NHL Rumors: San Jose Sharks Search For Evgeni Nabokov's Replacement
When long time goaltender Evgeni Nabokov defected to mother Russia, it left the San Jose Sharks with a gigantic hole between the pipes.
Coming off one of his best seasons, the 35 year old net minder put up a 44-16-10 record with three shutouts. He had a goals against average of 2.43 and a save percentage of .922. Both were improvements on his previous year’s totals.
San Jose, meanwhile, puts $6 million bucks back in their coffers and appear ready to jump on the trend started by the two teams in the Stanley Cup Final, relying on career backups to fill the void of their legendary goalie.
The Sharks first will turn to Free Agent acquisition from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Antero Niittymaki.
"Niitty" as he was called by Lightning fans, ran hot and cold for the Bolts. At times he lookd like a Vezina winner, while in other games he appeared to be the worst goalie in the NHL.
Niittymaki is expected to get the majority of the minutes for the Sharks.
"We did a lot of research in the last couple weeks," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told the San Jose Mercury News. "We were looking for a certain style of goalie, a certain type of goalie ... His stock is exactly what we were looking for."
Niitymaki has played in 210 NHL Games, starting 189, an 83-79-28 with a 2.98 GAA, .903 save percentage and five shutouts.
Greiss has been Nabokov's back up for several years—but that job doesn't give you a lot of minutes on the ice.
Coming off his first full season in the NHL, the 24 year old netminder played decently in relief, playing 16 games and posting a 7-4-1 record, .912 save percentage, and a 2.69 GAA.
Still, the team isn't ready to turn the pipes over to the German born third round pick of the 2004 entry draft.
The top young goalie in the Sharks' system, Alex Stalock is expected to compete with Greiss for playing time in the San Jose goalie rotation.
A 2005 fourth round draft pick, Stalock put together a terrific first season for AHL Worcester, going 39-19-2, with a .908 save percentage, and a 2.64 GAA.
Some in the organization feel that Stalock could challenge Greiss in training camp this season and just may be the future for the Sharks between the pipes.
In 2011: Jean Sebastien Giguere
While Niittymaki, Greiss, or Stalock will likely at least start 2010 as the main guy in goal, the Sharks may not be satisfied with their performance and look to upgrade in goal next year.
Heading the list of potential free agent goalies is the veteran J.S. Giguere.
In the tail end of his career, Giguere is not the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup Champion he once was.
Still, the veteran could provide the leadership needed to get the Sharks back to the promised land if they fall off with the committee approach.
In 2011: Pascal Leclaire
If the Sharks want to go younger in 2011, potential free agent Pascal Leclaire could be their man.
He was expected to be the guy in Columbus but injuries wrecked his career early on. He was traded to Ottawa at the deadline for Antoine Vermette.
In 2011: Ilya Bryzgalov
Maybe the best option of the 2011 Free Agency class to fill the pads of Nabokov is his countryman, IIya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov had a breakout season last year with the Coyotes, going 42-20-6 with a sparkling 2.29 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
He led the Coyotes to the playoffs and became a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
If Phoenix can't afford to re-sign the 30 year old sensation, the Sharks would love nothing better than to steal him from a division rival when he becomes a free agent in 2011.