Antti Niemi: Looking at His Options
After the Chicago Blackhawks released Antti Niemi for a cheaper Marty Turco, rumors sprung up about where Niemi would land.
The fact that Niemi is not signed after this much time after his release is shocking.
Who's to blame for him still being an unrestricted free agent?
Is his asking price too big for teams to gamble on him?
As each day goes by, the likelihood of Niemi finding a team gets slimmer and slimmer.
Here are five possible options for the Finnish goaltender.
Is Europe an Option for Niemi?
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Playing in Europe for a year and then coming back the following year to the NHL has always been an option for Niemi. He wouldn't have any trouble trying to find a team to sign him.
There's just one problem.
Niemi has no intention of playing in Europe.
"The NHL is the only place I am willing to play," he told the Chicago Tribune. "I don't know right now where, but I will play in the NHL."
Those words make it very clear that Niemi wants no part of playing in Europe, but will he have a choice?
By the looks of things, Niemi's only clear-cut option is Europe.
Could Neimi Go to Montreal?
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Montreal is another intriguing option for Niemi.
Montreal has not re-signed Carey Price yet, but all signs point to them doing so before the start of the season, which leaves Niemi with a backup role, if he were to sign with Montreal.
The only downside is, would Montreal take on two relatively large goaltender contracts?
It's very unlikely, but having two dependable goaltenders is something all teams would love to have. It just has to be the right price, so it may be that the amount the Canadiens sign Price to determines if Niemi heads to Montreal. Another factor is how much confidence the management has in Alex Auld, the current backup goalie.
Overall, with the fact that the Canadiens already have a backup goaltender in Auld, and are looking to re-sign Price, the chances of Niemi signing there are slim, but there is still a chance.
Could Niemi be Heading to the Big Apple?
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A team that has "not ruled Niemi out" is the New York Islanders.
The Islanders liked how Niemi could post up double-digit shutouts. He had seven last season.
The Islanders would have to juggle their team and salary cap around, but it could be potentially worth it in the end.
Niemi has already won a Stanley Cup, is only going to get better with more playing time over the next couple of years, and he could be the something the Islanders need to make that leap into the playoffs next season.
The defense wouldn't be as nearly as good as in Chicago, but don't rule out Niemi signing with New York.
San Jose Seems to be a Nice Fit
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Out of all the teams I've mentioned, San Jose seems to be the most likely destination for Niemi.
The Sharks did sign Antero Niittymaki, surprising many, and leading others to believe that the Sharks are not done bolstering their goaltending.
Here's a team that could match the talent Niemi had in Chicago. San Jose has been the top team in the Western Conference for some years now, but has always stalled in the playoffs.
Signing a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender could just be that extra kick the Sharks need to make it to the Stanley Cup this season.
They were close last season, losing to Niemi and the Hawks in a brutal four game sweep in the Western Conference Finals.
Unemployment is Most Likely
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The truth is Niemi has very limited possibilities this season when it comes to signing with NHL teams. If he wanted to play in Europe, he probably could, but, as I stated before, he doesn't want that.
It's a little bit shocking that the goaltender who won the Stanley Cup last season will most likely go without playing this season, but it has a very good chance of happening.
The fact that no team immediately went after Niemi should have spelled out his fate.
Niemi isn't a bad goaltender. He's just unsigned at a very bad time.
My guess is he sits out this season and gets picked up by a team next season. I can't tell who this early in the year, but I can almost guarantee he won't sit out longer than a year. He could even be signed during this season.
Being a Hawks fan, it's tough seeing the goaltender that brought you to the Stanley Cup Final go without a job when you know he can make a team better, but that's how sports work sometimes.
Doesn't matter where he goes, I'll always be wishing Niemi luck and success.