With the San Jose Sharks training camp only a few weeks away, much of the focus has been on who will be named the captain for the coming year. An equally important question is who will be the starting netminder in the 2014-2015 season? Stalock certainly proved last year that he is more than capable of assuming a larger role with the Sharks. Still, Antti Niemi has been the Sharks’ guy since he arrived in the 2010-2011 season, and he has certainly proved his worth to the organization in that time.
Looking back on this past season, it’s easy to see why Stalock has earned so much praise. I have long believed that Stalock was the Sharks next great starting goaltender, and he proved to everyone that there is a lot to be excited about when he does take over that role. However, I do not believe that Antti Niemi’s time is up just yet. When training camps kicks off I fully expect to see both goalies at their absolute best, and it’ll be a close competition throughout. With that being said, I don’t believe we will get a definitive answer by the end of camp as to who will be the starting goaltender, and that is a very good thing.
Looking at Antti Niemi’s statistics over his career, he posted his best numbers in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season when he appeared in 43 games for the Sharks. While he started a vast majority of games in that season, it was still a reduced workload for a goalie who is usually called upon for a minimum of 60 games per year. If that is any indication, I believe Niemi’s play would benefit from a split-start system. This would also be a great way for the Sharks to see how Stalock performs in a semi-starting role before possibly committing to him as the full time starter.
Having two goaltenders share a starting role is nothing new in the NHL. The St. Louis Blues got remarkable results by splitting starts between Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, as both goaltenders were among the leagues’ best when the two were paired up. The Sharks are in a very similar situation to that of the 2011-2012 St. Louis Blues, and in my opinion, they would be wise to consider employing the same strategy. Antti Niemi is a proven starter, and Alex Stalock will be an All-Star goalie in the very near future. For right now it seems like it is in the best interest of the Sharks to let these two share the net in the coming season.
The 2014-2015 season will be a time of transition for the Sharks, but with the tandem of Al and Nemo between the pipes, Sharks fans can be sure that quality goaltending will not be an issue for this team going forward.