Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Antti Niemi: Tragic Hero (minus the hero part)

On September 2nd of 2010 Antti Niemi signed with the San Jose Sharks. Nearly all Sharks fans had their doubts about this. It made no sense, it was already decided that Antero Nittymaki was going to be part of a tandem with Thomas Greiss. The move to sign Niemi didn't seem to improve the Sharks, a lateral move at best. A move to add a defenseman, a position of need, never came. Fans saw an opportunity to improve the team but with Niemi taking up cap space, that opportunity was not realistic. It was a baffling situation.

Today, in February, we find out these doubts still hold. Niemi has been awful. He has been playing just as everybody has expected him to; huge rebounds and depending on the teams defense. Sure, sure please throw out those stats that suggest he has been completely outplaying Niittymaki. Those numbers mean nothing. It's much too big to be a coincidence that when the Sharks lose a game with Niemi, it's his fault and when the Sharks win, it's because the team in front plays well.

Niemi isn't what you call a "team player." He's not somebody you want to play for. Obviously there's some ill-will towards Niemi after he beat the Sharks last season in the playoffs. It's clear in the concrete stats of wins and losses. Ok, maybe Niemi has 20 wins but he also has 15 losses (!!!). Niittymaki on the other hand only has 6. This gives some indication on how the team feels about him. When he's in net, the Sharks don't want to score goals. Clear as that. Now I don't want to start any baseless speculation or conspiracy theories but I'm guessing it's obvious that Niemi is a locker-room cancer, more so than Dany Heatley.

Despite Niemi's many shortcomings, he does prove well in one regard. He has a history of being offensively gifted, and he has shown this in the 1 assist he has recorded. It came on the power play too. Guess how many points Niittymaki has. It's a big fat zero, the only area Niitty has been disappointing. Also, even though they didn't play together, it seems like Niitty learned something from Brad Staubitz; taking dumb penalties. He has 2 PIM so far this season. At least Niemi has none.

So, what should the Sharks do about this situation? Trade, waive, do whatever to Niemi so he's not on the team anymore. The team has so much depth, literally anyone in the entire organization could do better than him in goal. And yes, that includes Jonathan Cheechoo who should be up with the big club when underachievers like Devin Setoguchi and Jamie McGinn are (I'll save that argument for another post).