For all the criticism Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau received in the wake of San Jose’s devastating first-round collapse versus the Kings, the role goaltending played in that series should not be ignored.
Simply put, Antti Niemi didn’t perform well enough. The 30-year-old veteran finished the series with an .884 save percentage, allowing 19 goals on 164 shots. After San Jose won the first three contests, he was pulled in Games 4 and 5 before surrendering the crease to Alex Stalock for Game 6, after which he returned for Game 7, the final nail in the Sharks’ coffin.
Not surprisingly, there was talk the Sharks would try and trade Niemi, who was good enough to backstop the Blackhawks to a championship in 2010, as well as earn a Vezina Trophy nomination in 2013, but has had mixed postseason success since coming to San Jose.
Some even wondered if the Sharks might try and sign Ryan Miller, only for that speculation to quickly be cut short.
Ultimately, no changes were made. Niemi, with one year remaining on his contract, and Stalock, armed with a new two-year deal, are expected to compete for the starting role next season.
Stalock is an interesting case. The 27-year-old had great numbers in 2013-14 as Niemi’s backup (1.87 GAA, .932 SV%), but he’s only made 18 career NHL starts, all of them coming last season. Since leaving the University of Minnesota-Duluth, most of his pro games have been in the AHL.
Still, if Sharks general manger Doug Wilson is truly committed to his plan to “turn the team over to the younger core,” he, along with coach Todd McLellan, may be tempted to give Stalock a bit of a head start in the goaltending competition.