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.
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.
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.