Tag: Antero Niittymaki

Tuukka Rask

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Can goaltending carry Finland through?


Finland may enter the 2014 Winter Olympics with some questions surrounding its forward depth, but the team’s goaltending is rock solid.

The Finns have arguably the best depth in the tournament with Boston’s Tuukka Rask, San Jose’s Antti Niemi and Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen. It’s believed Rask will eventually emerge the starter, though there could be an early audition among the three.

“I don’t know,” Rask told CBS Boston about how the situation will play out. “We have three No. 1 goalies. We each get a game or something.”

Fans may wonder if goaltending can be the be-all, end-all in the Olympics. Often times it’s absolutely true, something Finland can attest to — at the 2006 Games in Turin, the Finns made it to the gold medal game against Sweden thanks to ex-Flyers and Bolts goalie Antero Niittymaki.

Niittymaki was the tourney MVP and one Nicklas Lidstrom goal away from earning Finland a gold medal. (Further to Finland’s goalie depth, consider this Niittymaki only started in Turin after Lehtonen and Miikka Kiprusoff dropped out.)

History shows goaltending can win it all. Dominik Hasek backstopped the Czech Republic to gold in 1998 after allowing just six goals through the tournament while posting wins against the United States, Canada, and Russia in the elimination rounds.

Clearly, goaltending isn’t an issue for Finland. Goalscoring could be, though.

The Finns have lost the services of Mikko Koivu (35 points in 44 games) and Valtteri Filppula (41 in 56) to ankle injuries. KHL centers Jarkko Immonen and Samri Salminen will take their spots, but that still puts pressure on Olli Jokinen, Aleksander Barkov and Mikael Granlund to provide strength down the middle.

On the wings, Teemu Selanne is the venerable leader playing in his sixth Olympic Games. Lauri Korpikoski and Tuomo Ruutu make for solid two-way forwards, but Finland is a team built on working together, not as individual parts. Team Finland assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen says he expects the team to pester and annoy opponents on the way to victory.

The truth here, however, is the Finns look, on paper, to be thin at forward and defense. That’ll put the pressure on Rask and his fellow goalies to play at their best.

Rask’s success in his short career in the NHL has shown he can handle the load, but his international experience is limited. He last represented Finland at the World Junior Championships in 2007, and has yet to play in a World Championship.

You could argue going deep in the NHL playoffs makes for a strong enough resume and you’d probably be right. But every great goalie needs to have goals to support him — and that could by the Finns’ biggest worry.

Antero Niittymaki signs in Finland

Antero Niittymaki

After a trying 2011-12 season that included being waived by San Jose, Antero Niittymaki is off to Finland.

The 32-year-old netminder — who spent all of last season in the AHL, appearing in just 13 games — has signed on to play with TPS Turku of the SM-liiga, Finland’s top league.

The move brings Niittymaki back to the club he starred with before joining the Flyers organization in 2002.

“It feels good to come back to TPS,” he said in a statement. “The club made it possible to put this in place over the summer, and we came to terms very quickly on the contract.”

Niittymaki wasn’t even sure he’d play hockey this season after last year’s serious hip injury. He had an artificial joint placed in the hip prior to the 2011-12 campaign and struggled with it throughout.

Now healthy, it’ll be interesting to see if Niittymaki can regain his previous form. 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 2010-11. He was San Jose’s player of the month in October before suffering a lower-body injury, losing the No. 1 gig to Antti Niemi.

Anders Lindback will try and fix Tampa’s long-running goalie problem

Anders Lindback

When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Nikolai Khabibulin in net, things were looking good in goal. Following the lockout, however, things have been nothing short of ugly for Tampa Bay in goal.

When you run down the list of guys who have taken up residence in the Lightning net since then you can understand why GM Steve Yzerman ponied up big for Nashville’s Anders Lindback.

Take a look at this list of failed goalies since the Cup-winning year: , Gerald Coleman, Brian Eklund, John Grahame, Sean Burke, Marc Denis, Johan Holmqvist, Karri Ramo, Mike McKenna, Olaf Kolzig, Riku Helenius, Mike Smith, Dan Ellis, Antero Niittymaki, Dustin Tokarski, Cedrick Desjardins, Dwayne Roloson, Sebastien Caron, and Mathieu Garon.

Yikes. Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune hears from Yzerman about what he’s hoping Lindback can provide the Lightning next season.

“It’s an important position, I can’t deny that,” said Yzerman, entering his third season at the Lightning helm. “Ultimately, you want to find that starter that you can put in there for 65 games, under two goals against (average) and in the .930 (save percentage) range – and that’s a priority.

“There aren’t many of them out there and it’s a tough position. The consistently elite guys, you just don’t get those guys.”

Can Lindback be the new stud to bring Tampa Bay to glory or is he just another name to add to the list? Lindback hasn’t gotten to prove much in the NHL and his future could be great or mediocre. Who knew Yzerman was such a gambler?

Need a goalie? Antero Niittymaki on waivers

Antero Niittymaki

Antero Niittymaki might just finally get his wish.

After hoping to find a way to just play in a few games, the Sharks have put the Finnish netminder on waivers.

Niittymaki was squeezed out of the Sharks’ goalie rotation thanks to injury and with how well Thomas Greiss has played behind Antti Niemi and after rehabbing his hip injury he’s eager to play.

The problem for Niittymaki is that there’s nowhere to go in San Jose and given how little Greiss plays, there’s no chance for him with the Sharks. With those post-injury worries in mind, we’ll find out now if teams in need of a lift in goal bite on picking up Niittymaki.

The Tampa Bay Lighting  have been struggling in goal all season but after winning four in a row, GM Steve Yzerman may not want to risk mixing things up. If Tampa Bay opted to grab Niittymaki it would be a familiar situation as he played for the Lightning two seasons ago.

Anyone in need of goalie help, call Sharks GM Doug Wilson

Antero Niittymaki

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.