It’s time to give Antero Niittymaki the keys to the teal, mother lovin’ Camaro.
What had started as a typical platoon strategy by the San Jose Sharks of bringing in an above average netminder in Niittymaki, to help spell and motivate the assumed starter, Antti Niemi, has found the plucky underdog shining brightest…though ignored.
One cannot continue to discount Antero Niittymaki’s efforts as simply a “good run” or “lucky streak” anymore. That might have worked a month ago, but we now stand close to halfway through the season and the numbers are in:
Niemi (6-8-2) GAA: 3.16 SV% .897
Niittymaki (11-3-3) GAA: 2.38 SV% .907
There’s a Finnish proverb that loosely translated states that one “need not go farther than the sea” to fish. Ok guilty…today was “Finland-Wiki Day” and I found a page of Finnish proverbs, many of which described the Sharks situation perfectly, but this one proved the most straightforward. I figured the connections would be easier to draw with this particular proverb, which reminds the reader to not search high and low for something right in front of them…versus the more obscure chestnuts cautioning against rotten herring and intoxicated fir-tree lumberjacks.
Honestly, based strictly on a survey of their more popular proverbs, Finland sounds like a blast to visit.
To the proverb’s point, the answer to the dire need for consistent netminding is directly in front of Coach Todd McLellan’s face, yet he stubbornly refuses to anoint Niittymaki. Coach McLellan is literally standing on the shore of the sea, fishing pole over his shoulder, water lapping against his Ferragamos, and he can’t quite figure out where the heck the fish could possibly be living. Instead of riding the one hot Shark goaltender on the roster, he is committed to this tacit “Niemi Project”, treating a one year mercenary to a level of respect more deserving of a hallowed veteran on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Seriously, this isn’t a beloved San Jose folk hero (Steve Jobs?) or stalwart of the Bay Area sports complex we are concerned with. This isn’t Martin Brodeur experiencing a natural declining of his skills that puts ownership and coaching staff in an awkward position, balancing due respect for a legend with the needs of the team. Rather, Antii Niemi is a guy who made his name during last year’s playoffs (arguably against the Sharks), turned the head of the one guy that matters at the Sharks organization in Doug Wilson and grabbed himself a nice one-year deal.
Let’s stop treating this guy like he invented San Jose ice hockey, and start talking about how hot Doug Wilson’s daughter is.
Sorry…lost my place. What were we talking about again?
That’s right…speaking of Niemi’s playoff run, and addressing the “performs biggest when it counts” arguments often used to deflect criticism against him, when it actually did count the most, Niemi was less than immortal. During the finals series versus the Philadelphia Flyers, he let in 21 goals in six games! In four of those six games, Niemi gave up four or more goals! This is not Jacques Plante! Niemi wasn’t the reason the Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup, he was the reason they almost lost it. And if not bailed out by an offensively white hot Chicago squad at the time, he’d be playing for the Espoo Blues and trying to get “The Walking Dead” on Finnish television.
Niemi’s hockey luck has run out, and may have run out last June versus the Flyers. There is nothing to wait for here, and there will be no reversion to some brilliant career that our patience will reward us with. That reversion has already actually happened, and we are smack dab in the middle of the mediocre Niemi mean right now.
Anttii Niemi’s strong play during last year’s playoffs was a complete outlier in a young career marked with far more inferior work product than glory. He was able, for a small Edgar Renterian moment, to capture playoff lightening in a bottle and made it last just long enough for his team to win it all.
Niemi is a hired gun, and credit to Doug Wilson for not going all Barry Zito contract and keeping his head. That said, the Sharks need to stop treating Niemi with this equal chance mentality and install Antero Niittymaki as their number one. Niittymaki has earned it with play this year that Niemi can’t even approach.
It’s really not even close, and the answer for the Sharks is right there in front of them…it just happens to be the other Finnish guy.
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