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Fantasy Spin: Niemi making case for goalie MVP

by Pete Jensen

When fantasy owners invest in a goalie, they want nothing more than job security, category coverage and consistency.

San Jose Sharks netminder Antti Niemi has covered each of those bases.

Antti Niemi
Goalie - SJS
RECORD: 19-8-5
GAA: 2.09 | SVP: 0.926
Niemi has put the Sharks on his back during the team's current seven-game win streak, picking up victories in each game with only 10 combined goals allowed over that stretch. The 29-year-old stopped 23 of 24 shots to defeat the Calgary Flames on Friday and earn his 19th win of the season, tying him with Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild for the NHL lead.

But this Finnish-born goalie's success hasn't just been limited to this streak. He's held the opposition to one goal or less in 11 of his 33 games this season and has allowed three goals or fewer 29 times.

Even during San Jose's miserable 5-10-6 stretch from Feb. 2 to Mar. 18, Niemi allowed three goals or less in 14 of his 18 outings during that span.

Ups and downs are inevitable in fantasy hockey, but Niemi's season has been most ideal to fantasy owners. He started 6-0-1, weathered the storm during his team's darkest days and is now locked into yet another lengthy win streak.

Niemi's status as the No. 1 goalie in San Jose was never in doubt, either. Thomas Greiss has started only four games all season, posting a 1-3-0 record, and Alex Stalock has made only two appearances, allowing two goals on 13 shots. Ilya Bryzgalov (35), Pekka Rinne (35) and Ondrej Pavelec (34) are the only NHL goalies with more starts than Niemi (33).

Niemi is the only goalie to rank sixth or better League-wide in starts, wins, goals-against average, save percentage, saves and shutouts. (Photo: Glenn James/NHLI)

A number of netminders have taken the fantasy landscape by storm this season, but few can compare to Niemi. Craig Anderson still leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, but has not played since Feb. 21 due to injury. Corey Crawford, Ray Emery, Cory Schneider, Jonathan Bernier and Jonas Hiller have been extremely effective but have not seen anything resembling Niemi's workload due to their respective time-shares.

Only Fleury, Backstrom, Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky belong in the conversation for most valuable fantasy goalie to this point because of multi-category success amidst heavy workloads. That said, Niemi is the only netminder to rank sixth or better in each of the five major goalie categories (W, GAA, SV%, SV, SO).

With 11 games remaining in the Sharks' 48-game slate, a lot can still change for Niemi. If his production tails off significantly, he may not even be in the discussion for goalie MVP at season's end. Also, because goalies account for three or four fantasy categories in most leagues, a slump could spell doom for his owners.

But all things considered, Niemi has reached his maximum fantasy potential to this point. On average, 18 goalies were selected ahead of him in Yahoo! drafts this season, but none have been more impressive.


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