It could’ve been spun as a conditioning stint, or a chance to get some game time. But when asked why goalie Antero Niittymaki had been sent to AHL Worcester, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson didn’t play coy.
“He’s 100 percent healthy,” Wilson told ESPN’s Craig Custance. “He’s pain-free.”
Translation: “Interested buyers, we have a healthy goalie for sale!”
Niittymaki hasn’t played an NHL game this season since recovering from September hip surgery and has completely fallen out of the San Jose goaltending rotation. Antti Niemi is the No. 1, Thomas Greiss has been outstanding in a backup role (2.09 GAA, .926 save percentage) and prospect Alex Stalock — a former standout at the University of Minnesota-Duluth — is primed to be the No. 3.
As such, Niittymaki’s received zero opportunities to play for the Sharks this season, which has frustrated him greatly.
“What can I say? Obviously, I want to play, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to play any time soon,” Niittymaki told CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz recently. “I want to play. I want to play. Let’s put it that way. I’ve played zero games this year.”
This presents a rather interesting scenario for teams with goaltending needs. Niittymaki’s relatively cheap ($2 million cap hit), an impending UFA (rental opportunity!) and — when healthy — has played some excellent hockey.
He was the tournament MVP at the 2006 Winter Olympics, posting three shutouts in six games while leading Finland to a silver medal. Niittymaki’s also twice won 20 games at the NHL level (with Philly and Tampa Bay) and actually held the Sharks’ starting job at the start of last season (he was San Jose’s player of the month in October) before suffering a lower-body injury and losing it to Niemi.
So, which teams would be interested? Curious to note that two of Niittymaki’s former teams — the Flyers and Lightning — have been rumored to be in the market for goaltending help.