If competition is the greatest motivator, then the battle for Sharks starting goaltender just got kicked into overdrive.
Newly signed goalie Antti Niemi
now joins Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss
as the tandem of goaltenders looking to backstop the Sharks this season. It’s a power move by Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson and it gives Head Coach Todd McLellan three talented goalies to choose from during training camp and preseason.
“When a player like this becomes available and he wants to come to your team – especially on a contract that we feel fits our salary structure and you don’t have to give anything up – you just have to make it happen,” said Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson during a conference call on Thursday.
Although the Sharks goaltending unit was good yesterday, it’s better today. Wilson has never been shy about saying he’ll explore every option to improve the hockey team and adding a Stanley Cup winning goaltender to the mix does exactly that. Niemi led the Western Conference and ranked fourth in the NHL with a 2.25 goals against average during the 2009-10 season and backstopped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory.
From his off-season home in Raisio, Finland, Niemi explained that the Sharks had contacted him about a week after Chicago let him go. From that point on, the 27-year-old knew he had found the right team.
“I thought for me it was really important to get a really good team and a really good organization,” said Niemi. “I think they really wanted me too. It wasn’t too hard of a decision after all.”
But before Wilson could feel comfortable finishing the deal with Niemi, he had to make some important phone calls.
“I did talk to Niitty prior to this and included him in the process along with his agent,” explained Wilson. “I talked to Thomas Greiss
and his agent as well. We’re pretty open on what our goals are here and that is to put the best team on the ice.”
Niittymaki’s response surprised Wilson. He had the same response as the man Wilson was about to sign. Both Finnish goalies wanted to make sure the other was involved in the process.
“That impressed me,” said Wilson.
Greiss, on the other hand, was more disappointed. The acquisition of a player like Niemi pushes Greiss into the number three spot.
“I was hoping to make the next step,” explained Greiss following captain’s practice. “On the other side, it’s understandable. They’re brining in a Stanley Cup goalie. That’s the first time they’ve done that in this organization. But clearly I want to play as much as I can and have my chance.”
This reaction is understandable. And expected. The 24-year-old was originally pegged as Niittymaki’s backup and spent the past summer working out at the Sharks practice facility. Now he has to fight for that spot.
“All I can do is keep working hard and see what ends up happening,” said Greiss.
“We believe in him and we’ll see how things go in training camp,” added Wilson.