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Stars place Niemi on waivers, plan to buy out contract

Move will leave Ben Bishop and Kari Lehtonen as goaltending tandem for 2017-18

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Stars GM Jim Nill said over the weekend that he would move one of his goaltenders this week and he got the process started Monday, placing Antti Niemi on waivers with the intention of buying out his contract.

Since the acquisition and signing of Ben Bishop last month to be the team's new No. 1 goaltender, Nill was expected to move either Niemi or Kari Lehtonen via a trade or buyout. The odds were it was going to be Niemi. It was, and it turned out to be the buyout option.

"That was one of the options. There was no trade market for him. It's a pretty saturated goaltending market right now. We knew that going in," Nill said. "This is going to give him an opportunity to play another year or not, and it frees up cap room for us."

The buyout will cost two-thirds of the $4.5 million left on the final year of Niemi's contract. The Stars will pay him $3 million over the next two years and take a $1.5 million cap hit in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

"He's a great pro. He works hard. He's a really good person on and off the ice," Nill said. "I just wish him all the best."

The Stars acquired Niemi from San Jose at the NHL Draft in June 2015. Niemi, who backstopped Chicago to a Stanley Cup in 2010, played two seasons for the Stars, posting a 37-25-11 record, 2.92 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.

In 2015-16, Niemi and Lehtonen both won 25 games in splitting the net as the Stars posted the best record in the Western Conference. This past season the Stars struggled in goal, finishing 29th in goals against (3.17) and 30th in save percentage (.893). Niemi had a 12-12-4 record last season with a 3.30 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. Among the 48 goaltenders who qualified for the NHL rankings, Niemi ranked 48th in goals-against average and 47th in save percentage.

The buyout of Niemi will leave Bishop and Lehtonen as the goaltending tandem for the Stars for the 2017-18 season. Bishop is the No. 1 goaltender and Lehtonen will serve as the backup.

"I think our goaltending tandem is as good as anybody in the league," Nill said. "First of all, Ben Bishop is one of the best goalies in the league. He's changed that position [for us]. One signing kind of took care of that. Kari Lehtonen has been a very good goalie in the league a long time. To have him as your next guy there, that's pretty good depth for us moving forward."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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