few of those queries on a Sharks Sunday.