Will Antero Niittymaki Be Traded By The San Jose Sharks?

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As reported by David Pollak of Working The Corners, Antero Niittymaki finished his post-injury conditioning stint in Worchester this week and was called up to the San Jose Sharks today. The Sharks now have three NHL goaltenders on the big club, where most clubs only carry two.

Do they continue to carry three all season, which would cost them a roster spot and precious cap room, or do they find an alternative solution? And if it’s the latter, what would that alternative solution be?

Antti Niemi is obviously going nowhere as the Sharks undisputed starting netminder, which brings us to the backups, Antero Niittymaki just off injured reserve, and Thomas Greiss. Where Greiss has excelled this season in Niittymaki’s place, posting a .918% SV% and 2.37 GAA, Niittymaki has struggled since signing with San Jose, both in terms of performance, with a .896 sv% and 2.72 GAA, and health.

Indeed, Greiss would seem the logical choice in every area to stay as backup: performance, health, and perhaps most importantly, Greiss is significantly cheaper than Niittymaki, with a cap hit of 0.587M to Niittymaki’s 2M. That’s over 1.4M in precious cap room whispering in General Manager Doug Wilson’s ear to keep Thomas Greiss and jettison Niittymaki. Has Niittymaki done anything over Greiss to convince Doug Wilson he’s worth the extra money? I don’t think so.

In my opinion, there is no question that Doug Wilson is looking to trade Antero Niittymaki. But can he?

There is something else working against Doug Wilson that many aren’t aware of: Thomas Greiss can no longer be demoted to the AHL without passing through waivers, which means that all three goaltenders on the Sharks roster have to go through waivers (*waivers means every other team would have a chance to claim the player before he passes to the American Hockey League). In other words, the Sharks have no leverage. You can rest assured, for all the talk of willingly carrying three goaltenders for the rest of the season, that is a last resort for Doug Wilson and the Sharks. That would mean having Antti Niemi as the #1, Thomas Greiss as the #2, and Antero Niittymaki sitting in the press box wasting 2M in cap space. Under no circumstances does any team want to be paying two million dollars to someone who is not playing, when that cap room could instead be used to help bolster the team on the ice.

So what does this mean? If I’m a General Manager interested in Antero Niittymaki, why would I give up anything for him? I know that, secretly, the Sharks have no interest in carrying three goaltenders on their NHL roster, and since they can’t demote any of them, eventually they will have to waive one. Why trade for Niittymaki if I can get him for free on waivers?

Of course, it’s possible a GM would be worried about another team with higher waiver priority claiming Niittymaki first, which might motivate that GM to send a 7th round pick the Sharks’ way to get first pick at Niittymaki. Or it’s possible Doug Wilson will simply be able to trick another GM into believing he really will pay Niittymaki 2M to sit in the Sharks’ press box if no one makes him an offer. We’ve seen Doug Wilson inspire stupidity in his peers before.

But more likely, no team will trade for Antero Niittymaki, and it’s possible no one would even pick him up on waivers, either. That’s the other issue. Antero Niittymaki has never really been a consistent, quality NHL goaltender, except for occasional spurts, and even those were years ago. The highest save percentage Niittymaki has had since coming into the NHL is a paltry .912, .06 points below Thomas Greiss’ current mark this year. And save for that .912% number in 2008-2009, Niittymaki has not broken .910 his whole career. Add to that the fact that Niittymaki has demonstrated no ability to stay healthy for any extended period, having played only 24 games over the last two seasons in which he posted a very poor .896 save percentage and 2.72 GAA, and why would anyone want to take on his 2M salary when most backups are getting paid half that?

Niittymaki has not shown the consistent health that you need in a starter or backup, and when he has been able to sneak in a few games between injuries, he has not played well enough to even be considered a good backup, let alone a starter.

He’s too expensive for a backup. He’s too injury-prone for a backup or starter. And when he does play, he hasn’t demonstrated that he’s even good enough to help a team.

If I was an NHL GM, there is no way I would trade for Niittymaki. As I alluded to earlier, it’s quite possible Doug Wilson will be able to trick one of his peers into taking the contract off his hands; it’s happened before, but that possibility aside, I’m not sure the Sharks will be able to find a taker for Niittymaki.

If that truly is the case, what options are the Sharks left with? For one, they can waive Niittymaki, and if no one claims him, they can bury this last year of his contract in the minors. Sharks ownership will still have to pay the cash, which will not please them, but Niittymaki’s salary will no longer count against the Sharks’ cap hit.

The second option is buying Niittymaki out. This makes little sense as he only has one year left on his contract, and buying him out would only extend Niittymaki’s burden against the cap an extra year, if I am not mistaken. However, if the owners are interested in saving money at all costs, this would save them about .750M in cash as opposed to letting Niittymaki’s contract expire in the minors this season.

The third option would be trading Thomas Greiss, for whom there is much more likely to be takers. This option would not solve the problem of having a backup with a 2M cap hit, but it would relieve almost .600M in cap space, and might even net the Sharks a depth player or mid-round pick in return.

Which option is best? If it were me in charge of the team, and money were no object, I would first do my best to trick the other GM’s into doing something so ill-advised as trading for Niittymaki, as I’m sure Doug Wilson is hard at work trying. If that didn’t work, which I assume it wouldn’t, I would bury Niittymaki’s contract in the minors for the rest of this season, only to be called up if Antti Niemi or Thomas Greiss suffered an injury.

However, money, it seems, is always a consideration in life, even for a hockey team as successful as the San Jose Sharks, and Doug Wilson might not have that option. And even if he does, he may be wary to demote Niittymaki because of how it could reflect on his reputation. People still remember how he dumped Kyle Mclaren in the minors a couple of seasons ago, and no General Manager wants to gain a reputation of signing players only to send them to the minor leagues shortly after. The Sharks have benefited greatly in recent years from players on other teams picking them as the team to waive their no-trade clause for in trades (think Dan Boyle, who picked the Sharks out of multiple options, and Dany Heatley who rejected the Edmonton Oilers so he could go to San Jose). That is what could be at risk if Doug Wilson keeps demoting players to the AHL, not to mention signing Unrestricted Free Agents in the summer.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the Sharks goaltending situation, but if Wilson is able to unload Niittymaki under the circumstances, all the power to him, because I personally think it would be asinine for any GM to take on that contract for a player who rarely plays, and has shown very limited upside the last two seasons even when he does.

Written by Shark Circle

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