The San Jose Sharks owe much of the credit to their strong finish last season to goaltender Antti Niemi. What’s not so strange about giving credit to him is that he’s been everything they hoped he would be since coming over from Chicago three years ago.
After not getting a lot of credit for helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, Niemi arrived in San Jose thanks to some nifty salary cap strategy by GM Doug Wilson. Chicago wanted to hang on to Niemi but after the Sharks forced their hand to retain then restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson via offer sheet, the cap strapped ‘Hawks had to let Niemi go when San Jose pounced on him.
Since then, he’s been the rock in goal for the Sharks that Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t.
The past three seasons have been sneakily great for the Finnish netminder. Check out his numbers while he’s been in San Jose:
2010-2011: 35-18-6 .920 2.38
2011-2012: 34-22-9 .915 2.42
2012-2013: 24-12-6 .924 2.16
What makes his stats last season so incredible is he led the NHL in not just wins but also minutes played. With a workload like that, you’d expect him to wear down. Instead, he was just as strong through the playoffs and was only unseated by a white-hot Jonathan Quick and the L.A. Kings. No wonder he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.
When you compare those numbers to what Nabokov did at the same age (27-29) in San Jose, Niemi stands even taller. The Sharks also didn’t hear many questions or worries about how Niemi would hold up in the playoffs, something that often occurred (still occurs?) with Nabokov.
Now the Sharks just have to hope new backup Alex Stalock can help make sure he stays fresh deep into next season and the playoffs. With Niemi having a great chance to make the Finnish Olympic team, they’ll need that help.
San Jose may not have known at the time that they made a big upgrade in goal when they signed Niemi, but that’s just what they got.
The status of Red Wings forward Darren Helm has been a concern for the team for some time now, but there’s more good news on the way.
Detroit GM Ken Holland tells George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press that Helm continues to improve and the hope to have him at the start of the season continues.
“Everything’s good,” Holland said. “He feels good. He’s training. I know he trained very hard last week. He’s in Detroit. He’s very happy where he’s at. He has no issues. Obviously, the challenge is physical play. I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Helm was dealing with an injured back last season that limited him to playing in just one game. His health leaves a lot up in the air for Detroit as guys like Cory Emmerton and Joakim Andersson will have their roles determined by how much he plays.
Detroit also has a glut of forwards to get figured out as well. Helm is their preferred third or fourth line center, but moving one of Emmerton, Andersson, or anyone else at this point can’t be done unless they’re sure he can go full-speed.
Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The San Jose Sharks.
It’s funny what happens sometimes around the trade deadline. When the San Jose Sharks used the deadline to send Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray out of town, many thought they were just cashing in to get picks on soon-to-be free agents and not doing it to win more games.
Instead, that turned into a rallying point of sorts and the team rolled through the latter part of the season and into the playoffs. While they ultimately gave way to the Kings in seven games of the Western Conference semifinals, their loss this time around didn’t feel like the soul-crushing disappointments of the past. A loss to build on rather than nitpick? All things are possible.
Considering the Sharks did most of their summer business during the season, the offseason has been a relative bore. They traded T.J. Galiardi to Calgary and acquired Tyler Kennedy from Pittsburgh at the NHL Draft. In free agency, they only saw guys leaving town as Scott Gomez signed with Florida and retained three players: forwards Bracken Kearns and Raffi Torres and defenseman Scott Hannan.
The quiet summer doesn’t mean they didn’t spend money, though. Logan Couture was inked to a five-year, $30 million extension while Joe Pavelski signed an eerily similar deal to stay in San Jose. Those guys were due to get paid and boy did they ever.
There won’t be much in the way of new faces this season for the Sharks (2012 first-round pick Tomas Hertl and backup goalie Alex Stalock excepted) but after last season’s late resurgence it feels like a team breathing new life.
Introducing: PHT’s ‘Team of the Day’ summer series
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
Yeah, that’s Michael Handzus with the Stanley Cup back in his home country of Slovakia. It draws a crowd everywhere it goes. (Getty)
Just to help you through the doldrums of summer, here’s your light at the end of the tunnel: There are 50 days left until opening night.
On to the news…
Stars GM Jim Nill calls Sergei Gonchar the “forgotten man” and thinks he’ll spark Dallas’ power play. (Dallas Stars)
The likely new owners of the Devils are being viewed as guys who will build up the current team, not rip it apart. You mean their roster can be decimated further?! (Star-Ledger)
Flames prospect Bill Arnold is catching the eyes of one scout at Boston College. (Calgary Flames)
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is talking more about the team facing a new financial reality. Gulp. (Senators Extra)
Finally, a sad note to pass along. Arizona Republic writer and Coyotes beat reporter Jim Gintonio passed away last night following a battle with cancer.
We talked earlier today about how defense is a strength of the Phoenix Coyotes. One thing that sticks out as a sore point for the team, however, is offense.
Take a look at their goals per-game averages have looked each of the last five seasons (NHL rank in parenthesis):
2012-2013: 2.52 (21)
2011-2012: 2.56 (18)
2010-2011: 2.76 (14)
2009-2010: 2.57 (24)
2008-2009: 2.50 (26)
That kind of offensive output isn’t very good. It also shows the bell curve of how things have gone recently.
In speaking with Coyotes GM Don Maloney, he recognized the lack of offense as an issue he’d like to still address. Adding Mike Ribeiro as a free agent this summer will help. His past with coach Dave Tippett saw him produce his best offensive seasons in Dallas. That history appealed to both player and GM alike.
Will it be enough to add more goals? That’s debatable.
Maloney has said there’ll be competition for as many as three forward spots in training camp. Youngsters like Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson will get a shot at making the team along with players from their AHL team in Portland (Chris Brown and Lucas Lessio to name two).
The Coyotes have done well enough in the past to fill needs from within, but if that’s what they have to do this season you can almost expect more of the same from last year. That puts pressure on Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, and Antoine Vermette to step up their games.
If that’s what it boils down to, goalie Mike Smith has to have a strong bounce-back season for the Coyotes to make a run at the postseason.