Antti Niemi Rumors: If the Reports Are True, What Does This Mean for the Sharks?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer ISeptember 1, 2010

CHICAGO - JUNE 11: Bryan Bickell #29 and Antti Niemi #31 wave to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade and rally on June 11, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Over the last hour or so, numerous reports are suggesting that free agent goaltender Antti Niemi has decided (in principle) to sign with the San Jose Sharks.

Niemi, who is coming off a Stanley Cup victory with the Chicago Blackhawks, was recently awarded $2.75M in salary arbitration due to his fantastic rookie campaign.

Despite his impressive performance as a rookie, the Blackhawks decided the $2.75 million mark to be out of their price range due to their current salary cap limitations.

This left Niemi to become a unrestricted free agent but long after the original free agency date of July 1st and so the goalie market had already proved to be extremely thin with all types of goaltenders having to settle for smaller deals.

After all, most NHL GMs have noticed that the recent Cup winning goaltenders haven't been the big-name, high-priced names that dominated in the past.

Naturally, most teams are now allocating less money to the goaltending position than they have in years past.

As for the Sharks, and their GM Doug Wilson, this philosophy of paying more for defense and less for netminding was thought to be included in their offseason plans.

Instead of re-signing long time starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, the Sharks decided to sign the now former Tampa Bay Lightning starter Antero Niittymaki to a two-year $4M dollar deal on the opening day of free agency.

Nabokov was looking for upwards of $5-6 million per year and the Sharks felt that money would be better spent at other positions.

But if the reports are true that the Sharks are going to sign Niemi to a $2M/year contract, then the philosophy San Jose is applying begins to get fuzzy.

Why sign two different goalies with similar question marks to decently sized contracts, when the idea earlier in the offseason was to spread the money to other positions?

Niemi and Niittymaki will now combine for $4 million this season, which is only a fraction less than what it would have taken to bring back Nabokov.

So unless the Sharks trade Niittymaki or get an abnormally increased level of play from their returning defensemen, San Jose will be clearly worse than they were last year.

With or without Niemi, the Sharks have less talent at defense and forward than they had last season and will now have bigger question marks between the pipes.

Of course, Wilson could have a trade for a premier defenseman in the works.

However, if that is true, how does he acquire a top notch defenseman without giving up a top notch forward?

By signing Niemi, the Sharks wiggle room with the cap takes a solid hit, and it now becomes difficult to add on the contract of a top defenseman without giving up a top-six forward.

Sure, San Jose could trade Niittymaki, Kent Huskins, and Niclas Wallin for a top notch defenseman and that would work out salary cap wise.

However, this is real life and not NHL 2011. Teams can't just trade older and inconsistent players for top notch stars.

In the end, these Niemi rumors to the Sharks don't make sense.

The Sharks said they were going to spend money on defense instead of goaltending.

Signing Niemi would be doing the opposite.