Panthers do Penguins a favor, claim Antti Niemi

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Antti Niemi has a Stanley Cup ring. He had a long, strong run with the San Jose Sharks, a big part of his 426 career regular-season games. He … existed with the Dallas Stars.

Antti Niemi also seems like he might just be past his sell-by date as an NHL goalie, as the Pittsburgh Penguins learned painfully to start this season. They laid out some plans if Niemi cleared waivers, but now they won’t have to worry about any of that, as the Florida Panthers stunningly scooped him up.

(The news was reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and TSN’s Bob McKenzie, and is now official as you can see from the Panthers’ roster page.)

As PHT’s Sean Leahy mentioned when Niemi was waived, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford stated that he expected the 34-year-old to play as many as 30-40 games to keep Matt Murray fresh. Instead, Niemi experienced three disastrous appearances, allowing 16 goals with almost unthinkably bad stats.

One would think that the Penguins would turn to intriguing goalie Tristan Jarry as Murray’s backup, although they may instead look to Casey DeSmith or some other organizational option if they feel like it’s the best development decision. (More on that here.)

From the Panthers’ perspective, it sure doesn’t seem like a positive sign for injured goalie Roberto Luongo, so it seems like Niemi will back up James Reimer for at least some time.

The logic is easy enough to see: the Panthers needed someone with Luongo out. Florida making this claim amid Niemi’s struggles made for some entertaining reactions, however.

For one thing, several people point out that Luongo was injured by Penguins forward

It’s really all about the GIFs, though; Friedman’s replies alone are an amusing journey.

Panthers fans are puzzled, if not troubled:

Fans of the Penguins, meanwhile, seem understandably relieved.

Now, let’s be fair to Niemi. While his lousy start with the Penguins and brutal work with the Stars inspires little confidence, it was still just three appearances in 2017-18. Pittsburgh was in a tough spot with back-to-backs and other factors, including an aggressive style that can sometimes put their netminders in vulnerable situations.

There’s at least an outside chance that Niemi could find his game again. Even heading into this season, he acknowledged that he has “a lot to prove,” as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey reported. Goalies can be strange beasts, so there’s at least an outside chance that he might be able to redeem himself, even if it’s just in a spare appearance or two.

In the grand scheme of things, this takes a problem off the Penguins’ hands and only inspires more concern about Luongo and the Panthers.

Here are the other waiver bits for today, including the New York Rangers waiving Adam Cracknell:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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