San Jose Sharks: 5 Reasons 2012-13 Is Antti Niemi's Last Chance

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIOctober 27, 2012

San Jose Sharks: 5 Reasons 2012-13 Is Antti Niemi's Last Chance

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    With most of the talent aging, the San Jose Sharks will still lack many players that will bring return value by this season's end. A Stanley Cup-winning goalie could fetch a good return if the team is ready to move on to another free agent or one of the aforementioned prospects.

    His contract and age makes him one of the most trade-friendly players on the roster.

    For one thing, he does not possess a no-trade clause like many of the older Sharks. But there are other reasons—the same reasons San Jose was right not to give up on him before the season, especially since the young players are much less proven than Nemo.

    He is still young enough to have a lot of years left, and without too much mileage.

    Nemo's relatively reasonable $3.8 million cap hit for the relatively short duration of two more years makes him someone worth giving another shot to even with a below average season in 2012-13. If he plays well, he could fetch a player designed to help San Jose win now or young talent for a rebuild.

1. San Jose Sharks Window Is Closing

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    It has been widely stated that the San Jose Sharks are built to win now. They signed Antti Niemi because he had proven he was capable of winning now.

    Most of the team's most important players are over 30. If they do not win a Stanley Cup this season, they could well begin the rebuilding process...

2. Antti Niemi Will Be 30 Before Next Season

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    It is not as if goalies cannot be successful in their 30s. Martin Brodeur is beyond his 40th birthday and back-stopped the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring.

    However, Antti Niemi claims playing almost every game puts him at his best and sharpest. No goalie that began a playoffs beyond the age of 31 in the Expansion Era has ever won the Holy Grail of Hockey after playing more than 68 games.

    Even at a lower workload, he is probably not worth building around...

3. Antti Niemi Has Been Inconsistent

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    To this point, Antti Niemi has only been an elite goalie for two stretches of under 40 games in his career.

    As a virtual rookie with the Chicago Blackhawks, Nemo did not grab hold of the job until March, and even then more or less by default as Cristobal Huet struggled. He was one Pekka Rinne save away from going down 3-1 in the first round of that Stanley Cup run before finding his groove.

    With the San Jose Sharks, he was the best goalie in the NHL after the 2011 All-Star break. But he was terrible come playoff time and uneven last season.

    Goalies that are irreplaceable generally show more than that before they turn 30. This is especially true on teams that do not lack for options, whether free agency or in the system.

4. The San Jose Sharks Possess a Deep Pool of Goalie Prospects

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    The San Jose Sharks have depleted most of their prospects in an effort to win now. But they possess some of the best goaltending scouts and coaches in the NHL, thus having a deep pool at that one position.

    Thomas Greiss is already an NHL goalie with the potential to back-stop a Stanley Cup team. Alex Stalock is one of the top minor league prospects in the league, turning away all nine NHL shots he has faced. Harri Sateri could be ready for NHL action before next season.

    The team could be ready to go to any of them before Antti Niemi's contract expires July 1, 2015.

5. Antti Niemi May Be the Most Tradable Asset

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    With most of the talent aging, the San Jose Sharks will still lack many players that will bring return value by this season's end. A Stanley Cup-winning goalie could fetch a good return if the team is ready to move on to one of the aforementioned prospects or a starting quality free agent bargain available every summer.

    His contract and age makes him one of the most trade-friendly players on the roster.

    For one thing, he does not possess a no-trade clause like many of the older Sharks. But there are other reasons—the same reasons San Jose was right not to give up on him before the season, especially since the young players are much less proven than Nemo.

    He is still young enough to have a lot of years left, and without too much mileage.

    Nemo's relatively reasonable $3.8 million cap hit for the relatively short duration of two more years makes him someone worth giving another shot to even with a below average season in 2012-13. If he plays well, he could fetch a player designed to help San Jose win now or young talent for a rebuild.